GED Essay Writing Guide

What is the GED RLA “Extended Response” Question?

The Reasoning Through Language Arts (RLA) section of the GED includes an Extended Response essay question. You will only have 45 minutes to complete this essay, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the nature of the prompt. Read through this guide to become more familiar with the prompt and how to write the best response possible.

If you follow the strategies and the template provided in this guide, you’ll be able to produce a high-scoring essay in the time allotted! 😀

GED Essay Overview

Since the GED Exam is administered on a computer, you will type your essay into a text box. You will first be presented with two Stimulus Passages and then you will be given an essay prompt. The Stimulus Passages will each have 4–5 short paragraphs that introduce an issue and take a stance on that issue, with one passage opposing the other. You will then be given the following prompt:

In your response, analyze both positions presented in the article to determine which one is best supported. Use relevant and specific evidence from the article to support your response. Type your response in the box below. You should expect to spend up to 45 minutes in planning, drafting, and editing your response.

➤ Pro Tip: Remember that the 45 minutes includes the time you take to read the Stimulus Passages. Read the passages thoroughly, but quickly, and make note of any specific points that stand out to you so that you can easily reference them as you formulate your argument.

GED Essay Strategy

In order to maximize your 45 minutes, it’s important to decide ahead of time how much time you will spend on each step. We recommend following the guide below, but you should write some practice responses with a timer nearby to get a good understanding of how our guide can best serve you. Make sure you do not hand-write your practice essays, as it is always best to recreate test conditions as closely as possible when preparing.

Follow this strategy when writing your GED Essay:

Step 1 ► Read and Analyze the Stimulus Passages (5 Minutes).

Start by reading both of the passages. Make sure you understand the issue and the position that each passage is taking. Try to ignore your own personal feelings on the topic as you read. Ultimately, your job is to explain why one of the sides is better supported; it is fine to completely disagree with the side you defend, so long as you adequately support your stance. You are not writing about who you agree with, you are writing about who supports their argument best.

Step 2 ► Select Your Position and Outline Your Ideas (5 Minutes).

Ask yourself: which side seems like it has more supporting details and/or examples? Your task with this essay is similar to that of a teacher grading an essay. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the position; it matters that the writer supported their position well.

Remember, “better-supported” does not necessarily mean “right.” You are not required to argue in favor of one of the positions; you only need to explain why one position is better-supported than the other position.

Passage 1: argues that school lunches should be 100% vegetarian in order to improve the health of students and to tackle the obesity epidemic in schools. This passage provides:

  • statistics showing that vegetables are good for children.

Passage 2: argues that animal protein is crucial for superior athletic performance and sustained energy levels in children. This passage provides:

  • quotes from a doctor who says that protein from meat keeps children alert in classes after lunchtime.
  • scientific research that supports this claim.
  • statistics from counties that switched to vegetarian lunches which show that test scores dropped after adopting vegetarian lunches.

Which side is “best supported?” Which side should you choose for your essay? If you said, Passage 2, you are correct. Even if you are a vegetarian, you should be able to see that there is more supporting evidence in the passages for the “pro-meat” side. You will not receive a bad score if you choose to support the side that has less evidence, but it makes your task harder.

You should spend approximately 5 minutes deciding your position and outlining your essay. You can simply type your outline at the top of the text box (and delete it after you finish your essay). We will discuss more specifics about how to outline our essay in the “Template” below!

Step 3 ► Write your Essay (30 Minutes).

At this point, approximately 10 minutes will have gone by. You have read the passages and outlined your position. Now, simply start with paragraph 1, and follow the outline you created. Remember to stop periodically and refer back to your outline at the top. Most GED Extended Response essays are between 4–7 paragraphs and each paragraph is composed of 3–7 sentences. We suggest that you aim for 5 paragraphs; doing so ensures that your argument is complete.

As you will see in the Template below, it’s okay if some paragraphs are shorter than others! Don’t feel like you have to write sentences to fill up space; always write with purpose. Once you’ve made your point in a given paragraph, add a concluding sentence and move on. You should spend approximately 30 minutes on your essay.

Step 4 ► Read Everything Over At Least Once (5 Minutes).

Proofreading can make a good essay great, and a great essay stellar, so don’t forget that you will need at least 5 minutes at the end to thoroughly read through what you have written. Go back to the outline and review your notes. Does the essay you wrote follow the outline? Is it well-organized? If you’re happy that you didn’t stray from your plan, delete your outline notes. This is very important! If you do not delete your notes, scorers will think it is part of your response and take points off.

If you have extra time, look for spelling and grammar errors. Do your verb tenses agree? Did you accidentally leave off the “s” on a plural noun? How are the transitions between paragraphs? Does the essay “flow?” Remember, you can re-type any sentences you dislike, and you can add additional sentences for clarity. This is a timed response, so it does not have to be perfect, but if you have the time to fix mistakes you’ll only be helping your chances.

GED Essay Template

In the four-part strategy above, you read about the importance of planning and making an outline for the position you selected. Your outline should follow this general format:

  • Paragraph 1 — Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 — Body Paragraph
  • Paragraph 3 — Body Paragraph
  • Paragraph 4 — Body Paragraph
  • Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

★ Paragraph 1 — Introduction

The introduction and conclusion are short paragraphs that “bookend” your essay. Your introduction should:

  • introduce the topic from the passage,
  • explain both sides of the issue (showing that you understood what you read),
  • and make a claim that one side is better-supported and thus, more convincing (this should be the final sentence of the introduction).

Below is a possible template for the introductory paragraph. When you are writing your essay, you can write a very similar introductory paragraph while replacing the underlined portions to fit the prompt that you are answering:

Lately, the issue of school lunches has generated a lot of debate. Some people argue for vegetarian options, claiming that they are healthier. Others believe that children need meat, arguing that protein is important. The two opposing passages highlight the importance of this issue, however, the passage that argues that children need meat is more credible, since it is much better-supported with research, statistics, and facts.

★ Paragraphs 2–4 — Body Paragraphs

The real strength of your essay lies in your body paragraphs. Each body paragraph must introduce and describe one reason why the position you chose is better-supported. There will be 3 reasons in total (if you follow the 5-paragraph format). Look for some of these common ready-made arguments when reviewing the passages:

Authority figure — Does the passage quote a reputable figure with specialized knowledge, such as a doctor, scientist, or other expert? Does the reference lend credibility to the overall argument?

History — Does the passage explain a historical event or a precedent to back up its claim?

Statistics — Does the passage provide any numbers or data? Does the data help the author’s position?

Logical reasoning — Is there a strong element of logic or “common-sense” to the argument, and is it presented in a clear, cohesive manner?

Ethics — Is a moral argument made? Does the author insist his or her position is correct because it is the “morally right” thing to do?

Emotion — Does the author appeal to the reader’s feelings? Does the argument evoke an emotional response?

Reasonable Assumptions — Does the author rely on assumptions to draw any conclusions? Are the assumptions reasonable?

Forceful Vocabulary — Does the author’s word choice add weight and importance to the argument?

Not all of these will be present in every passage, but you will only need 3, and it is likely that at least 2–3 of these will be used in each argument. If the passage you choose only has 2 of the above supports, consider writing more than one paragraph about each, using different support. Let’s look at how we can “plug” three of these examples into our thesis from above:

However, the passage that argues Position X is more credible, since it is much better-supported with emotional appeal, the inclusion of an expert’s opinion, and forceful vocabulary.

When you outline your GED Essay, pre-write your thesis and decide on which three forms of support you will discuss to prove that your passage is better-supported. This will help you organize of the rest of your essay. Now that we have chosen our three examples, we can make a more specific outline:

  • Paragraph 1 — Introduction (why Position X is better-supported)
  • Paragraph 2 — Emotional Appeal
  • Paragraph 3 — Authority Figure’s Opinion
  • Paragraph 4 — Forceful Vocabulary
  • Paragraph 5 — Conclusion (why Position Y is not well supported)

Let’s look at how we can “plug” some of these ready-made arguments into a body paragraph:

The primary reason why the X position is better-supported is because it uses clear logical reasoning to present its argument in a cohesive, persuasive manner. The position opens with a clear thesis, stating (insert a quote or a paraphrased piece of evidence from the passage). The writer then logically moves from broad to specific detail backing up the thesis. By summarizing her argument at the end, she highlights her sound logic and provides a clear, well-organized, and logical structure to her argument.

Notice how this body paragraph introduces the example in the first sentence (“logical reasoning”), and then cites 3 specific examples from the passage that employ this logical reasoning. The final sentence reiterates and emphasizes the overall idea of the paragraph. This paragraph is only 5 sentences (if you include a quote), yet it does a great job (1) introducing the superiority of the argued position, (2) giving examples from the passage to support a specific idea, and (3) concluding the paragraph.

In each body paragraph, you must defend your assertion that ONE position is better-supported with at least one specific reference showing this support. If you choose, “authority figures” as an example, but there is only 1 authority figure mentioned in the passage, it’s okay to spend the entire body paragraph discussing that one figure. You do not need to make up anything that is not in the passage—in fact, you shouldn’t!

★ Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

Finally, let’s look at how we can structure the conclusion:

In conclusion, due to its emotional appeals, inclusion of an authority’s opinion, and forceful vocabulary, the X position is better-supported and much more convincing than the Y position. Though there is some evidence provided in Passage Y, it is weak and vague. For example, (insert 1 or 2 examples from Passage Y that are weak). As presented, the X position is much stronger than its counterpart because it is much better-supported and significantly more convincing.


GED Essay Scoring

Three separate scorers will grade your response based on each of the three traits of your essay: (1) Analysis of Arguments and Use of Evidence, (2) Development of Ideas and Structure, and (3) Clarity and Command of Standard English. Notice that if you follow the strategy and template provided above, all of these traits will be accounted for, and you won’t have to worry about them on Test Day! 😀

GED Essay Practice

Now you’re ready to write a practice essay. Try our GED Essay Practice Question.