Examples of Passing Students

The essays on this page, written by CUNY students who participated in a pilot study, are printed with permission. Their purpose is to give you a sampling of student essays that demonstrate varying levels of writing proficiency.

Task 1 Sample Essays

Task 2 Sample Essays

Task 1 Sample Student Responses

Essay A

Using computers as comparisons to the human mind, Lewis Thomas' "To Err is Human" stresses the importance of mistakes as a tool for action. He states that to err is what separates the human mind and superhuman, electronic minds. While computers have the capacity to produce an infinite amount of precise calculations, glitches and errors will still be made, and the corrections made by humans. He mentions that the knack of being wrong is "a uniquely human gift" and that it should be used as "a guide for action." Thomas stresses the significance of error as a motivation to illicit the appropriate response ‑ correction ‑ in order to know.

Mistakes are necessary and Thomas points out that if we were completely free of making them, "we could never get anything useful done." He mentions that "wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones" for the human mind thinks and makes decisions based on right and wrong alternatives.

Such is the idea that ties in with Howard Gardener's "The Difficulties Posed by Schools." Gardener makes the point that school fail to stress the importance of understanding over the ability to "memorize and feed back definitions upon request." He adds that teachers do not challenge their students by asking questions "that will force their students to stretch in new ways which will risk failures."

Gardener maintains that genuine understanding is a low priority in scholastic education, and becomes lost when teachers and students revel only in the regurgitation of memorized facts and concepts. This poses somewhat of a competition between those "text‑friendly" students who have that ability, with students whose intellectual strengths lie in other areas.

In connection to Thomas' notion of "error as important," Gardener upholds the same idea by stating that students and teachers together must be willing to "undertake risks for understanding" if success is to follow. This cannot be achieved if the only response desired are "ritualized, note, or conventionalized performances."

What a coincidence to be writing about the faults of scholastic learning when, just the other day, I had discussed the same issue with my parents. I had come to the conclusion that, although blessed with high grades throughout my educational years, I did not come to an understanding of the material learned until college. Not until then, when teachers were open to opinions and challenges, did I start my in‑depth cognitive learning. I definitely agree with Lewis Thomas and Howard Gardener when they stress the importance of failure. Making mistakes is what sets success. One cannot excel if one does not know where problems lie and how to correct them.

Comments on Essay A: Rating = 5/6

A good understanding of the reading selections and a unified, tightly‑organized structure make this a strong essay. In addition, the student enhances the discussion by quoting appropriately. Other distinguishing features of this essay are its generally clear, fluid prose and its use of fairly sophisticated sentence structure to express complex ideas. While the concluding paragraph presents the student's own experience somewhat glibly, all in all, the essay is an effective response to a challenging exam‑writing task.

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Essay B

Learning is an on‑going process that never ends. To acquire information is to not just by listening to lectures and answering test questions correctly. It is how one uses their tools wisely in order for successful learning to take place. Without possessing methods of effective learning, one might not be considered to actually understand something.

In "To Err is Human" by Lewis Thomas, he stresses the word "error." Why does he emphasize this word? Lewis makes a point that all living organisms including computers are bound to make errors. "We are built to make mistakes coded for error", says Lewis. Without making mistakes, new discoveries and new understandings will not occur. Mistakes cannot be avoided, we all make them and it helps us find out what is needed to rectify the problem so the mistake will not occur again. Errors also help us learn the kinds of mistakes we tend to make to pinpoint a individual's "weakness."

Therefore, errors are actually positive by helping us find solutions and advancing to a higher order of knowledge and learning. It is a tool that is subtle to people but without errors, there will be no advancements. "If it is a big enough mistake, we could find ourselves on a new level, stunned, out in the clear, ready to move again"(4).

In "The difficulties Posed By School" by Howard Gardner, Gardner points out the fallibilites of the school system. "The curriculum of school ought to go beyond a rehearsal of facts, however, and introduce students to the ways of thinking used in different disciplines"(9). Simply recalling facts via rote memorization, does little to true understanding of the material they have learn.

Another interesting fact Gardner points out is the student's lack of ability to distinguish intuitive learning and scholastic learning. Gardner admits that this hard to accomplish. Another stumbling block Gardner points out is students must be aware that they learn outside of school may not coincide with the learning in a educational institution.

So what changes can take place in the academia world of learning? One problem addressed by Gardner is the mutual agreement between the student and teacher of "correct answer compromises"(10). The problem with this tool of understanding is once the student has answered a question correctly, no further assessments are made to ensure full understanding. This is one of the problems of conventional learning in schools.

"As I have come to express it, neither teachers nor students are willing to undertake "risks for understanding."(10). This is the most important Gardner makes about the schools failure in helping students toward understanding. Teachers and students are not willing to take the initiative of true learning. Gardner criticizes the use of conventional assessment to check the student's understanding of materials. Gardner makes the point that traditional "instruments" used to check understanding will not be beneficial in the long run. "...for genuine understanding cannot come about so long as one accepts ritualized, rote, or conventionalized performances" (10).

In both readings, Gardner and Thomas attempts to address the problems of learning and acquiring information. Gardner identifies the ideal way of real understanding and how school does not fulfill that goal. Lewis points out that error is rather not a infallibility in humans but a strength that we possess to new discovery and understand our process of learning. Although both authors has a different approach in discussing the different areas of learning, they both offers solutions to help us learn more effectively and efficiently.

As I read both readings, I am able to relate the discussion of problems and solutions to my personal experience. Being a student in school and out of school, I am able to understand how I learn effectively. One major problem I had a difficulty in school was finding a consistent method of studying. I learned by as Gardner states, "trial and error." If a certain method didn’t work for me, I would try a different tool or approach to learning and understanding material. My attempt was to go beyond note memorization and to actually understand. When you understand something, it is easier for you to absorb the material than painstakingly, memorize material you can’t even interpret.

The way I was assessed in school was not what I called the ideal way of learning. For example, after taking a test I would forget the information because I had to worry about new information for the next test. I thought to myself, why remember old information that wasn’t going to be on the next test?

Mistakes made on exams were to be accepted. The teacher just labeled the question as incorrect without offering an explanation. Without the teacher helping me understand my error, I couldn't reach the next advancement of understanding the question by under‑standing my error. This can contributed to the fact that each teacher is forced to follow a curriculum implemented by the school system. Teachers just didn't have the time to go over student's errors because he or she had to get everything covered on the curriculum "...bureaucratized institutions have difficulty in dealing with ends that cannot be readily quantified"(10).

     More problems are faced with the task of learning. One, humans have to 'use our weaknesses into advantage. For example, understanding errors made by an individual. Two, the individual's success towards understanding because of the way the school adoption of an assembly line of learning. The assembly line of learning being schools spoon feeding students knowledge with minimal understanding.

     We as learners must adopt effective tools towards genuine understanding. Without these tools, a person cannot claim themselves as true learners. True learning is accomplished by making that knowledge part of yourself lasting a lifetime.

Comments on Essay P: Rating = 4

This essay shows a good understanding of the reading selections. That sense is bolstered by specific quotations and appropriate references, as well as by accurate summarizing. The writer has produced a unified and fully developed essay that permits some depth of analysis and comparison. The essay is rated 4 and not 5, however, in part because the style is loose, and there are too many lapses in use of conventions, even for exam writing. Nevertheless, the student has written an essay that fulfills the assignment adequately.

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Task 2 Sample Student Responses

Example of a Strong Response

Essay A

The article in the "Croftburg Beacon" says that the school boards decision to impose a college prep academic track or all students in the late '70's was a mistake and that vocational training should be available and is in many cases preferrable. It contends that there is a lack of skilled labor in such fields as electricity, plumbing, and carpentry because of this change and that despite a general relationship between a college education and salary, there are often exceptions when you take individual examples.

The data in the graphs provided does not make apparent these specific individuals the article mentions. Although there is certainly a decrease in unemployment for non college graduates indicated in Figure 1, implying that the work force is decreasing slowly as alluded to in the article, the fact of the consistency of unemployment rates for college graduates shows the market has not been flooded and the decision of the board was not necessarily a bad one. One would expect from this information alone that wages for non college graduates would have increased dramatically as demand for this type of worker increased. This in fact is what the article states as the case when it mentions specific individuals in specific trades.

Figure 2 however shows the contrary. All of the fields shown, with half from the college graduate pool and half from the non‑college graduate pool, exhibit a similar percentage of wage increase of approximately 50%‑60%. There are exceptions such as the carpenters increase 78% but this is matched by a similar increase among attorneys. The most tale‑tell sign in this second graph is the fact that none of the vacations mentioned have reached a wage equal to that of a computer analyst in 1970. When one considers the effect of inflation on the dollar in that 30‑year span, it is difficult to argue with the board's decision.

Comments on Essay A: Score = 5

This writer provides a full, analytical response to the task. In the first paragraph, the major claims are summarized clearly and accurately in the writer's own words. In the following paragraphs, the writer demonstrates the ability to integrate information from the text and the graphs ("Although there is certainly a decrease in unemployment for non college graduates indicated in Figure I implying that the work force is decreasing slowly as indicated in the article . . ."). The writer also links the two graphs ("one would expect from this information alone ... This is in fact what the article states ... Figure 2 however shows the contrary").

The concluding sentences bring an insightful analysis of the information in the graph back to bear on the original claim ("The most tale‑tell sign in this second graph is the fact that some of the vocations mentioned have reached a wage equal to that of a computer analyst in 1970. When one considers the effect of inflation on the dollar in that 30 year span, it is difficult to argue with the board's conclusion"). Use of transitions and references, as well as clear language, facilitate communication of the writer's ideas.

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Example of a Successful Response

Essay B

According to the above reading, there is problem of not enough skill workers in the domestic trade business, for example, carpenters, plumber, electrician. This problem is evident in the town of Croftsburg which is "thriving town" with thousands of "high paying jobs for skilled workers". However, the town has mixed reactions over whether children should be directly educated with 'college‑prep' course so that students will make a decision to go to college to better their chances of a well paying future career; or whether the schools should employ "better vocational training", so that students who don't intend on going to college could gain expertise and skill in a trade, which in this town has a competive wage to support a family and "generous benefits" without having to go to college.

Thus, according to figure 1, which shows the unemployment rates for college graduated and non‑college graduates in Croftsberg, in 1990‑1999, in seems that the claim that one doesn't needs a college education is succeed, is supported. As, the rate of unemployment decreases over the years for 10% in 1990 to 4% in 1999. Thus suggesting that even those who didn't go to college still managed to find a job, regardless of education.

Furthermore, for the data represented in Figure 2, which demonstrates the average annual wages for selected occupations in Croftsberg in 1970 and 1999; it can be said that over the years wages for both domestic labor jobs and skilled occupations, such as attoneys, computer anaylists, increased. Therefore, get a good higher paying job or not go to college and people would still receive a decent wage that would support a family. It just means that if you are willing to put more time into learning a proffession and go to school you are more likely to get a higher paying job.

Netheless, it is clear that in Croftsberg that one could choice to go to college or not because theire is high employment rates and impressive wages in whatever career path an individual choises. Especially demonstrating that over the years, the effect of changing the cirriculims to more vocational studies in schools did not cause or "terrible mistake."

Comments on Essay B: Score = 4

This response represents an adequate performance of the task. The first paragraph summarizes the major claims accurately, occasionally using aptly chosen and clearly identified quotations from the passage. The writer accurately points out a link between each of the figures and the reading selection ("Thus, according to Figure 1 . . the claim that one doesn't need a college education . . . is supported") and explains the implication of the links ("Therefore, suggesting that whether you go to college and get a good higher paying job or not go to college people would still receive a decent wage that would support a family.") However, the analysis does not go beyond the obvious interpretation. Although the writer's language contains errors and some sentences are not well‑formed, the writer's meaning is almost always clear. The flow of the response and the connections between ideas are helped by effective use of transitional words ("Furthermore ... Therefore. . . Nevertheless ... Especially. . .").

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