The General Educational Development or GED essay exam favors open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. Most essay topics prod you to use one of six rhetorical writing styles to properly address the prompt: narration, description, process, compare and contrast, cause and effect, or persuasion, also called argument. Essay raters assess how well you demonstrate a clear command of standard written English and the writing process, under a 45-minute time limit. You should practice identifying when to use each style to craft a focused, five-paragraph essay under similar conditions as the live exam.


Narration involves telling a story from beginning to end in chronological order. A prompt such as, “What significant moment in your life would you change and why?” suggests the recounting of a event that occurred in the past. To answer this prompt, you could briefly tell the story in three body paragraphs, then offer reasons for change in you conclusion.


Description uses words to create visual, sensory images. For example, “Where is your favorite place to relax?” requires using elements of description -- sight, smell, touch, taste and sound -- to write an effective essay on this topic.


Process essays outline the steps of how to accomplish a particular task. When answering a prompt like “How do you make your favorite late-night snack?” you would include all of the ingredients and utensils needed to make the snack you describe in your introduction. The body of the essay would detail how to create the nosh, step by step.

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast essays typically discuss the similarities and differences between two objects. For example, for the prompt, “Would you prefer to live in an urban city or rural community?” you could discuss the benefits of city living, like cultural activities, and the disadvantages of country living, such as limited Internet access, if you prefer urban living.

Persuasion or Argument

An example of a prompt requiring a persuasive essay response could be, “Many public schools have eliminated physical activity from their schedules. Should recess or exercise time be mandatory for K-12 students?” This question requires you to choose a position either for or against the issue. The essay should develop at least three reasons for your standpoint.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect essays examine the reasons a situation or event happens and the resulting outcomes. For a prompt like “Why are so many Americans obese and what will happen in the future if this problem continues?” you could first identify causes for obesity, such as stress or poor diet. Then discuss the future effects of obesity in the concluding paragraphs.

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