Answering OSSLT Short Writing Tasks, Part 2

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The OSSLT short writing tasks and  short response questions are focused, on-demand micro-essays. A while back, I listed six typical kinds of questions, and last week I discussed two of them. Today I’ll talk about two more, finishing next week with the fifth. (Remember that the sixth kind of short writing task, the summary paragraph, is covered in two previous posts about reading and writing summaries and finding examples.)

3. State a main idea from this selection and provide one specific detail from the selection that supports it.

This is a brief and straightforward question. To identify the main idea, ask: what is the reading selection mostly about?  Identify relevant supporting details by asking: what does the author say to back up the main idea? You can review tips for getting the main idea in our earlier post on that subject.

One detail in this question, however, could cause some confusion. The question says “state a main idea” yet more often when we talk about reading selections we say “the main idea.”

Is there more than one main idea? Not really. If you look at sample student answers with annotations on the EQAO website, it appears that scoring rules allow for slightly varied answers as long as they contain a reference to the main idea. Confused? Here are three student answers about the same reading selection, each stating the main idea in a slightly different way. All are considered correct.

  • “Naming hurricanes has become a challenge”
  • “Hurricanes are named different things over time”
  • “Naming Atlantic Basin hurricanes have varied over time”

As far as I understand it, this is what EQAO means by “a” main idea — in this case it must include a reference to naming hurricanes.

4. Should every teenager join a team or club? Use specific details to explain why or why not.

This is similar to question 2, discussed last week, although it is even more specific. It asks a yes or no opinion question and instructs you to explain why or why not. You need to develop an argument using details from your own knowledge and experience as your proof. This is the kind of question you can expect to see in the long writing task that asks you to write three or more paragraphs expressing an opinion.

For all your written answers on the OSSLT, be sure to write enough for the reader to understand what you mean and to see that you understood the reading selection. Always use full sentences and formal paragraph structure. To review sentences, refer to our earlier posts here and here and here. You can also refer to our posts about paragraphs here and here.

Next week: The fifth and most complex kind of short answer question found on the OSSLT, and tips for how to answer it.

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