The admissions essay helps us get acquainted with you in ways different from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It also enables you to demonstrate your ability to organize thoughts and express yourself. This is a very important part of the admission process and we’ve even put together some helpful essay writing tips below to assist you in answering all of your essay-related questions.
- Why do colleges require essays?
- What role does the essay play in the application process?
- Who will read my essay?
- What kinds of topics do most colleges require?
- Do I have to write about something serious?
- What about a humorous essay?
- Is the essay a good place to discuss my academic record?
- What “original” topics do colleges see with surprising frequency?
- Is there a “right” answer?
- Do I need to stick to the essay length suggested by the college?
- Can I send extra writing samples?
- Can I submit something I’ve already used for a class assignment?
- Can’t I just print an essay off the Internet?
- Who should read my essay before I submit it?
- What are some common pitfalls that students encounter when they write essays?
- Getting started on your essay—what comes first?
1. Why do colleges require essays?
Colleges use essays to try and create a personal snapshot of you unobtainable from other parts of the application. Essays tell what you are passionate about, what motivates you, what challenges you have faced, or who you hope to become. At selective colleges, admission officers also use essays to make sure that you can reason through an argument competently, that you can connect a series of thoughts, and that you can arrive at an organized conclusion.
2. What role does the essay play in the application process?
While an admissions decision does not hinge on the essay, it certainly can influence the decision making process. A strong essay will capture the attention of the admissions committee. An essay with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes may leave a negative impression.
Your essay deserves effort and attention, but keep in mind that it is only a part of the overall application process. The transcript, course selection, test scores, recommendations, activities, interviews, and any other required materials will all play a part in the final admissions decision.
3. Who will read my essay?
At small and/or selective colleges, admissions counselors thoroughly read all required materials that are part of the application. At Lewis & Clark applications are read by at least two people. Your application is first reviewed by the area counselor who will make a recommendation on the application. A second reader will then review the file. If the readers agree, a decision is made. If the readers disagree, the application file goes on to the admissions committee for a final review and decision. As this process unfolds, your essay is read by a diverse group of individuals. While admissions counselors take their jobs seriously, do not feel that you must write a serious essay. Your writing should reflect your voice and your personality. Do keep in mind that admissions committees reflect a wide range of ages, interests, professional experiences, and even senses of humor.
4. What kinds of topics do most colleges require?
It is important that you research the essay requirements for every college on your application list. While many colleges will accept a Common Application essay, some colleges have specific essay topics which must be addressed by every applicant. Since Lewis & Clark uses the Common Application exclusively, please use one of the following essay topics when applying:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
5. Do I have to write about something serious?
Not necessarily. You should not feel that you have to choose a serious topic in order to have a powerful writing sample. Sometimes simple topics can leave lasting impressions on admissions committees. If you feel that a serious event has defined you as a person, changed your opinion about life, or has affected your academic record it may be worthwhile to make this the subject of your essay.
6. What about a humorous essay?
It is always a pleasure to read a “funny” essay. A unique topic or approach is often refreshing to a college admissions officer who has been reading applications all day. Further, an unusual or off-beat essay is an excellent way to show your creativity. However, you should not attempt to be funny if this is not your natural personality or voice. Your comfort level as a writer is a serious factor in the success of your essay. The more natural you sound the better.
7. Is the essay a good place to discuss my academic record?
The essay can be a good place to explain in more detail any ups or downs on your transcript or a significant experience that has impacted your academics. You can, however, also write a separate letter explaining those circumstances if you’d like to write your essay on another topic.
8. What “original” topics do colleges see with surprising frequency?
Students often write about their mission and/or volunteer trips out of the country, an outdoor experience, the death of a family member or close friend, a sports injury, or travel. While you can write a successful essay about these experiences, make sure you focus on a specific moment and how you have been impacted. Don’t just tell the admissions committee that your values or outlook changed when confronted with a challenge – tell us how you changed as a result of that experience.
9. Is there a “right” answer?
No. Specific questions do not necessarily have specific answers. A good essay will be focused on a clear idea with supporting details. How one admissions counselor reacts to a particular essay may be entirely different from how another admissions counselor, your mom, or your friend might respond to the same essay. One thing we can all agree on is that grammar, spelling, and sentence structure is important. As far as content is concerned, we all have different opinions. What about writing on controversial topics? A controversial topic can be successful, but it must be done sensitively so that a reader with an opposite opinion can relate to your essay.
10. Do I need to stick to the essay length suggested by the college?
The Common Application instructions stipulate that the length of your essay should be between 250 and 650 words. The form will count the number of words entered as you type, and will not allow you to submit the essay if it falls outside the parameters. If your essay is outside the length guidelines, check with colleges to see if you can mail your essay separately – most will tell you that would be acceptable. (Do make sure your names and one other identifying piece of information is on every piece of paper you mail.)
11. Can I send extra writing samples?
Many students feel that creative writing, a graded paper, poetry, or newspaper articles will enhance their application and provide a better picture of their writing ability. Unless the application says otherwise, most colleges will accept additional samples. Colleges know the materials that they need to make an admissions decision, but extra writing samples can be good supplements to those required materials. In most cases we would prefer copies of graded writing assignments.
12. Can I submit something I’ve already used for a class assignment?
A piece of writing that served as my essay on The Great Gatsby will read like “My College Essay on How Much I Love The Great Gatsby.” A paper written for your English class may inspire your college essay—just make sure that it doesn’t feel recycled.
13. Can’t I just print an essay off the Internet?
No way! College admissions officers are pretty savvy people. We read thousands of applications and many admissions professionals are familiar with the content of essays discovered online. If we have a question or a concern about an essay we will request graded writing samples to get a better sense of the student’s writing ability. More than anything, you do not want to put your application in jeopardy. You will be writing a great deal in college—consider your application essay to be good practice.
14. Who should read my essay before I submit it?
Do not rely on technology to proofread your essay! Beyond using your computer’s spelling and grammar check program, it is a good idea to have several “real” people read your essay, too. No matter how many times you read your own writing, or how many times you check your spelling, you may miss small errors because you are so familiar with the essay. If they have time, ask a teacher or counselor to read your essay, as well as a parent and/or a friend. It is important to have several different people with different viewpoints read your work for content, errors, and tone.
Keep in mind that admissions committee members are complete strangers to you, so having your essay reviewed by someone who doesn’t know you well (a friend of a friend, for example) isn’t a bad idea either. Remember, your essay should reflect your voice, so listen to the advice of your reviewers but do not let them re-write your essay.
15. What are some common pitfalls that students encounter when they write essays?
Number one is procrastination. Don’t wait for this to be the last part of the application that you do. Start a draft, work on the rest of the application, and then go back to the essay – as many times as necessary. That’s why you start early.
Too often, students write their college essays as “one huge paragraph.” Your essay should resemble any other academic paper where the rules of grammar and style still apply. Remember the basic rules of writing—avoid excessive use of exclamation points, be careful with commas, don’t use slang, don’t overuse capital letters or abbreviations, etc. Also, don’t rely on a thesaurus. Big words, especially when misused, detract from the essay and make the essay sound contrived.
If you have created your essay in a separate document and have cut-and-pasted it into your online application, please double-check before you click on that submit button. Make sure your entire essay gets pasted, your document has copied correctly, etc. Don’t let glitches detract from the quality of your essay.
16. Getting started on your essay—what comes first?
Follow the practices that have worked for you in writing essays, compositions, and research papers in high school. Once you decide on a topic, you might want to:
- Develop an outline
- Determine the best format to present your message and start with a creative lead
- Prepare a draft using detailed and concrete experiences
- Review and edit the draft for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage
- Share your draft with others
- Rewrite and edit as necessary
Penilaian Menengah Rendah (commonly abbreviated as PMR; Malay for Lower Secondary Assessment) was a Malaysian public examination taken by all Form Three students in both government and private schools throughout the country from independence in 1957 to 2013. It was formerly known as Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP; Malay for Lower Certificate of Education). It was set and examined by the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate (Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia), an agency under the Ministry of Education.
This standardised examination was held annually during the first or second week of October. The passing grade depended on the average scores obtained by the candidates who sat for the examination.
PMR was abolished in 2014 and has since replaced by school-based Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3).
The mandatory or core subjects that were taken in this exam are:
Optional subjects are:
The Malay language was a mandatory subject, and continues to be so in the exam's successor, the PT3. Before the PMR examination in October, there were oral examinations and a listening comprehension examination which were counted for the actual PMR examination. These examinations were taken three times throughout Form 3, with the best results being selected as a final grade in the PMR examination. The Malay language examination consisted of two papers, that were Paper One, and Paper Two.
In Paper One, 40 multiple choice questions were given to test the student's comprehension of the written language being tested, and lasted for typically one hour. Paper One was usually tougher, with results above 30 considered distinctive.
Paper Two comprised four sections and was two hours long. For the first section, the candidates were required to write a summary based on the passage given, which also contained three comprehension questions on the same passage. For the second section, the candidates were expected to write an essay of not more than 120 words based on visual aids (such as graphs, charts, images, multiple images, tables and cartoons) that were provided to candidates. For the third section, candidates had to write an essay on one of five topics given to them. The composition must have contained more than 180 words, and carried the most number of marks. For the fourth and final section of the second paper, the candidates had to write a description for any one of the three novels studied by them in lower secondary school based on the instructions given. The questions asked differed from year to year.
Similar in format to the Malay language exam, the English language exam usually had an oral component, which assessed the students' proficiency in speaking the language, a listening comprehension examination, testing the students' ability to comprehend speech in daily situations, an examination to test the student's composition skills, and finally an examination testing the student's knowledge in grammar and vocabulary.
- Oral and listening examination
The oral and listening comprehension examination was taken before the PMR, which would contribute marks to the actual PMR examination. The oral examination was taken 3 times throughout the year with the best results selected for the PMR examination. The oral and listening comprehension examination were usually taken together. This examination for the English language usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes per student. The maximum score for this examination is 40. The oral examination is divided into 2 sections. The first section was to interpret an illustration given as thoroughly and detailed as possible, and give comments about their actions in a formal way and predict the outcome of such a situation, this being graded on a score of 10. It was advised that students did not point to the picture. No names were to be given and everything was to be said in present tense. The next section was to give a speech in front of a class. This part of the examination was different for each of the 3 oral examination per year. For the first oral examination, this part of the test required the student to present an impromptu speech based on a topic given for more than 3 minutes. For the second oral examination, this part of the test required the student to memorise a passage and present it in front of the class as interestingly as possible for about 5 minutes. For final oral examination, this part requireed 2 students to strike a conversation in front of the class for about 5 minutes which is relevant to the topic given. The maximum score for this part of the oral test is 10. The final section of the English oral examination requires the student to answer questions spontaneously asked of the examiners related to the previous 2 sections, which often required their opinion and inference, this being graded on a score of 10.
The listening comprehension examination followed once the oral examination had finished for the particular class. This examination would then test the students' ability to comprehend the spoken English language in various daily situations. This examination required the student to answer subjective questions which was based on the information contained in the audio played to the students. This examination provided the final 10 marks.
- Written examination
For the first paper of the English exam, students were required to answer 40 multiple choice questions in the course of an hour. Questions based on grammar, vocabulary, phrases and idioms were tested. Students were also required to interpret information based on graphical stimuli such as statistical charts, memos, signs, short texts, notices and pictures. A rational cloze passage with a total of 10 questions was provided to the student; the passage tests grammar and vocabulary specifically. There was also a section which tested the student's knowledge in English literature, such as poems, short stories and novels studied throughout the lower secondary English lessons.
For Paper 2, students were required to write a long essay and a summary, as well as to answer a literature component. Section A, guided writing, tested the student's ability in functional or situational writing. If a functional writing question is provided, students were required to write an informal or formal letter. If a situational writing question was provided, students were required to write an essay in the form of a narrative or third person drama. Generally, this part of Paper 2 was tough and difficult to score. Section B of Paper 2 required students to write a summary based on a passage given. The final section of Paper 2 was the literature component, where students were required to write an essay based on their knowledge in the novels studied in Form 3. The novels being tested in the literature component include How I Met Myself, The Railway Children and Around the World in 80 Days .The time limit for this paper is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Effective 1 January 2012, the new format set by the Ministry of Education Malaysia prior to the abolition of the exam in 2014 was as follows:
Section A : Guided Writing (Remains the Same) Marks: 25 marks (Reduced from 30 marks)
Section B : Literature (Section changed from Section C to Section B). Two (2) questions: Question 1 : Poem, short stories & drama Marks: 3 marks Question 2 : Novel Marks: 12 marks (Increased from 10 marks)
Section C : Summary (Section changed from Section B to Section C)Marks: 10 marks (Unchanged)
The mathematics examination in PMR was divided into two papers, that is, Mathematics Paper 1 and Mathematics Paper 2. Paper 1 consisted of 40 multiple choice questions and is worth 40 marks. The time limit for this paper was 1 hour and 15 minutes. This had prompted complaints from students and parents about the very short timeframe for completion and its difficulty. Students usually score lower than average for Paper 1, with scores above 30 being distinctive. The usage of a scientific or four operation calculator was allowed for this paper from 2003 onwards. Programmable calculators were not allowed.
Mathematics Paper 2 required open-ended input, and comprises 20 questions in increasing difficulty. This paper was worth 60 marks. Marks for each answer ranges from 1–6, depending on the complexity of the question. The time limit for this paper was 1 hour and 45 minutes. The usage of calculators regardless of type were prohibited for this paper.
For both papers, the questions were usually in the form of:
The science examination in PMR was also divided into 2 papers, that was Science Paper 1 and Science Paper 2. Paper 1 consisted of 40 multiple choice questions in escalating difficulty and was worth 40 marks. The time limit for this paper was 1 hour. The Science Paper 1, similar to Mathematics Paper 1, is usually very tough to score above 30. The usage of calculators for this paper was allowed, as this was to assist the students answer physics-based questions.
Science Paper 2, similar to Mathematics Paper 2, required open-ended input. This paper consisted of 8 to 10 subjective questions. The marks allocated for the questions in Paper 2 varied from 1 mark to 6 marks, each measured proficiency in several units of the science syllabus, with a total of 60 marks. The time limit for this paper was 1 hour and 30 minutes and the usage of calculators was not allowed. The last 2 questions were usually experimental ones, which required the student to formulate a hypothesis, determine the variables of the experiment and tabulate the data for the experiment. The marks allocated for this section of Paper 2 were usually more because it required the student to explain further based on their knowledge in science. The syllabus covers various aspects of chemistry, biology and physics. These distinctions into different fields are not made in the examination format but can be derived based on the different themes:
- The scientific method. Physical quantities and their units. The use of measuring tools. The concept of mass and the importance of standard units in measurements.
- Energy. Its forms such as heat, thermodynamics in a system and the conservation of energy.
- Biogeochemical cycles: water cycle, nitrogen cycle, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere.
- Air pressure and its application.
- Dynamics. Forces, work and power.
- Simple machines.
- Reflection and refraction of light. Concave and convex lens. Vision and optical illusions.
- Sound waves.
- Electricity and electrostatics. Ohm's law. Concept of series and parallel circuits. Current, voltage and resistance.
- Magnetism and electromagnetism.
- The generation of electricity. Electronics. Transformers. Electrical supply and wiring system at home. Fuses and Earth wire.
- Astrophysics. The solar system, stars, galaxies and the universe.
- The history and developments of space exploration and the field of astronomy.
Geography, History and Living Skills
The format of the Geography, History and Living Skills examination in the PMR were the same. It had only 1 paper which consists of 60 multiple choice questions in escalating difficulty. The time limit for Geography and History were 1 hour and 15 minutes while for Living Skills it was 1 hour and 30 minutes. The Geography and History papers are commonly deemed very easy as questions are normally recycled from previous years.
The Geography paper focuses more on human geography rather than physical geography and is primarily focused on Malaysia. It features environmental geography, geomatics and regional geography. The usage of calculators was allowed for this examination. The Geography examination was widely considered as the easiest subject to score "A". The topics covered in the examination include:
- Basic geography: Map reading, bearing, interpretation of topographical map and other basic techniques in geography.
- Physical geography: Weather and climate, natural vegetation, plate tectonics, weathering, rivers, coasts, climatic, manmade and natural disasters.
- Human geography: Population, settlements, agriculture and aquaculture, natural resource management, industrialisation, tourism, physical and human resources.
The History paper featured both national history and international history. However, it focused more on Malaysia's road to independence during the British colonial times.
- Living Skills
For the Living Skills (similar to Design and Technology in many countries) paper, the subject was categorised into 4 elective groups where students could choose any one. Then there was the mandatory section where students must have taken engineering drawing, technology, invention, domestic piping, electronics, electrical engineering, basic economics, home decor and safety, tailoring, horticulture and gardening, telecommunication, cooking, consumerism, and signs. The 4 elective groups are:
This paper was closed and is not allowed to be seen by the public. This was done mainly due to the sheer amount of recycled questions every year.
Students were also required to complete three projects, that was folios, for these 3 subjects to receive their PMR slip and certificate. Similar to the Malay and English language examination which requires the students to have their oral and listening comprehension examination, these 3 folios would have contributed marks to the actual PMR examination during October. This project was to help the students to score distinctions as these papers are tough.
The results were released in late December every year to all candidates through the relevant schools. The grades ranges from A (excellent) to E (failure), or even T for non-attendance (Tidak hadir). The grading scores were slightly readjusted based on general performances. Hospitalized students could take the examination at the hospital they were staying at.
Based on the results and individual interests, students would have beed streamed into Science, Arts, IT, or vocational streams for the following 2 final upper secondary years of schooling. The government aimed for a ratio of 60 Science to 40 Arts students, but this goal was ultimately not met.
The results for the last batch of PMR (2013) was released on 19 December 2013 prior to its abolition in 2014. 
In 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin declared that the PMR examination would be abolished in 2014, and the Form Three students' performance for that year would be tested through a School-Based Assessment (SBA) conducted by the schools themselves. The SBA is to be monitored by the Examination Board to ensure the examination questions are of adequate quality and can truly gauge the students' level of performance. According to the then Deputy Prime Minister, this measure will also enable parents to obtain the latest information on their children's academic performances in school. After numerous debates, it was finally confirmed in early October 2012, that PMR would be officially abolished.