Regents Prep: U.S. History: Exam Overview:
Thematic Essay


Thematic Essay Overview

To successfully write a thematic essay response, one must focus on the task. Each of the task items must be addressed in the written essay response in order to receive full credit.

A generic scoring rubric is provided which explains how the thematic essay response will be graded. The maximum possible score is a five; the lowest possible score is a zero.

To earn the maximum score possible, consider the following steps for writing a thematic essay response:

1. Pre-Writing
2. Introduction
3. Body Paragraphs
4. Conclusion

Exam Sections

Multiple-Choice

Thematic Essay
Short Answer
DBQ Essay

Pre-Writing

Before actually writing the thematic essay response, one should analyze the task and organize the information that they wish to include in the essay response. It is also important to read the scoring rubric to ensure that the essay response meets all of the requirements necessary to earn the maximum score of five.

First, carefully read the theme and the task. Look for clues that will help identify the information required to thoroughly address both the theme and the task. Underline those sections of the theme and task that you consider most important.

Next, draw a table or box that can be used to organize information and help in writing the essay response. Clearly label the one column heading “Tasks” and the following column heading(s) with the example(s) you wish to discuss. Suggestions topics for these examples can be found in the text after the task. Lastly, reserve the row headings for the individual task items.

For example, in the sample thematic essay from the June 2001 U.S. History and Government Regents Examination below:

Creating a box-format or table outline can be used to organize an essay response to the sample thematic essay. Click on the image below to see what it might look like when filled in.

For example:


Writing the Introduction

The introduction to the essay response should communicate what it is that the essay will show or prove. The thematic essay generic scoring rubric states that to earn a five, the essay, “Introduces the theme or problem by establishing a framework that is beyond a simple restatement of the Task and concludes with a summation of the theme or problem.”

For example, in the sample thematic essay from the June 2001 U.S. History and Government Regents Examination below:

A suitable introduction for this sample thematic essay appears below:

In United States history, the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence, have often been denied to African Americans. The establishment of slavery and legal segregation based on race are just two examples of how these rights have been denied, which required great efforts by individuals such as Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall to be overcome. However, these tremendous efforts have paid off, as equality is currently the norm for African Americans in the United States.

This introduction is based partly on the theme, but also declares what will be proven by the essay response. Each element of the task is addressed with specific information which will later be elaborated upon in the body paragraphs.

Filling in the pre-writing table prior to writing the actual essay response has provided a wealth of information to use in the introduction.

NOTE: One should not simply copy the theme or task; this is not a suitable introduction and will result in a lower overall essay score.


Writing the Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs need to thoroughly address all elements of the task by: demonstrating an understanding of the theme; incorporating relevant facts, examples, and details; and presenting everything in an organized manner.

This is where the completion of a pre-writing table really pays off! If constructed and filled in properly, this table will form the basis of organizing the body paragraphs of the thematic essay response. For example:

The colors above highlight how the information about can be organized into three body paragraphs. One approach to writing this essay would be to compose one body paragraph about slavery, another body paragraph about segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, and a final paragraph discussing how voting rights, affirmative action and economic gains demonstrate that equality has been achieved by African Americans. For example:

The enslavement of African Americans beginning in the earliest days of our founding as a colony of England, and ending in 1865, represents the most fundamental denial of rights. Slaves had no rights whatsoever, and were even beaten, raped, and killed by their white owners and overseers. During this time, even freedmen risked re-enslavement if they were suspected of being a runaway slave. Slavery was officially banned in the United States with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment at the end of the Civil War. After being freed, African Americans were also provided with the same rights afforded to all Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship and equal protection, and the Fifteenth Amendment provided all males with the right to vote. However, shortly after Reconstruction ended, African Americans once again were denied basic civil rights.

Jim Crow laws were passed and Black Codes were designed to keep African Americans in conditions very close to the previous servitude. Eventually, racial segregation took hold, and in 1896 the landmark Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson established the Separate But Equal Doctrine. This stated that so long as the facilities provided for each race were equal, they were legal. Thus, legal segregation would be the norm for at least the next fifty years. Plessy v. Ferguson was eventually overturned in 1954 in the Brown v. Board case in which the Supreme Court decided that all public schools were to integrate as quickly as possible. Then, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus to accommodate a white passenger in 1955. Eventually, through an organized bus boycott forced the end of segregated bus seating in Montgomery, Alabama. The Civil Rights Movement continued, leading to an expansion of rights currently enjoyed by all African Americans today.

Currently, African American enjoy equality on a level never before seen. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment banned the use of the poll tax, removing the last legal obstacle used by states to prevent African Americans from voting. Today, the vote of African Americans is courted by politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Affirmative action has also leveled the playing field in a variety of areas of life including education and the workplace. This has helped African American achieve economic gains that have helped to place many solidly in the middle class.

The table above formed the basis for the content included in these body paragraphs. It has allowed the writer to visualize the flow of the essay before committing to a single paragraph to paper. The facts in the table were embellished with details designed to thoroughly address all aspects of the task.


Writing the Conclusion

The conclusion to the essay response should communicate what it is that the essay will show or prove. The thematic essay generic scoring rubric states that to earn a five, the essay, “Introduces the theme or problem by establishing a framework that is beyond a simple restatement of the Task and concludes with a summation of the theme or problem.”

For example, in the sample thematic essay from the June 2001 U.S. History and Government Regents Examination below:

A suitable conclusion for this sample thematic essay appears below:

Great strides have been made to make equality a reality for African Americans in the United States. They have suffered through enslavement, segregation, disenfranchisement, and many other injustices. Many of these wrongs have been corrected through the passage of Amendments and Supreme Court decisions. While many African Americans have achieved equality on a scale unknown to their ancestors, some might argue that we still have problems that need to be addressed. This constant striving for equal rights is one of the qualities that makes the United States attractive to people from all over the world.

This conclusion borrows some material from the theme, and also repeats what was first stated in the introduction and proven in the body paragraphs. It also connects states that equality is not absolute.



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