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Topic 1

Consider this statement:

An understanding of the past is necessary for solving the problems of the present.

Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks. Explain what you think the above statement means. Describe a specific situation in which solving a current problem might not require an understanding of the past. Discuss what you think determines whether or not the past should be considered in solving the problems of the present.

Essay I Essay II Essay III


Essay I (Score = 6)

History is an integral part of the learning process. By studying events of the past, we can analyze the repercussions of certain behavior and action patterns. It is a fundamental way to lay the groundwork and predict the outcomes of future events. History is governed by human behavior. Although times have changed, and technology and knowledge has advanced, people are still driven by the same needs, desires, and insecurities of ages past.

One area in which the study of history is essential is in the conflict between disputing nations. During the Gulf War in 1991, America was at first unsure of its potential role. This country did not want to repeat the tragic losses of the Vietnam War, but at the same time could not let injustices occur before its very eyes. By studying previous military strategy, impetus, and conditions, the United States was able to enter the war without suffering a humiliating defeat. Civil rights issues have also used historical experience to determine proper conduct. The civil rights movements go back to the 1960's, when black leaders were just beginning to assert and articulate their arguments, as well as achieve their goals. The recent racial riots in Los Angeles, while violent, showed how people can learn from the past. There were definite and inspiring examples of concern crossing racial borders while before, the conflict was African-Americans against whites, we saw examples of multi-racial groups banding together to protect stores, homes, and families. Many of those people did not want to repeat the horrifying events of the past.

On the other hand, some problems exist today that are totally independent of any historical event. The current issue of AIDS prevention, treatment, and the search for its cure has generated a whole new set of rules and etiquette. Our world has never before had to deal with the devastating effects of the AIDS virus, nor with the quickly increasing numbers of infected people. Looking at the past could give us no knowledge on the workings of this disease, nor on its cure. It seems to have bypassed every known strategy used before in defeating a virus. In fact, looking to the past could even cause problems. It was the past, and even ongoing, sexual practices that allowed AIDS to spread so quickly. Instead of looking to the past for new information, we must reform our histories to stop this disease.

When, then, is the past crucial to our understanding of current events? It is important only, and especially, when it relates to the present situation. History can lay the groundwork course of action. But, of course, this is only true when the courses of action are similar. There must be some common threads tying the past and present together. With racial tension in mind, the commonalities stem from common catalysts for anger and feelings in injustice and equality. Moreover, these events are mediated by human behavior. Also, conflicts between nations arise because people disagree. In fact, people, and the involvement of people, may also be the common thread tying the past and the present together. But, with something like the AIDS virus, this crisis is not governed by any set of rules or behavior. No previously established fundamental law of virus behavior exists to dictate its action, for it proceeds with a total disregard and lack of emotion. It just keeps changing and slipping through our fingers, with no historical example to give us a guideline as to its future actions. History is crucial to understand. It can provide clues to our future, and help us solve certain problems. But, this can only be true if these problems, or similar ones, existed before and were governed by similar mechanisms.

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Score Explanation for Essay I (Score 6)

This paper, which demonstrates clarity, depth of analysis, and a recognition of the complexity of the issue, is thoroughly developed with relevant and specific historical examples. The writing is noteworthy as well, showing a superior command of language, particularly in terms of syntactic variety. Considering the time limitations of the test, which do not allow for much proofreading or editing, the fluency is remarkable. Few errors in sentence structure, grammar, or mechanics occur in the paper.

The paper begins with a simple restatement: "History is an integral part of the learning process." This sentence announces the writer's central idea but, at the same time, allows for the possibility that history cannot teach us everything we need to know. This subtle but clearly stated proposition prepares the reader for a series of related examples that serve as illustrations of the writer's themes and ideas.

The first examples are of the Gulf War and the Civil Rights movement. The writer uses the Gulf War to demonstrate how the United States has applied the lessons of Vietnam (establishing that we can learn from our past mistakes) to a contemporary problem of international relations. Then the writer supplies a parallel example of a domestic problem, suggesting that individual behavior during the Los Angeles riots was the result of lessons learned from the Civil Rights movement. The writer notes that "people did not want to repeat the horrifying events of the past." These two well-developed examples explain the meaning of the topic and expand on the ideas offered in the introduction ("By studying events of the past, we can analyze the repercussions of certain behavior and action patterns").

In the next paragraph, the writer observes that "some problems exist today that are totally independent of any historical event."For an example, the writer chooses to discuss the issue of AIDS, in particular the related issues of "prevention, treatment, and the search for its cure. The writer grants that researchers have attempted to use their understanding of the past to find successful cures and treatment, but the disease "seems to have bypassed every known strategy used before in defeating a virus.

This leads the writer, quite logically, to consider the question suggested by the third writing task: "When, then, is the past crucial to our understanding of current events?" The writer's conclusion, which is consistent with the ideas expressed in the opening paragraph of the paper, is that "history is crucial to understand" because it can supply "clues to our future, and help us solve certain problems."The writer stresses the importance of learning from the past while, at the same time, recognizing that an understanding of the past cannot guide us to the solution of all current problems. The specific criterion the writer presents is that we can solve problems that have issues with "some common threads," especially those involving human behavior (and the writer returns to the issue of tension between the races, commenting that "commonalities stem from common catalysts for anger and feelings of injustice and equality"). Throughout this final paragraph, the writer returns to the paper's main ideas and previous examples. This unifies the essay structurally and thematically.

This comprehensive and well-documented paper is impressive in its scope and ambition. The command of language, combined with a successful organizational plan, result in a sustained, clear, and effective paper.

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Essay II (Score = 4)

Wars have probably had the most devastating effects on a country, socially as well as economically. For example, World War II, with the discovery of the atomic bomb, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Later in the twentieth century, the United States entered another war with Vietnam. Again, massive destruction of American soldiers and Vietnamese villages resulted from the war. However, besides destruction, other aspects of the war were extracted that helped foreign affairs and ways to deal with war. The United States learned that fighting a battle in a different country; with a different climate and fighting ground is difficult and needed to be understood before the war started.

This instance exemplifies that a good understanding of past experiences can help problems of the present. So, if the United States needs to go to war with another Asian country, in the future, more precautions will be used to solve the problem. Even with economic problems, nations can learn from their previous mistakes. The stock market crash of the early twentieth century devastated the nation financially. But, looking back, mistakes will never be made similar to the ones that caused the depression.

Several instances show that once past experiences are understood, future and present problems can be solved. However, all of these instances involve circumstances that have had a past existence. The stock market and war are two essential aspects of this country's growth. What about problems of the present that have recently developed? These circumstances bring up a totally new problem that do not have a past. For instance, the pollution problem of the United States has been increasing exponentially in the last decade without having any devastating effects prior to this time. There also is the fear of using up natural resources such as oil and petroleum products. Both examples, pollution and scarcity of resources, are relatively new problems and have to be dealt with without having any past reference.

Although it would be nice to have an understanding of everything from the past, it is unlikely to assume that all existing problems that arise have been a problem before. So, for situations that are relatively permanent, the economy and wars, understanding the past is crucial to avoid making future mistakes and solving existing problems. But, it is obvious that solutions to new problems will be made from educated and calculated estimations of their effects without having any past experience to use as a reference. New and fresh problems will therefore be the most detrimental to the country since no similar experience has happened.

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Score Explanation for Essay II (Score = 4)

In this paper the writer offers several examples to demonstrate how an understanding of past problems (the Vietnam War, the stock market crash and the depression) may prepare us to deal with similar situations in the present. The writer contrasts these historical events with the related issues of pollution and management of scarce natural resources, such as oil, to show how certain "relatively new problems" must "be dealt with without having any past reference." The paper shows clarity of thought, and the writer provides adequate development of the major ideas. Although there are some lapses in sentence construction that create an occasional awkward phrase, the writer's command of language is adequate.

The paper begins with an effective sentence that engages the reader's interest. The primary focus of the paragraph is the Vietnam War, but the writer leads the reader to a discussion of that event by progressing chronologically and from the general to the specific, from World War II to Vietnam. The coherent pattern of sentences in this paragraph holds the reader's attention, and the writer begins sentences with words or phrases that serve as linking devices ("For example," "Later," "Again," "However,").

The second paragraph provides additional elaboration on the Vietnam War and adds another specific example (the "economic problems" caused by the stock market crash). Once more, the writer prepares the reader for the new example through the use of a transitional phrase ("Even with economic problems") that also works to connect the two examples thematically. Throughout the paper, the writer exhibits control and indicates the paper's organizational strategy by connecting related sentences and ideas. This provides the paper with focus and a sense of unity.

The writer moves smoothly to a consideration of problems that do not seem to have "any past reference." There is not much development of either issue (pollution or the depletion of natural resources), but they are mentioned specifically, and the writer uses them as counterpoints to the examples used earlier. The writer also uses this paragraph as a transition into a discussion of criteria related to solving problems based on past experience (the third writing task). The writer concludes that "solutions to new problems will be made from educated and calculated estimations of their effects without having any past experience to use as a reference." This logical conclusion seems consistent with the argument that has been constructed.

Although the writing is generally clear and a cogent argument is presented, there are some lapses that weaken the paper. For example, in the second paragraph, the writer notes that in a future war with an Asian country "more precautions will be used to solve the problem." Apparently, the writer is referring to a previous statement regarding the difficulty of fighting a ground war in a foreign country that has a different climate, but it is not clear what "precautions" are being suggested. Perhaps "precautions" is a poorly-chosen word. Additional clarification, though, would help the paper. Still, these instances are relatively minor in the paper, and the writing is mostly clear and specific.

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Essay III (Score = 2)

An understanding of the past is necessary for solving problems of the present. This clause is the basis for why generations have begun to document events of the past. For as we record the events of the past, patterns can possibly be established giving possible clues to why events are occurring in the present. An analysis of history, gives the concepts of how generations extrapolated solutions to problems incurred. Although of a different era, many problems today are the same encountered in the past. An example involves the scientific community. Of the various cures to illnesses and diseases, doctors have only slightly modified medications which were given in the past. There are some cases in which no modification has been made.

However there are situations in which the past offers no assistance to the problems of today. Again, this is evident in the medical arena. Today, there is the presence of disease in which no documentation existed in the past, for example the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

To determine whether the past can offer any benefit to solving the problems of today, one must investigate if similar problems were encountered in the past. If so, one should apply the tools to gain a practicle knowledge presented on the problem. If no solutions were submitted, then an insight into how the problem was quantitated could be questioned. Often times knowing what not to do to solving a problem is advantagous as well.

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Score Explanation for Essay III (Score = 2)

This paper is plagued by numerous errors in usage and sentence structure that impede the effective communication of ideas. While it is possible to follow the writer's ideas, the reader must often reread a sentence in order to see its relationship to an adjacent sentence. These clarity problems are compounded by generalities and vagueness that adversely affect the development of the writer's ideas. It is apparent, however, that the writer has attempted to respond to each of the three tasks and has provided sufficient information to receive a score of 2.

Several examples of the paper's clarity problems exist in the first paragraph. The writer notes that the topic statement, described by the writer as a "clause," explains the recording of history because "patterns can possibly be established giving possible clues to why events are occurring in the present." The writer's next sentence explains that a study of history "gives the concepts of how generations extrapolated solutions to problems incurred." The writer's meaning can be figured out, but the language is clumsy and difficult to decipher.

The first paragraph attempts to establish that an understanding of the past helps scientists and doctors understand and treat illnesses today. This serves the purpose of explaining the topic statement. The second paragraph, then, tries to describe a specific situation in which a current problem might not require an understanding of the past. Again, the writer chooses the "medical arena" and suggests that AIDS is a disease for which "no documentation existed in the past." Although the example is specific, there is no further elaboration or explanation. In terms of development, this is the weakest section of the paper.

The third paragraph begins with a paraphrase of the third writing task ("To determine whether the past can offer any benefit to solving problems of today") and notes that if one can discover "similar problems" then "one should apply the tools to gain all practicle (sic) knowledge presented on the problem." The writer does not specify what these "tools" are. Due to an awkwardness with language and a vague reference to "tools", the intended meaning is not conveyed to the reader.

In order to achieve a higher score, this paper needs to be more coherent and to present more specific information. The writer has chosen to use medical examples in each writing task, which could have worked to unify the ideas in the essay, but the references are so vague and awkwardly presented that the reader has to grope to understand their meaning and connection.

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