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High School Essay Intensive Review by Debbie Lott and Jennifer Harrison

Andrew Pudewa
Institute for Excellence in Learning
(800) 856-5815
8799 N. 387 Rd.
Locust Grove, OK 74352

Teaching writing skills to teens can seem like a daunting task, especially with those all-important essays looming for the SAT, ACT, and college applications. Fortunately, IEW publishes excellent teaching resources for every age level.

High School Essay Intensive is a DVD-based course that includes five DVDs with six and a half hours of instructional content, student handouts, and a tri-fold “portable wall” with a useful assortment of essay-writing helps. The set sells for $79.

The main component of the course is the video instruction, which features Andrew Pudewa presenting a writing workshop to a group of high school students. It appears that the course was filmed over a one- or two-day period and includes participation from the class as well as the teacher lecture. At times, the viewer is directed to pause the recording to work on a writing assignment before continuing the lecture.

Part One of the series, “General Strategies for Essay Writing,” is the longest segment. Pudewa instructs the students to write a quick essay on one of two assigned topics, then gives instruction on several different ways to organize and outline essays. He also touches on concepts taught in other IEW materials, such as methods to improve and dress up writing using descriptive words, literary devices, and figures of speech. The student is then able to rewrite and improve his or her original essay using the tools learned in the segment.

Parts Two and Three discuss the ACT and SAT essays, respectively. Pudewa talks about the prompts and expectations for each essay (which differ greatly between the two tests) and how they are graded, and offers sample prompts for the students to practice with. He walks through the planning process for each essay, giving the viewer a headstart on writing the practice essay.

Part Four teaches the personal essay, which is often needed for college applications. This type of essay is quite different from the more formal and timed essays required for standardized tests. Several example prompts are provided with ideas on ways to produce this essay.

The DVD was quite interesting to watch. It included quite a bit of interaction between teacher and students with Andrew Pudewa’s typical touches of humor. My daughter and I watched this over a two-week period, which gave her plenty of time to both learn and complete the writing assignments. We agreed that we were glad to have the extra time that the video format allows. Completing the course live over a one- or two-day period would be quite exhausting!

The 25 pages of notes included both essay prompts and outlines for the lectures. The Portable Wall is a laminated tri-fold folder that provides a convenient summary of essay models, the essay writing process and strategies, a types of essays list, and lists of prepositions and of transitional words and phrases. This is a handy reference for students to have on hand while writing any essay.

Although my daughter completed one of each type of essay while working through the High School Essay Intensive, I plan to have her do several more of each type using the additional prompts provided and/or prompts from practice SAT and ACT tests until the process becomes easier for her. We found this to be an excellent course.

-Product review by Debbie Lott, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2017

Another Reviewer’s Perspective:

High School Essay Intensive

Andrew Pudewa

Institute for Excellence in Writing


8799 N. 387 Rd.

Locust Grove, OK 74352

My family has been through several courses from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, and we have loved them. However, with the end of high school looming near, my son still didn’t feel prepared for the upcoming tests and application essays. Thankfully, IEW created the High School Essay Intensive course for families like us.

The High School Essay Intensive set is a DVD-based set. It also includes twenty-five pages of printed handouts and a wonderful reference piece, called Portable Walls for the Essayist. This set addresses all the concerns held by high school students as they prepare for college. It covers all the principles of writing an essay. I was impressed with the presentation. If your student has never taken a writing class, this course is accessible and useful. If your student is an old hat at IEW classes, this still provides new information, while offering a useful refresher on what they’ve already learned. It prepares students for the ACT essay and the SAT essay, and is up to date with current requirements. I especially appreciate the section that prepares students for the dreaded personal essay, which is a part of many college and scholarship applications.

The first two DVDs share general strategies for essay writing, with one focused on length and structure, and the other on invention and style. These cover everything a student needs to know for effective writing, presented step by step in an intense, but approachable way. My concern was that it might be boring to my son, who has been through his share of IEW videos, but I need not have worried. My son was very impressed with the material. He said that, while much of it is familiar, he feels it brought everything together nicely. A good portion of the material was not familiar, and he learned plenty of new skills. The class is presented with Andrew Pudewa’s engaging style, so even the more redundant bits are entertaining. These first 2 DVDs combined take around two and a half hours to watch, but you’ll want to allow for more time to include the pauses for writing exercises.

The third DVD is about an hour long, and it focuses on the essay portion of the ACT. The schools on my son’s list all require this test, so this portion was of particular interest to us. This portion of the class helps students understand what is required and to prepare accordingly. My son is confidently looking forward to taking this test now!

The fourth DVD is a little over an hour and a half long. It covers the SAT essay. This test is not requested by schools in our area, but the disc is still full of benefits. It covers annotating, which is new to us, and has a special emphasis on vocabulary. Another useful skill taught on this disc is writing a timed essay. Even if my son doesn’t have to write an essay in 25 minutes for this test, it is still helpful practice for writing more efficiently.

The final DVD prepares students for their worst fear: the personal essay. This one is not quite an hour long, but it is stuffed full of confidence-building material. Students know they are to write about themselves, which is awkward enough in its own right, but they also know that their essay will be one among thousands and that they need to make theirs stand out. How? With a story. This disc gives students the tools necessary to understand their audience and to understand what that audience is looking for.

All in all, the entire course is over six hours long, without pauses for writing exercises. It can be done in one intense weekend or it can be paced out at your leisure. We opted for a six-week summer course to prepare for upcoming tests and applications looming at the beginning of this next school year. I am no longer nervous. I am confident that my son is prepared for the ACT essay, for the often-ridiculous application essays, and for the writing assignments he will encounter in college and in life.

The set costs $79 and includes the DVDs, which come in a beautiful leather case; a 28-page handout, which can be copied for multiple kids; and the Portable Walls for the Essayist tri-fold folder. The Portable Walls folder is also sold separately for $7. It lists many important reminders and tips for essays and can be propped up in front of a student to form “walls” to block out distractions while writing. Purchase of the set also gives you access to online streaming of the course, if you prefer to use it that way. Samples of the videos and of the handout are available online.

You do not need to be familiar with IEW to be prepared for this course. Students need to be ready with pencil and paper to take a lot of notes. They also need to be comfortable writing a sentence and a paragraph. This course does not cover the mechanics of grammar, but teaches students to write essays and to write them well.

-Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2017