Writing a good essay question
Show all contents Contents. You will need to set aside time for the following stages of writing: Thinking about the question. Gathering information and ideas.
Organising your ideas. Getting something on paper. Writing a first draft. An essay is not like a mystery novel which keeps the reader in suspense; it should not slowly reveal the argument to the reader. Instead, the contention and supporting arguments are usually stated in the introduction. That is, introduce the particular problem or topic the essay will address in a general sense to provide context, before narrowing down to your particular position and line of argument.
The introduction usually starts by providing some background information to your particular topic, so the reader understands the key problem being addressed and why it is an issue worth writing about. However, it is important that this is brief and that you only include information that is directly relevant to the topic. This might also be an appropriate place to introduce the reader to key terms and provide definitions, if required. Instead, make sure that your initial sentence relates directly to the problem, question or issue highlighted by the essay topic. Setting the parameters of the essay is important.
State your position on the topic also referred to as your main argument , or contention , or thesis statement. Make sure that you are directly answering the question and the whole essay question if there is more than one part! Provide an overview of how you are approaching the essay.
If asked a question about Keats, you should write about Keats. Or even if I can see why, the thought of taking it out is wrenching. It should make my essay stand out, if anything! And an examiner would probably be happy not to read yet another answer that makes exactly the same points.
If you recognise yourself in the above, there are two crucial things to realise. The first is that something has to change: because doing well in high school exam or coursework essays is almost totally dependent on being able to pin down and organise lots of ideas so that an examiner can see that they convincingly answer a question. Writing a top essay is a very particular and actually quite simple challenge. It sounds obvious, but a good essay should have the title or question as its focus the whole way through. It should answer it ten times over — in every single paragraph, with every fact or figure.
Now, this is all very well, I imagine you objecting, and much easier said than done.
But never fear! Structuring an essay that knocks a question on the head is something you can learn to do in a couple of easy steps.
Strategies and Tips Regarding Essay Questions on an Examination
Sussing out a question is a two-part process, and the first part is easy. The second part involves identifying key words and phrases. However, the detail of the phrasing of the question will significantly affect the way you write your essay. You would draw on similar material to address the following questions:. How does Shakespeare figure the supernatural in Macbeth? Are we supposed to believe in the three witches in Macbeth? You can decide what the focus should be. The second group are asking you to evaluate, constructing an argument that decides whether, and how far something is true.
Good examples of hypotheses which your essay would set out to prove for these questions are:. The final question asks you to respond to a quotation.
The first step is breaking down the quotation into its constituent parts- the different things it says. I use brackets:. This quotation, for example, is asking exactly the same thing as the other questions. The trick here is making sure you respond to all the different parts. You want to make sure you discuss the following:. Make sure your plan contains a sentence at the end of each point about how that point will answer the question. My final sentence highlighted in red shows how the material discussed in the paragraph answers the question.
How to Conquer Your Next Essay Exam Without Losing Your Mind
Writing this out at the planning stage, in addition to clarifying your ideas, is a great test of whether a point is relevant: if you struggle to write the sentence, and make the connection to the question and larger argument, you might have gone off-topic. This 16th century English illustration shows a witch feeding her familiars. This bit relies upon getting the beginnings and endings of paragraphs just right. This need not feel clumsy, awkward or repetitive. The opening sentence from the paragraph I planned above might go something like this:. Contemporary suspicion that witches did exist, testified to by witch-hunts and exorcisms, is crucial to our understanding of the witches in Macbeth.
To the early modern consciousness, witches were a distinctly real and dangerous possibility — and the witches in the play would have seemed all-the-more potent and terrifying as a result. Set aside a few hours, choose a couple of essay questions from past papers, and for each:. You can get your teacher, or a friend, to look through your plans and give you feedback.
It can seem depressing when your perfect question is just a minor tangent from the question you were actually asked, but trust me — high praise and good marks are all found in answering the question in front of you, not the one you would have liked to see. Teachers do choose the questions they set you with some care, after all; chances are the question you were set is the more illuminating and rewarding one as well. Your email will not be shared and you can unsubscribe whenever you want with a simple click.
Image credits: banner ; Keats ; Macbeth ; James I ; witches.
Put it into action: Step One
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