It’s that time of year again; exams are looming and revision is your highest priority. But don’t forget, just learning the facts isn’t enough to score you the high marks you deserve. It’s also crucial to spend some time brushing up your exam essay writing technique, to save valuable minutes when you are under time pressure and stop you from panicking when you get into the exam room.
Many students coming to me for essay help tell me that in the highly pressurised exam situation, the hardest thing of all is working out how to structure their exam essay plan and putting the pen to paper to actually begin. Follow the simple exam essay technique steps below to plan and write a clear, structured essay, even under time pressure.
Your exam essay plan
Your exam essay plan is a key first step is to give your essay a clear structure and arrange your main points into a logical order, but it is important not to spend more than 10 minutes on it as it ultimately isn’t gaining you any marks. Working out the balance between planning time and the time you leave yourself for writing is a skill that comes best from practice – try timing yourself to work out exactly what works best for you.
To write a speedy but effective plan, first work out how the question breaks down into the main areas of argument. If it’s a ‘compare’ question, your plan might have two main sections, ‘similarities’ and ‘differences’. If it’s a ‘do you agree’ or ‘how far is it true’ question, you will have a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ section. If a question asks you to ‘explain how’ or ‘list the ways’, your plan will have more sections, each dealing with one specific aspect or method.
Once you have identified these main sections, write them out on your planning sheet, underlined, spacing them evenly and leaving room for notes in between.
Completing your essay plan
Next very briefly write notes under each section title to remind you of the different ideas that belong in that section. This is the part of your plan where you brainstorm all the different ideas and arguments from your revision that you could bring to bear on this question, and organise them into a clear structure by placing them in the sections you have already defined.
For a question asking you to compare two poems, under ‘similarities’ you might jot down ‘language’, ‘punctuation’, ‘themes’, whilst under ‘differences’, you might put ‘rhyme scheme’, ‘structure’ and ‘tone’.
Once you have summarised your main points and got the min order, you may like to briefly jot key quotes down alongside the relevant sections where they will be most powerfully included – this will help you remember to include them in the right places as you go along and avoid the all too common exam essay writing pitfall of forgetting to include quotes evenly throughout the essay and having to put them all in at the end.
Exam essay technique: getting started
Always start your exam essay with a clear introduction. Once you’ve written your exam essay plan, this will be easy to do quickly, because the purpose of your introduction is to clearly lay out the way in which you plan to answer the question, very briefly mentioning what your key points will be. So use your plan to write your introduction; first describe how your plan has divided up the question, then use the notes to summarise what your main arguments will be.
“The poems ‘Half Caste’ and ‘Search for my Tongue’ both deal with the key issue of culture clashes and differences between people. There are many similarities in the way they portray these issues, from language to punctuation and themes. However there are also several important differences between the poems, particularly in their use of rhyme, structure and tone.”
This introduction clearly indicates to the examiner that you will answer the question first by comparing the similarities of the poems and then by considering their differences. You have also made it clear that you are able to identify all the key areas of the poems that are relevant to the question. Immediately you pick up those crucial exam essay writing marks for a clear structure and a direct, relevant introduction, and for making the examiner aware of the intended structure of your argument. So remember, your exam essay technique is never complete without a clear, structured exam essay plan to clearly set out your main points and help you to order them correctly.