How To Write Essays For Gcse English

Planning

The key to writing a good essay introduction is to plan your answer first. This is more difficult in an exam than for a coursework essay, as you have the additional pressure of limited time. As a general rule-of-thumb, you should allocate about 5 minutes of planning time for each hour of the exam. Your plan should be a very rough bullet-pointed outline of each topic you want to cover in your answer. By jotting down a quick plan, you instantly have a structure for your essay.

The Introduction

- Begin the introduction by referencing the question. Don't simply restate the question in different words though! Use the first sentence of your introduction to demonstrate that you understand why the question is interesting and why it is worth answering.

- Then, in a few of sentences, briefly outline the path that your answer is going to take. Don't try and hold back your points so that you can do a dramatic 'big reveal' later in the essay. Once your reader gets to the end of your introduction, they should have a basic undestanding of where your argument is going to go. Obviously this will be a very brief overview though: you will unpack your argument in more detail in the rest of the essay.

- Having said that, you don't need to present your overal verdict in the introduction. Save that for the conclusion. Outlining your argument in the introduction does not mean that you need to make your entire arugment there.

Practice!

As with everything, the best way to improve your essay introduction skills is to practice. Get some past papers and pick a few questions that interest you. For each one, plan the answer and write an introductory paragraph. There is no need to write the entire answer out for this exercise. If your plan and introduction are good enough, the rest of the essay will be much easier to write.

There are many key writing techniques required to achieve the best grades.

The video and text below look at some of the best technigues to help you achieve top marks

What are these techniques?

  • Planning
  • Introduction
  • Remain focused on the question
  • Clear conclusion
  • Organisation/ paragraphing
  • Accuracy

Good essay practice should include:-

Planning

  • Make sure you write a brief plan for your answer. In your plan you should identify very clearly around six distinct points you intend to make and the specific parts of the text that you intend to examine in some detail.
  • Spend about 5 or 10 minutes planning as this will help you make sure you have chosen the right question (because then you know you have lots of material to cover).

Introduction

  • This should be brief; you could include what your main view is and what other ideas you have.
  • Don't list the poems or ideas you are going to include in the rest of your essay as you will be repeating yourself.
  • Don't begin with ‘In this essay I am going to ...' and then list ideas.
  • Try to begin by addressing the question straight away.

Paragraphing

  • Make sure you use them as it makes your writing clearer for you and the examiner.
  • When writing your essay you should devote one or two paragraphs to each idea from your plan. Try to make smooth links between paragraphs.

Evidence

  • When you make a point - you must give evidence to prove it. When you make a point, refer to the text and give an example to back up what you say. The best way to do this is to use a quotation from the text.

Quotations

  • Remember to include quotations, but not too many and don't make them too long. A good quotation can be a line or two long or just a few words from a line.
  • Do not copy out whole long sections from texts as this is wasting time.

Selection

  • Don't retell the plot of the story. The important thing is to be selective in the way you use the text. Only refer to those parts of the book/poem that help you to answer the question.

Answer the question

  • It sounds obvious, but it's so easy to forget the question and write the essay you did in the mock. When you have finished a paragraph read it through and ask yourself. "Am I still answering the question?" If you think you are not then you need to change it, so that you are still focussed.

Conclusion

  • At the end, try to draw all the strands of your various points together. This should be the part of your essay that answers the question most directly and forcefully. Keep checking the question.

Style

  • Keep it formal. Try to avoid making it chatty, so avoid using abbreviations e.g. ‘don't', ‘won't' and do not call writers by their surnames so for William Golding you should call him Golding rather than William, which is too informal.

Be creative

  • Remember you do not have to agree with other people's points of view about literature. If your ideas are original or different, so long as you develop them clearly, use evidence intelligently and argue persuasively, your point of view will be respected. We want literature to touch you personally and it will often affect different people in different ways. Be creative.
  • There is no one correct answer to questions on English Literature, just well explored and explained ones.

CHECKLIST AFTER WRITING YOUR ESSAY

Have you:

  • Written a plan and stuck to it?
  • Written in clear paragraphs?
  • Produced evidence to prove all your points?
  • Used quotations from your chosen text(s)?
  • Answered the question?

Generally speaking to get good marks you have to do the following:

To get an A* you need to be insightful, sensitive, convincing and evaluative.

For an A you need to be analytical and exploratory.

For a B you need to sustain your answer linking details to what the writer is trying to say and thoughtfully consider the meanings of the texts.

For a C you need to structure your answer to the question, use details effectively to back up your ideas and make some appropriate comment on the meaning of the texts.

For a D you need to answer the question and explain your ideas with some supporting quotations from the text.

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