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How To Write An Essay Answer

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Tests take many forms, often combining multiple-choice with written composition. While it is fairly clear what is expected in the first section, open-ended questions can be a nightmare for many. Some students try to write as much as possible, using filler words that are either repetitive or lack substance. Considering that the written answers are (often) weighed more heavily, a poor performance can have a devastating effect on the final grade. Rather than continuing on “in the dark”, here are five steps to writing the perfect written test response.

Read the question 

Most mistakes are caused in this stage, with the student misreading the question properly. In order to maximize one’s grade, it is important that the student understands:

  1. The topic and keywords
  2. How the question relates to the “class-themes”
  3. Approximately how many words are required (based on the space afforded)
  4. The number of questions asked 
  5. The material referenced

Make sure that everything is understood perfectly, allowing the student to plan and craft their response. Rather than writing as much as possible, it is preferable to use words efficiently and in the right context. It is helpful to read over the question and underline keywords which will be used in later stages.

Develop your thesis

The thesis is the “reason for writing”, offering a unique and well-informed opinion. This is different from a discovery (or exposition) piece where the objective is to discuss things without offering a “point of view”. This depends on the question being asked, with clues being “hidden” within the test paper. The examination might discuss a whole variety of topics but is bound together by an overarching theme or literary movement. You can do this with or without an English tutor

Examples of thesis include:

  1. Canada should remain loyal to the British Monarchy
  2. It is better to get a drug addict medical help rather than putting them in jail
  3. Students should learn more “real world” skills (like tax preparation)

These three claims are all opinions without any proof or support. As the saying goes, “the bigger the claim the bigger the burden of proof”. While it is helpful to “lay down” a strong foundation for argument, it is imperative that the other side is entertained. Often called the “antithesis”, it begs the question and serves as the “devil’s advocate”.

For example:

  1. Canada should seek a republican government like America or France
  2. Drug addicts should be incarcerated 
  3. Students should focus on academic studies and not things that their parents could teach them

Get supportive evidence

This will depend on whether the test is open or closed book. If the format is open book, the student should take careful note of the page, speaker, and context of any quote sourced. If the book is closed book, try to recall which part is being referenced, even if it is not perfectly accurate. Furthermore, it is not enough that you simply recall the details, with the invigilator expecting some level of analysis. It is important to connect ideas to the text, whether it be to the writer’s time period of reference or other contemporary movements. 

Write an outline

This is like formal essay writing but is quicker and done by hand. If possible, the student should ask for a spare sheet or paper (or two), allowing for the generation of an outline. This is not done in full sentence structure, rather in bullet points and notes. This will allow for easy rearranging, connecting the arguments and the supportive evidence. Spelling is not a huge concern at this step, with that happening later on in the editing phase. Your must demonstrate a high level of comprehension, far removed from the vocabulary taught over Duolingo English

Write rough draft 

This is the time to turn over the rough paper and write the rough draft. Taking the notes from the outline, writing out the essay response in proper paragraph structure. This means an introductory (or transition) sentence, supportive evidence, and a conclusion (or another transition). While it is important to check grammar and syntax, this all must be screened prior to submission. If you are doing online learning then you can use a blank word document for your notes. 

Final screening

  1. Is the spelling and grammar perfect?
  2. Were all of the keywords used properly?
  3. Were all the questions answered completely?
  4. Was the opposing view entertained?
  5. Is the thesis consistent throughout the response?
  6. Was the argument successfully tied up (strong conclusion)?

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