English is a subject that most either love or hate. Due to its subjectivity, it can be difficult to master. It’s not like maths where there is one right or wrong answer. However, if you’re like me, that is what you like about the subject.
Being able to argue a point or evaluate are important skills required to succeed in English. These skills might seem like things you can’t really improve on. You might feel like you have hit a wall in your essay writing abilities and there’s not much more you can do. I was once in that position until I realised that that’s not really the case. There are always things to improve and that can sometimes require going back to basics when it comes to writing a great essay.
At its core, a good English essay will answer the question and have a simple structure that is easy to follow. This is, of course, easier said than done but breaking an essay down to fundamental blocks can simplify the writing process. You’ll need an introduction that gives the reader a brief overview of what to expect. The body of your essay will be where all the analysis and explanation happens. Finally, the conclusion summaries all your points and reiterates the overarching idea you are trying to get across.
By the time you have finished reading this article, you should hopefully have a good idea about the process of writing a high-level English essay.
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How do you write an essay for English?
Writing an essay for some can be an arduous task that requires a lot of thought to force the words onto the page. It doesn’t come naturally to every single student and writing can be a struggle for those who have to put in the extra effort just to get one idea down.
However, with time, practice and dedication, the process will become a lot less taxing. Check out this article on Think Student, on how to write an English literature essay.
At its core, an English essay is a persuasive piece of writing. You are given a question and your job is to persuade the examiner that you have raised some relevant points through your analysis.
You are persuading the examiner that the quote you have chosen backs up your point. If your analysis is not convincing enough, you will not be awarded marks.
That is where many students seem to get stuck. They have a point in their mind but then when it comes to proving and developing that point, things tend to fall apart. This is why it is so vital that you plan things before going straight in and scribbling away.
Check out this guide from BBC Bitesize, on how to write an English essay.
How do you plan an English essay?
Under most circumstances, for an English essay, you don’t want to be spending any more than 15 minutes on a plan. Spending too long on the plan will leave you with little time to actually write the answer and that’s where you get the marks.
The way you plan is completely customisable and depends on the way you think. Your plan should be easy to look back to and reference throughout the exam time. Don’t make the mistake of using acronyms and scribbles for speed, only to find out you can’t read what you wrote when you go to look again.
For some people, writing down the quotes they want to use is a good enough plan. If in your exam you have to memorise quotes, writing the useful ones down can give you that extra security in case you forget under the pressure as you write your answer. It can also spur your memory for analysis.
For others, writing down the points they are going to make works much better. Your teacher may have told you about opening each paragraph with a topic sentence. These indicate to the examiner that you are answering the question as they include echo words from it.
In your plan, you could briefly bullet point a shortened version of your topic sentences just to guarantee you have got some decent ideas. If you are a particularly quick thinker, you could plan more than the number of points you need just in case you have some extra time when you write the essay.
For more tips and tricks on planning an English essay, check out this website by Skills You Need.
Should you plan an introduction to an English essay?
Some students feel that they don’t need to plan their introduction and opt to go straight in. With the clock ticking in an exam hall, it is understandable to feel like you have to start writing straight away. However, a well-planned introduction is always going to be better than a rushed one.
Think carefully about the content you would like to include in your opening paragraph. Some universal things include call-backs to the question and references to the text.
It might be worth bringing in some context about the author, or mentioning the generic conventions of the text. This depends on what the question calls for.
It is not recommended that you do a sentence by sentence plan of your introduction. By that point, you may well just write it out.
Try to keep things brief, as with the rest of your plan and only mention key details. This might be the year the book was released or specific character facts you’d like to mention.
Click here to discover more tips on how to write an introduction on the My Perfect Words website.
What should you do if you can’t think of a point when planning an English essay?
If after 15 minutes, you still have very few ideas, it is best to just start writing. Don’t stare at a blank page or get frustrated with yourself over it. Even if you’re not particularly confident about what you are writing, it is better than nothing.
Examiners cannot remove marks for any reason on English essays and so it is worth getting anything and everything down in desperate times.
Use the fact that English is subjective to your advantage. When you read the question, what is your personal opinion? Ask yourself how you would go about convincing someone of that opinion. What evidence would you use?
Many students tend to default to what they have heard in the classroom in past lessons. Though this is not a bad thing when the question is on something you have covered in class, it can be detrimental in other situations. You need to be able to form your own opinion on a question and argue that point.
Some students even find it easier to just make up a point of view and argue it. If you have no opinion on the question, this is definitely a viable option.
The examiner is not going to penalise you for not expressing an original thought. It is irrelevant whether or not you personally stand behind the point, as long as you analyse it well, they have to give you marks.
So, if you find yourself in front of question where nothing springs to mind immediately, try to form an opinion on it. Rereading the question again can also help to try and force your brain to generate some ideas.
To make sure that you are able to think of points whilst in the exam, check out this Think Student article on how to revise for GCSE English literature.
How do you structure an English essay?
An English essay is made up of three sections: an introduction, the body and a conclusion. Each of these segments must flow naturally together and they play an important role in writing a successful essay.
Starting with the introduction, the purpose is to, as it says in the name, introduce. If you have made a decent plan, you should have a good idea about what exactly your introduction will include. Whether it’s a reference to when the text you’re studying was written or a mention of the key characters in the text.
The introduction should set the tone of the essay and inform the examiner on what to expect from reading it. It should not be too long and, as you write more essays, you will find the length that works best for you and your writing speed.
Those who write quicker can potentially risk more when it comes to long introductions but it is not recommended.
The next section is perhaps the most daunting at first; the body. In actuality, many find that once the introduction is written, the rest naturally flows out, particularly when there is a good plan to reference.
Generally, you want to aim for three key ideas but there are certainly exceptions to that rule. Fast writers can achieve more in less time, but that doesn’t necessarily equal more marks.
Having three ideas won’t guarantee full marks, just as having twelve won’t guarantee that either. They have to be well-developed and thought out. Three good points should be enough to provide you with the breadth to cover as much content as needed while being a small enough number that you can go in depth with your analysis.
Lastly, your essay needs a conclusion. This is perhaps the easiest part but it often slips people’s minds. See it as your opportunity to tie all your ideas together and reiterate the fact that you have answered the question.
How do you write an English essay introduction?
The introduction to an essay is the first impression your examiner will have of you. It is crucial that it is clear and concise, giving an overview of what you will cover in your essay.
Make sure that you let the examiner know you are answering the question by using the exact words mentioned in it. If you are arguing a point, the examiner should know precisely what the point is.
Some students dwell on the introduction for too long and end up with one that is too lengthy. Try not to ramble on or get too deep into the details. You want to give the examiner a flavour of what to expect without giving away all the details too early.
The longer you spend on the introduction, the less time you have to make actual points in the body of your essay.
By the time you start writing the essay, you should have three or more clear points you know you will make for certain. There is little to no analysis required in an introduction.
Your focus should be on statements and brief explanation. If you start analysing your points too early, you will have nothing to say in the body of your essay.
Simple things like spelling, punctuation and grammar are doubly important in your introduction as it is the first thing the examiner will read. Under the pressure of examination, it can be easy to misspell an author’s name or forget to put a possessive apostrophe.
These kinds of mistakes are magnified in the introduction so make sure to double check that they’re nowhere to be seen.
Examiners are only human so if the first thing they see is a spelling mistake, it can set a bad tone for the rest of the essay and take away from your more impressive points. You want to give yourself the best opportunity possible to get those marks.
How do you write an English essay conclusion?
The conclusion to an essay can be often forgotten under exam conditions. You might be mainly concerned with getting all your ideas down as quickly as possible. However, it is a great time to summarise what has been written into a short paragraph that lets the examiner know you’ve directly answered the question.
By this point, you should have already made several references to the question and echoed words used in it in your essay. The use of echo words should continue in the conclusion. If someone were to look solely at the conclusion of your essay, they should be able to work out your key points and the question you were answering.
There is a balance to be kept between vaguely referencing your points and repeating them word for word. You can avoid repeating yourself by paraphrasing or using synonyms that still keep the meaning of the original point.
You don’t want to have a conclusion that seems like it could have been used in any essay. Be specific but not so detailed that you wind up rewriting the body of the essay.
Using sentence starters like “to conclude” or “ultimately” are great indicators to the examiner that they have reached the end of your essay. They create cohesion and ensure your essay is easy to follow. Your conclusion shouldn’t just seem like another one of your points.
How do you improve your English essay writing skills?
English can sometimes seem like one of those subjects that you’re either good at, or you’re not. Although it does come to some people more naturally than others, there are some practical tips you can use to get those marks.
The first thing you need to concern yourself with is what the examiner wants. Looking at the specification and mark scheme of your exam board is an excellent place to start with this.
Rather than writing an essay and hoping for the best, you should have a checklist of things you know you need to achieve in your head.
Your teachers may have mentioned Assessment Objectives, known as AOs, in your lessons. AOs are determined by Ofqual and are consistent across all exam boards.
It is important that you know these very well because they are what the examiner uses to mark your essay. You can find a list of these for both A-Level and GCSE English on the government website here.
Another simple thing you can do to improve your essay writing ability is practice. Not just answering questions but answering them under exam conditions. Incorporating past papers into your revision is a great way to quickly get accustomed to writing essays.
In addition to this, you should make sure you are taking in and taking action on any feedback you might get. Once finishing an essay, give it to a teacher to mark and go through any comments they make.
Maybe you forgot to mention context or maybe you didn’t analyse with enough depth. These kinds of things are easy to miss under the pressure of time conditions.
It can also be beneficial to learn how to write faster. Check out this article on Think Student to find out how.
Which exams do you use English essay writing skills in?
Your first thought might be that these skills are limited to only being useful in English Language or Literature. However, in reality, essay writing is a key part of a wide range of subjects. Although you may not have to analyse quotes or speak about writer’s intentions in the essay, there are some overlapping skills with other subjects.
Whether its GCSE or A-Level, any subject that requires learners to write an essay will employ the skills needed to write a good English essay.
For example, an A-Level Law essay needs evaluative, analytical ability and the capacity to convincingly argue a point. In a similar fashion, a GCSE religious studies essay requires the same skills.
Typically, any humanities subject requires you to write an essay in the exam. That is to say, any subject that covers human culture in some way like history, drama or philosophy.