Essays are quite different, being a reflective process in which you have the time and resources to reveal your skills in a medium wholly removed from the pressure and artificial environment of the examination room. Because of this, the standards required in an essay – of communication skill and knowledge – are much higher.
1. Write clearly, as briefly as the subject dictates, and accurately – with good spelling, grammar and punctuation. The language of the essay should never get in the way of the information you wish to convey or the argument you are using to persuade your reader that one viewpoint is preferable.
2. State your subject matter, your case or the structured plan of the essay at the outset and then summarize and reinforce your key points at the end. Readers may have short memories, become distracted, read a part of your work then pick it up again later, or just let their attention wander. Help, guide and strengthen the reader’s perceptions and responses.
3. Use facts, hard information, that are so interesting they are compelling. The essay that bores is the essay that fails to communicate effectively. Essay markers can be excused sometimes for letting their attention waver, so give them something to think about. No good teacher wants you simply to regurgitate the facts imposed on you during the course-work. Introduce your own research, a fresh view, or a challenging argument, and you can lead your reader by the nose.
To end with, some pointers to winning marks in an exam, and even an essay for that matter, the easy way.
Assessors look for specific points in an essay or exam paper which are milestones along the path to understanding. So identify those points as the course proceeds – if in doubt, ask the teacher or lecturer for an assessment of the points that matter -and make sure these are highlighted in your essay or exam answer. You can underline them, write them in capital letters or pick them out with a colored pen.
A word of warning, however. Exam markers are as individual and as varied in their views as students, so do not insult their intelligence. Set your key points within the broader context or argument in which they have clear relevance and meaning, and try to soar like an eagle rather than gobble like a turkey.
Get your reader or exam marker excited by the material you offer, and his or her marking hand tends to become more flamboyant. You make an assessor angry or exasperated, or doubting the rewards of teaching as a career, at your peril. The best and simplest formula for success is competence – solid factual knowledge and clear exposition. If you get that right, the rest should follow, with exam success and essays that win top marks.