Although many students will have looked at structuring answers within their lessons, a refresher is always helpful. Practical skills such as knowing how to structure an essay can help you figure out a plan before you even start writing; it will also influence your grade. A well-structured answer is an intrinsic part of your response; try to think of them as timed essays.
The structure of your essay will help you have a more convincing argument. It will also show off your ability to plan an answer. You can demonstrate your use of language better this way and these are all ways to attain that higher grade First off read the question carefully, this cannot be stressed enough. You will be marked on how you have understood, engaged and responded to the question so even before planning answer read it through and process it.
After that, planning is crucial. Going in blind with the first idea that pops into your head is going to end in disaster. Exams are tough, they are a means to test how well you work and think under pressure. Do not let this stress you out, be calculated and calm. Even if you are feeling uneasy about the question, by planning and segmenting what you know into sections, you will find you know a lot more than you initially thought!
Read our guide on how to plan your essays & projects.
Spend the first few minutes deciding on what points you need to use to answer the question. Make a bullet point list or a spider diagram. Aim for four to five main points. Make sure that you have a point which refers to the main themes of the text. You also need to talk about the structure and the language used.
It is better to have a well-structured, short answer than a babbling long one that has no direction. It is okay to be concise if you wish, it is okay to explain in lots of detail, it is okay to get passionate and add lots of examples and quotes. Remember the examiners want to know what you think, what you have taken from the texts and so you need to articulate this in a constructive way.
A good, strong answer will have three main aspects; an Introduction, a Body and a Conclusion.
The points need to flow in order. When you’ve written your list of points in your plan, think about what order they make most sense in. You need to be able to make a chain, linking each point to the next. Use connectives to link each paragraph to the previous one. In the exam make a quick note of the order you’ve decided on by putting a number next to each point.
The introduction does not to be very long at all but it is important you state the text(s) you will be discussing. Note the name of the text and the author as soon as possible. Yes, the examiner is probably going to know what you mean if you refer to the play as ‘Emma’ but it looks lazy and they want to know everything you know about the work. Do not treat the examiners as idiots but try to imagine that you are telling someone who has never read or heard of the text before; it will make your response fuller and more animated.
Make sure you show here that you understand the question. It is not a bad thing to use the words stated in the question itself so you can show you have read it thoroughly and are aware of what they are asking. Also in the introduction, make your intentions clear. If it is an argumentative answer make sure to state this. If it is a discussion then outline the main themes you will be focusing on. Always make clear your intentions and what aspects you are going to discuss to respond to the question.
The body of your answer is where you really get to show off. If you have ticked all the boxes in the introduction and have a good plan laid out this part will come together nicely. This is the part where you reference the texts. If it is a comparative question remember to state your point and then apply it to the texts you are using.
A good tool used to link ideas in writing is a linking device. These are words are phrases that can help you combine thoughts or ideas.
To express similarity: equally, likewise, similarly, in the same way/manner/fashion, also, both, each, like
To express contrast: however, compared to/with, although, unlike, on the other hand, conversely, but, as opposed to, in comparison, whereas, while, on the contrary, whereas, differs from.
Each paragraph needs its own structure, too. You could use P-E-E:
Point you are making.
Evidence - an example of why you are right (such as a quotation or an observation from a specific point in the text).
Explanation - what the quotation or observation means, why it explains your point, and anything else that is interesting about what is happening in the quotation.
To get the highest marks make a further development, linking your point to further evidence that backs up your point, or ending with a link to the next point.
Make sure your answer is fluid, each paragraph should move gently on to the next. If you need to start on a brand new point that is fine, just remember to refer back to question when you can. This helps you stay on track and keep focused and it will show that to your examiner too.
Remember, your conclusion must be clearly defined. Go back to the original points that were made in your introduction: have you discussed them all? Have you got examples of them all?
If so, you can begin your conclusion. Make any final points and compliment/refer back to what you have already said in the body of the answer. Try not to add any extra information or new ideas/arguments here. The conclusion is there to solidify what you have already said and define your argument.
A strong conclusion will leave the examiner with a positive impression of your work.
This simple structure is typical but it works, you are not writing a thesis or a never ending essay, it is an exam question . Be clear and concise, respond to the question and plan as much as possible. Revision is important but once your exam starts it is up to you.
Structuring your essay may seem futile but it really isn’t. It shows you are capable of organising your ideas and giving examples in the appropriate places. Being able to read a well-constructed essay is an examiners dream. If you can articulate your answer through knowledge of the text and a good use of language you will be on your way to a high mark!
Good Luck in the exams!