If you’ve ever sat an exam, you’ll know that writing an essay in exams is a completely different experience to completing an assignment or coursework. There will be strict time-limits and, – as we all know – working under pressure can be incredibly stressful. One of the biggest mistakes many students make is to dive straight into writing their response without planning their essay at all. Lack of planning can result in you getting stuck halfway through, running out of things to write or completely losing track of your argument. However, if you take just a few minutes to put an essay plan together, this will reduce your stress levels whilst making it much more likely that you’ll achieve the grade you deserve.
Reading the question probably seems like the most obvious thing to do, but it’s incredibly easy to misread or misinterpret the question when you’re under stress. Reading through the question and asking yourself what the question is demanding is probably the most important thing you can do in any exam.
Along with reading the question correctly, one of the most critical parts of the planning process is crafting your thesis statement. A thesis statement is essentially a summary of your answer to the question. Once you’ve written your statement, your job is to defend it throughout the rest of your essay. You might also want to consider writing an anti-thesis statement. In other words, what would you say if you were writing the opposite of your main argument? An anti-thesis statement can be useful to use later on in the essay if you need to address any counter-arguments. But remember, the most important thing here, aside from getting a sense of your argument across, is to make sure your thesis statement is no more than one to two sentences long. Concision is your friend when it comes to timed essays!
Unfortunately, exams are often about showing how much you know in a time-pressured environment. No matter how much you want to craft the perfect opening sentence, you need to be mindful of the time and plan accordingly. Imagine you need to write a one-hour essay on the Philosophy of Art. Your plan might look something like this:
Opening/thesis statement (5 minutes)
Argument 1 (15 minutes)
Argument 2 (15 minutes)
Argument 3 (15 minutes)
Conclusion/proof-reading (10 minutes)
Of course, it’s most important to finish your essay where possible. But setting aside even five minutes for proof-reading and editing afterwards can help your essay look more polished and guarantee that your argument is much more lucid and nuanced.
Even though many of us dread exams, a former tutor once told me to try and view the exam as an opportunity to show off everything I knew that was relevant to the question. Once you’re in the exam room, try and set aside any concerns about what you don’t know or where your knowledge may be lacking and instead try and enjoy it. Exams are timed for a reason – and no examiner expects you to know everything there is to know about a subject. Instead, use that time in the exam room to show the examiner that you’re knowledgeable about your subject and enthusiastic about shaping that knowledge into an essay.
Jessica is a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Richmond-Upon-Thames. With a degree in English Literature from University College London, she has experience as a private tutor for 14-18 years olds and adult learners. She has also worked in Widening Participation as a Mentor, Student Ambassador, and Student Leader. As someone who achieved A-Levels through distance-learning, Jessica has first-hand experience of the unique challenges and rewards that distance-learning offers. She regularly contributes content to educational websites including eNotes and Tutorful.