How do I write a winning essay in an English exam?

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1. Know the timings for your exam well so you can decide during revision how long you have to plan and read the question, write the essay and even check over it before the time is up! Therefore you can practice and find timings which suit you whilst completing past papers, preparing you further for the final exam.

This will remove the stress of suddenly realizing you have two minutes before the exam finishes and you haven’t even began your conclusion… nobody wants that!

2. Read the marking criteria- it will give you key information as to what you need to do to achieve the top marks, furthermore it is what the examiners will have in front of them when marking your paper. Make use of this information so you know when you have met the criteria and therefore must be achieving the marks!

3. Read and re-read the question! Don’t do all your revision and then not answer the question – this will limit the amount of marks the examiner can give you despite how amazing your essay may be. Therefore in the exam give yourself time to properly understand what the question is asking you to do – try breaking it down and highlighting key words if you are struggling.

4.Have an authoritative voice- convince the examiner that you are knowledgeable and passionate- rather than ‘I think’ instead use ‘ This shows’ – proving to the examiner you are confident with what you are writing about.

Showing your passion and understanding will also make your essay more interesting for your examiner which is sure to gain you some extra marks!

5. Plan a winning structure that you can re-use for every essay- then the only thing left to worry about is the content!

Use the PEAL structure for your paragraphs, unlike the PEE structure PEAL (Point, Evidence, Analyse, Link) means you can access the higher grades by not simply explaining your argument but also analyzing (examining in detail to discover meaning), a more impressive skill that will blow the examiners away! Finally the link part: this forces you to refer back to the question, making sure you are making your essay relevant and focused throughout- another green tick from the examiner!

Overall essay structure:

Introduction- present your argument/s clearly whilst referring to the question- set out your plan for the whole essay – this way the examiner will be immediately engaged and clearly understand your intentions for the question.

Use PEAL to structure the main body of the next 4/5 paragraphs depending on how many points you have. By the time you are in the exam you should stick with what you are confident with- better to have less points which are stronger than weaken your essay with one poorer point!

Conclusion- restate your argument briefly and concisely without waffling- keep it clear and to the point, making sure you have answered the question. However make sure you keep to your timing so you can finish your essay properly. A rushed conclusion will be obvious and you don’t want to pull down the rest of your essay!

6. Plan your essay before you begin- if you know where you’re heading then it will be much easier to guide your arguments to fit your conclusion. Therefore before you start decide on 3 or 4 key points and the conclusion you want to reach- this will give you a focus throughout the essay and hopefully prevent some panicking too!

Extra tip: Impress the examiner with some posh grammar- add a few semi colons in – after all if you can use them why not? - The exam is your time to shine!

Good luck!

Lara B. GCSE English tutor, GCSE Religious Studies tutor, Mentoring -...

About the author

is an online GCSE English tutor with MyTutor studying at Exeter University

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