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How do you achieve a higher mark for an A-level essay?

As an examiner makes their way through a vast array of exam scripts, written largely on only a few set questions, they are, understandably, relieved to find an answer that stands out from the rest (for the right reasons). Originality, without stretching your reading of the text, is, therefore, important if you are aiming for an A/A*. There is, of course, no easy solution - but, generally, you want to respond imaginatively to the question, to prove that you not only possess the knowledge required, but also the enthusiasm.

If, for example, you were answering a question on 'blame and forgiveness' in 'Long Day's Journey into Night' - a play by Eugene O'Neill - you may wish to propel yourself in a new direction, using existing criticism as a springboard. Rather than merely confirm the theories of others, you actively contribute and exhibit an ability to think for yourself. In her commentary on the play, Margaret Loftus Ranald notes that O'Neill ‘observes the Aristotelian unities scrupulously’. This is, of course, true; but you can go a step further by discussing the possibility of a fourth unity - blame, which irrevocably ties together the three male figures in the play. Your essay now has a clear, original framework that can be easily fleshed out, as you explore the various ways in which this new unity is presented.

Tom B. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level English Literature tutor

1 year ago

Answered by Tom, an A Level English Literature tutor with MyTutor


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Lowri C.

Degree: Human Geography, French module (Bachelors) - Durham University

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Degree: Italian and English Literature (Masters) - Edinburgh University

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Tom B.

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Degree: English Literature (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: English Literature

English Literature

“About me: I'm a second-year English student at Durham University, which always makes for a nice, long train journey from South Wales. In  my spare time, I try to write short stories for student-run literary magazines, like the popular...”

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