The first five minutes of your exam are key to writing a good exam essay. It might seem obvious, but read the question a few times before you begin planning. I recommend underlining the most important words in the question to draw your attention to the key aspects of the question. After you're sure what the question is asking, then begin your plan.
It is important to structure your essay beore you begin writing, and it's really helpful to jot down your essay plan before you begin. I recommend writing down an introduction, a conclusion and three main points, as well as examples from the text to illustrate each example. If you're aiming for top marks, remember that each section of your essay should follow on logically from the previous section, forming an argument, rather than a series of discrete points.
Here's an example of the way in which you might structure your argument in the first few minutes of the exam:
“Comedy offers a form of release.” Using your knowledge of the play as a whole, show how far you agree with this view of Twelfth Night.
Begin by underlining the key words in this question, in this instance the key words are 'comedy' 'release' 'play as a whole' and 'how far you agree with'.
Introduction: Introduce play as a whole, perhaps giving some context of Shakespearian comedy. Here is a good chance to show off any wider background reading you've done surrounding the Elizabethan period. Then give an outline the content of the essay.
First Paragraph: Begin by agreeing with the statement that comedy offers release, demonstrated by the inversion of social order and the 'lord of misrule' plotline of Twelfth Night.
- Illustrative example: The inversion of social and gender roles exemplified by Viola.
Second Paragraph: Reinforce the connection between comedy and release, with a close reading from the text.
- Illustrative example: the scene in which Malvolio appears wearing yellow stockings.
Third Paragraph: Complicate the initial statement of the question, considering other implications of comedy
- Illustrative example: Treatment of Malvolio as he is locked up, as well as at the close of the play demonstrates the play is a 'problem comedy.'
Conclusion: Give an overview of the points you have made, linking back to the question. It's often useful to use some of the wording of the question at this point to demonstrate that you have appropraitely answered the question. End with a final line summing up your argument.