How do I write a good introduction to an exam question answer?

A good place to start is by critically engaging with the terms of the question itself. Show in your introductory paragraph that you have fully considered what the question is asking, and the nuances of the words and concepts it employs. Doing this helps clarify for yourself and the examiner what precisely you take the question to mean, so that when it comes to the main body of your essay, it is clear what your argument is responding to. The clarity of your argument, and therefore the quality of your essay, depends upon defining the question to which you are responding.

Once you’ve defined what you think the question is asking, you can set out in brief what your argument throughout the essay is going to be. What’s most important is to show that you have a clear line of argument, and that the essay you’re about to write will demonstrate and reveal to the reader why and how your argument is true. A good attitude to adopt here is to imagine yourself as an expert attempting to educate the reader. The greater your knowledge of the topic, the more easily you will fulfill this role. However, what you put down in your essay must be the distillation of your (hopefully thorough) knowledge of the topic. Remember, essays are not about trying to squeeze everything you have learned onto a few pages: it is your own considered response to the question at hand which is most valuable, and will gain you the most marks.

By clearly stating your argument in the introduction, you can then anchor each of your main paragraphs to this statement by consistently referring back to it throughout your essay. The main body of your essay is a demonstration of the argument you have set out in your opening.

Your introduction is also a good place to show why your particular answer will be meaningful and relevant, standing out from the mass of other essays which have been written alongside your own. You can do this by showing that you have considered alternative viewpoints and arguments before coming to your own conclusions. If you have been studying any literary critics, here is a chance to refute or critique their views. The best thing you can do is to treat your own opinions seriously, and see yourself as one critic amongst others. Don’t be overawed by famous names whose opinions may seem unassailable. By confronting other viewpoints, your essay can acquire shape and purpose.

In Summary:

- Critically engage with the terms of the question.

- Establish a clear line of argument which you can ‘anchor’ your essay around.

- Define your argument against alternative viewpoints.

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