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And it’s a real shame to work hard on something, have good ideas, and not get the marks you deserve.Writing a top essay is a very particular and actually quite simple challenge.
How does Shakespeare figure the supernatural in Macbeth?
To what extent are the three witches responsible for Macbeth’s tragic downfall?
Each time I scroll back through what I’ve written, or planned, so far, I become steadily more convinced of its brilliance.
What started off as a scribbled note in the margin, something extra to think about or to pop in if it could be made to fit the argument, sometimes comes to be backbone of a whole essay – so, when a tutor tells me my inspired paragraph about Ted Hughes’s interpretation of mythology isn’t relevant to my essay on Keats, I fail to see why. And an examiner would probably be happy not to read yet another answer that makes exactly the same points.
My main focus so far has been on tangential or irrelevant material – but many students lose marks even though they make great points, because they don’t quite impress how relevant those points are. It doesn’t matter how impressive, original or interesting it is.
It doesn’t matter if you’re panicking, and you can’t think of any points that do answer the question. It’s a waste of time, and might actually work against you- if you put tangential material in an essay, your reader will struggle to follow the thread of your argument, and lose focus on your really good points.
In the next few hundred words, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned through endless, mindless crossings-out, rewordings, rewritings and rethinkings.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to ‘write the question at the top of every new page’- but for some reason, that trick simply doesn’t work for me.
Treat your reader (whether it’s your class teacher or an external examiner) like a child who can’t do any interpretive work of their own; imagine yourself leading them through your essay by the hand, pointing out that you’ve answered the question here, and here, and here.
Now, this is all very well, I imagine you objecting, and much easier said than done. Structuring an essay that knocks a question on the head is something you can learn to do in a couple of easy steps.