In my years as a student, I’ve seen and made plenty of mistakes in the classroom. While I’ve always been adept in studies and enjoyed both academic and personal writing it is safe to say that academic writing is much less forgiving and is, in general, more intimidating than any other form of writing I’ve come across. This probably has something to do with the fact that an academic piece is written in order to be judged and graded. One of the hardest adjustments when it comes to transferring from high school to university is the difference in the quality of work you are asked to produce. Some schools do a great job of filling in the blanks and preparing you for the different ways in which you will be asked to write, others not so much. This is why I thought that it would be helpful to lay out some general rules to make sure you are ticking all the boxes for your tutor.
While it is important to get good grades it is also vital to remember that any mistakes that are pointed out are there for you to learn from and improve upon for next time. We are studying in order to learn, if your work was perfect you wouldn’t need to go to school. That being said, we all want to do our best, so this is how I write my essays and maintain a steady stream of essay scores between 70-90 (graded out of 100). With that being said my disclaimer is that I am by no means a perfect student, I have of course gotten the occasional bad grade.
While studying English Literature and Creative Writing for my university I’ve discovered that it is in fact easier to get good grades on a piece of creative work as opposed to an essay that would focus on analysis or discussion of a topic. I have an equal amount of informational and creative essays and I use the same techniques for both. This is my own personal method of essay writing; I hope it can be of some use.
The guidance notes are your best friend – Please make sure that in your essay you cover every single point or idea that your guidance notes ask you to comment on. Read the question, and then highlight the parts of the guidance notes that tell you what information your tutor wants from the essay. While every teacher is different in their marking styles the only foolproof way to make sure that you’ve ticked all of the boxes is to check your work against what is required of you. It is never just about how you answer the question; there are always specifics points that you should be covered in your work. The questions or topics given by your tutor are often broad and can be answered in a variety of ways. Your teacher will be using the guidance notes as a checklist, which means you should be as well.
Make sure you’re hitting your word limit. Most schools will allow you a 10% leniency above or below the designated word count. You will receive minus marks if you go above or below that extra 10%. If you are short on your word count, double check your guidance notes to make sure you’ve hit every point, if you feel like you have answered the question well, now it’s time to fluff up your answer with some filler words.
If you’ve written more than the word count allows it is time to check for overly fluffy language. Although this is ideal for bolstering your essay; your teaching will appreciate you answering the questions within the word limit more than having to read flowery language for longer than necessary. (If you love a particular sentence and think it would be a waste to trim, you can copy and paste it into a different document to use later) You lose more marks for going over the word limit than you gain for using fancy pants language.
Please, please, please oh pretty please proofread and edit your work. I’ve heard countless stories of students who didn’t give themselves enough to time to edit or simply didn’t bother, and as a result of this I’ve witnessed unfortunate typos such as ‘long back hair’ instead of ‘long black hair’. I really don’t care how well you can spell or type or how sure you are that you have made a sequence of legible statements; I can guarantee that your tutor will be thankful that she does not have to sift through unfinished sentences, misspelt words and unfortunate descriptions because of scheduling problems. Give yourself time to do the work and do it well.
Rule 4 is, in my opinion, the most important rule, it is to with scheduling. Whenever possible put your deadlines into a diary or calendar as soon as you become aware of them, work two weeks back and set up your start date. The time frame required can change from person to person, you should adjust this to fit your own needs or the difficulty and size of the essay, but this is my rule of thumb.
I finish my first draft on my start date, three days later I proofread. Two days after that I edit the work and make sure that it hits all of the necessary points in the guidance notes. I also make sure it is the same length as the word count requires. You may have noticed that this means I have finished my essay one week in advance of my due date. I prefer to get it done this early so I have plenty of time to look over my work along with a comfortable time frame in case of any last minute assignments. Take an hour or two in the second week to go over the work again proofreading and editing as necessary, At this point, I also make sure that all details required like student ID and title and correct referencing are in the correct places.
If you want to make sure that you are doing everything in your power to ace that essay consider asking your tutor what they would prefer to see in your assignment, sometimes tutors want something that goes above and beyond the guidance notes (as unfair as that is). If you are consistently getting grades that you aren’t happy with you should take this piece of advice seriously as sometimes it can be an issue as small as formatting or outlining issues.
The way that you write an essay will change from tutor to tutor, different people will require different things from you and it’s important that you change up the success formula to meet that criterion. Ultimately it is up to you to do the research and find out what is required of you, once you find that out do your best to hit each of those goals. This is the way that I write my essays and I hope that I’ve managed to help someone figure out what they can improve upon. If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to leave me a message in the comment section below!