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whe'r eas t he essay for mat allows you to dev elop an arg um ent ,
explain alternative views or provide a high level of detail in your
answer. Because you cannot be expected to know all topi cs in
thi s sort of depth, t here is often an element of cho ice in essay
exam papers .

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I Crit ical t hinking

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I Essays are commonly used when tutors expect you to t hink more
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. deeply. Often what you have to do is not fram ed as a question but as
an instru ction. Typically, you will be expected to:
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,anI;Lproducingan ;etfe.dive",answer:,.;;,;, ;; ,., :.<
_~ , .: :;_~- ..-,:_: .,:.:<.1-_:_.., ._.•.. : ,_. ~_ . ~._ ,Y ', .._,. ,,., _:_:.:., ' ~~ " .. , '. ",: . " ' . a apply knowledge and understa nding;
t II analyse information;

jili{l;If~ill'~~~t~f't~J~tets I: synthesise new ideas or tr eatment s of facts;

evaluate issues, positions and argum ents.

See Table 1.1 (p. 6 ) for furth er explanat ion of what 's expected under
these headings, and watch out for inst ructi on words that invite t hese

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Per sooal pr onou'n ' \j aluej udgernent

Developing ~our. wr it ing skills.is a gradual pr ocess, and on~ th at is

best done wit h time at you r dispo sal. In most exams you will not be
. r The main advice is to kee ~ your wri t ing simple..wor kin g quickly,
~. use a spider diagram or mind map to generate Ideas relevant to t he
able t o spend a long tim e on const ructing your respon se to the set i l, ":quest ion. From t his, decide on an outlin e structure. This approach
task, and will be expe cte d to perform under t ime pressure, without 1~ . h e I P syo u to think lat erall y as well as in a linear manner - im por tant so

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m e marks you 0 rarn. " - ' A . ~ "" , ' . . '
int end to approach the tOPiCand stat es brie fly what ~ou r answer
will say.
0[ 0 • ' The main body: present s the inf or mati on, the argumen t or key
• points of you r re sponse.
Essay-styl e question s are mainly used by tut ors to elicit an in-d epth • .The conclusion: sums up th e answer as stated, reinforces th e
answe r to a complex issue. Oth er shorter form s tend to be included ", posit ion outli ned in the int roductio n, and puts the wh ole answer
when they want you to address knowled ge over a wid e area, \ int o a wider contex t.

16 6 Tackli ng speci f ic types of exam an d assessment 19 Essay -style assessment s 167

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Ta ble 19.1 Common fau lts in the structure of essay-style answers. In most
Introd uc t ions com pared with conclu si ons ~
of th ese exampl es, paying mor e attent ion to t he plannin g phase will re sult in a
better str uct ure , and, hence, bett er marks . il
The introduction out li nes the topic and your aim in gen eral term s,

. -
wh ile the conclusion st at es your argument, viewpoint or finding s
supported by the evidence and information y ou have di scussed in
's','ymi,{om of weakness
in'; ~ tr'oCfure " "

The magical mystery tour. This type of

An ~l ySis '6! t he woblem "
The essay may cont ain valuable

th e main body.
answer rambles on, drift ing from point conte nt. but marks will be lost because
1lI Th e t erminology used in th e conclusion is m or e spec ia lis ed, bec aus e ! to disconnected point wit h no real thi s is not organised and parts are not
it w ill have been introdu ced and expl ai ne d in th e main body of th e ! struc tu re. connected appropr iate ly to creat e a
! wo r k as a means of exp r essing ide as more su ccinctly an d i coherent response.

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No introduction and/or no conclusion . Fact s, concepts and ideas alone are
The main body contai ns many useful not enough - evidence must be
! _

points. but fails to introduce t hem and provided of deeper-level analytical

fails t o draw conclusions based on t hinking. The introduct ion and
An im p o rtant way in w h ic h m arks can be lost is thr ough p o o r the m. conclusions are important parts where
st r uct u ri n g of exa m a ns w ers ( Ch 16). Ideally, your outlin e p la n will t his can be achieved.
lead to an obvi ou s struct ure f or th e main body of th e t ext. but oft en The overly-detailed answer. The main The write r has probably been
in ex a m s it u a t io ns, an essa y ev o lv es on ce you begin to w rit e. Thi s body of t he answer contain s a wealt h preoccup ied wit h showing how much
is be cau se the act of writing st im u la t es development of thought. of in formatio n, some of which is has been memori sed, wit hout showing
relevant and some not. Despit e the how much has been understood.
potentiall y leading to c ha n ges in order and in content. In thes e cases,
finely-grained deta il, little st ruct ure is Relevance of t he material in relation to
your init ia l outlin e pl an sh o u ld be se e n as a f le xi bl e guid elin e that ma y evident and th ere is no discriminati on t he inst ruction given has not been
cha n g e a s you b egin t o t h ink m ore deeply abo u t th e t op ic. between,t he import ant and the considered at th e planning stag e, or as
unimportant. the essav-wrlt lnq progresses.
The stream of consciousness. Often Academic writing sty le involves
written as if it were a conversationa l structural as well as linguistic
. Writer's bl ock
f ,If you find Y(),u t ~pc:J to g¥ t ,st uc k'a tthe s t'ar t ofan essay answer, try
monologue, t his lacks int ern al components. Bot h areIm port ant
organisati on, few (or too many) elements of a good answer. Hence, t he

-f .- a defin iti on signposti ng words, no (or few) wri tin g needs to guide t he reader along
st ar t ing w ith
"'-- .----------.-. . or simple st at eme nt of fact.
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paragraphs, and litt le apparent logic.
The waffly, irrelevant answer.
a logical path to enable understa nding.
' Great er at te nt ion needs to be paid to
untocussed. fails to get to gri ps with analysis of the inst ruction given and
On the other hand, if th e planning phase is ig no re d completely, and th e quest ion and m ay contain large convert ing th ese th ought s into a
you o n ly think ab o u t t he st ru cture wh i le you wr it e, th en you can end amounts' of irr elevant information, coherent answer plan. Irr elevant '
offered up seemingly wit hout regard material should notbe -used as
up w ith a weakly struc t u r ed essay. Table 19.1 describes so m e comm o n
for t he to pic se t. it will gain no marks.
pitfalls t h at can o ccur when st ud e n t s fai l to consider the structure of
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:tl; The half -an-answer.Faiisto appreCia, eThe essay should cover -au aspects of

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Quot at ions and ci t ation s in exa menswers and eventual st ruct ure.

St ruct ur e dominated ,by quotes . This This typ e of stru ct ure leaves litt le
Do not be com e bogged down in trying t o rememb er di re ct quotes might sta rt wit h a hackneyed quote room for evidence of original t hought.
word for word (po ssi ble ex ceptions are in literature and law, exams). or be interspersedw ith exten sive ,Few marks 'are given fo r having a good
Just give th e sense of the quote, it s relev ance t o your ans wer and memori sed quote s. with little eff ect ive memory -Jt 's what is done wit h th e
its so urc e. use of t hese. informatio n t hat count s.
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16 8 Ta c kl i n q specific types of ex am and assessm en t 19 Es say-st y le asse s smen t s 16 9

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i Analysing the wording of each question
Anot her important way in whi ch mark s can be lost is when answers do
not address t he qu esti on (see Ch 16 ). You can avo id t his by:
!i This requires a bit more than simply th inking about what you are
being asked to do. You need to ta ke a broader and more in-dept h look I
at the task in the conte xt of the whole question . To do thi s, you must i

.... Making sure yo u conside r all aspect s of th e question. Bra instorm ing consider:
tec hniques can help you achi eve this. fl1 The instruction word . In what category does th at place the task?
e Explaini ng what you und erstand by the ques tion (per haps in t he For example, have you been asked to act, describe, analyse, argue,
introductory paragraph ). This will make yo u th ink about the or do someth ing else complete ly?
question and may clear up any doubt about how it can be ! G The topic. What is t he core topic about?
interpreted. Howe ver, make sur e you do not narrow the t opi c The aspectts) to be covered. What part icular aspect of th e topi c
beyond wh at wou ld be reasonable. has to be consider ed?
Focussing on the pr ecise tas k you have been asked t o do. ~ Any restriction(s). What limits have been imposed on the discussion?
r ....

" Remember to ta ckle t he quest ion act uall y asked and not t he one Your answer must encompass each element of the ta sk to ensure
you woul d have liked t o answer - t his is a r isk in question -spotting. , th at it is a logical response to th e task you were set. What you write
~ Ensuring your answer is planned. Creat ing a plan will make you t I:, , must be relevant. Superfluou s material or digressions will not earn
you marks
th ink about relevance and the logic of your argument. L".,. __ ~ __ -..:-w"",~:~",,:,,~~ ~ ."'--- f~ !

1Il Keeping t o the point. Including irr elevant or repet it ive cont ent

will not gain you any marks and the ti me you spend wr iting it will

be wasted , stopping you f rom gaining mark s on other que st ion s.

Having said t hat, no mar ks are give n for 'wh ite space': even a few

general points of pr inciple may r esult in enough marks to help

This is an essenti al stag e of cre ating a sound piec e of academic wri t in g,
you pass, when added to those gained in other, better, answers .
wheth er f or an in-cou r se assignme nt or exam. Tip s fo r reviewin g essay
~ Making sure you answer all parts in multi-part questions. These answer s in an exam sit uat io n ar e provided in ell 16 .
may not be worded in tw o or more sentences: phrase s such as
'compare and contrast' and 'cau se and effect' should alert you to
thi s. Make sure that the weighting in marks given to questions is
reflected in the length of the component parts of your answer.
o Avoiding making unsupported va lue judgements. These are
statements of the writer 's views , often using subjective language,
and which fail to provide sound evidence to support the position
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Have potential answer formats in mind as you go into an exam.
Ideally, your revi sion and pre -exam preparat ion ~ ill have given .you
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T his will ensure you do not have to sta rt answers completel y from
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, scratch.
r~;in g t~ ~ i c s----~-----'---'­ Use notes and plans effectively. It is perfectly accep table pra ctic e
to make notes in exam boo ks; however, you shoul d al ways score
1 Someti mes examination questions will blend two top ics so that you th rough them before you subm it the answ er paper. A sing le diagonal
Ii may findthat you can only answer half the question. This is one of line wi ll suffi ce. Som et imes yo ur plan may be used by the examiner to
the dangers of questi on-spotting{Ch 9 ).
l,=a~"-~~~. "'. ._ : .., _I . _ cros s-che ck deta il s of your answer (but do not count on this).

17 0 Tackling specific types of exam and assessment 19 Essay -style assessments 171
Keep your writing simple. If you are to st ick to your exam strategy,
you must not lose valuabl e time creating an attention -grabb ing piece
-.... .,
of writ ing. You won't have time or space to refin e your answer in the
19.1 Review essay-style questions in past exam papers.

same way as you would with a piece of coursewor k. In parti cular , don't
Look at these part icularly f ro m the point of view of t he depth

labour the int roductio n with f ine phrases - get stra ight to the point of
of answers' requir ed. Consider both the inst ructi on word used

th e quest ion and give your response to it.

and the conte xt to gain an appr eciat ion of th e level of thin king

Balance your effort appropriately. For example, in exam answers demanded.

your introducti on need not be overl y long. Most marks will be awarded
19.2 Focus on definitions and possible formats during
for the mai n body and conclusions, 50 spend more ti me and
revision. If you have troubl e getting your answers started
bra inpower on them.
during exams, it can be a useful device t o sta rt with a definition;
Focus on providing evidence of deeper thinking. Especiall y at alt ernatively, th ink about stat ing the sit uatio n, the prob lem and
higher levels of st udy, th is will help you gain better grade s. On the t hen th e pote nt ial solution. This migh t not be applicable t o all
assumpt ion th at you are able to include basic info rmat ion and display scenarios, but if you are really stuck th is will at least give you a
an underst anding of it, you can gain marks for: fr amewor k fo r thinking and writ ing.
s supplying addit ional and relevant deta il at the expected depth;
19.3 Use formative assessment exercises to improve your
& prov iding an analyt ical answer rath er t han a descri pti ve one ­ English. If you recogn ise tha t your use of language is weak, t hen
focussin g on deeper aspects of a topic, rath er t han merely take advantage of all formative assessment exercises to help
recounting f acts; you improve. Speak with marker s and tutors about how you
I} set t ing a problem in cont ext, and demonstrati ng a wider might enhance your marks . You may fin d t hat analy sing writ ing
understanding of th e t opic; however, make sure you don't overdo t echnique can help, especially if you are aware of specific
this, or you may risk not answering th e question set - remember weaknesses, such as punctuation or structuring.
that you cannot be expected to give the same amount of detail in
an exam answer as you would in a piece of essay-style coursework;
<& giving enough evidence of reading around the subject, by quoting
relevant papers and revi ews and mentioning author names and
dates of publication ;
@ considering all sides of a top ic/debate, and arriving at a clear
conclusion - you may have to take int o account and explain two or
more viewpoints, and possibly weigh them up, according to the
question set; where appropriate, your answer should demonstrate
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Make sure you aren't losing marks due to poor presentation.

Despite the t ime pressure, exam answers need to be legible and
clearly laid out. If feedback indicates t hat tut ors are having problems
in reading your work, or consider it untidy, paying attention to this
could be an easy way of gaining marks.

19 Es say -style assessment s 173

172 Tackl inq spec if ic t y pes of ex am an d assessmen t