How to edit your work to improve your grades and refine your essay
Here is a checklist that can help you gauge how well your essay will score as you write it:
- Have I answered the question? Ensure that every sentence you write has a purpose. The purpose should be to add further detail to your argument rather than attempting to answer what you want the question to be. Be certain you know what is being asked of you before you even start writing. One of my top tips is to underline and highlight the keywords in the question. This can help draw your attention to them and get yourself focused on where you need to pay particular attention to.
- Read the marking criteria. This is provided for the examiner to assess your work. If you know where your marks will come from, you can then work towards achieving the criteria. Have a go at assessing one of your own essays to see what you generally do well and where you can pick up more marks from.
- Have an outline/framework. Provide a structure for your analysis in your introduction, so you know what to write for each paragraph. Keep your paragraphs focused on a key point rather than talking about everything you know all at once. Is your essay logical? Does it flow well, or does it jump around randomly?
- Be concise and specific. Your marks will come from the content rather than the number of words and paragraphs. Avoid restating the question or spending too long providing numerous quotes. Every sentence needs to say something that you haven’t already said.
- The “So What?” rule. This is my golden prompt for analytical writing. Ask yourself this after every sentence to check whether you have explored the quote or idea in full detail. If you have chosen a technique, have you said all that you can about it?
- Make it easy for the examiner to give you marks. For example, rather than burying your main points in the middle of a long paragraph, put the most important information at the beginning or the end of your paragraph as this is the information they are most likely to remember. If this concept interests you, do some research into the serial position effect for more information.
- Provide a leading sentence at the start of your paragraphs. Similar to the previous point, this helps the examiner tune in to your work and help direct your focus to this specific aim, thereby helping keep the rest of the paragraph on track by adding detail.
- Have a look at previous examples of high-scoring essays. Can you identify what makes them stand out and why they are high-scoring? What can you learn from these, and how can you borrow some of these factors to improve your own essays?
- Use a range of sentence structures and vary your vocabulary. Try your best to think of the examiner as a real person. It is your job to try and entertain them – think about how many similar essays they will be reading and how bored they will be towards the end. If you can make them feel good while reading yours, chances are they will be more inclined to give you better marks. Conversely, a boring and repetitive essay will likely lead to a quick loss of interest.
- Provide a conclusive conclusion. By this, I mean you should tie together everything you have discussed in a concise manner. This serves as a nice summary for the examiner to help them remember what you explored and why they should award the marks to you. I encourage you to add personal flair here as well – if the content was supposed to be persuasive, give your personal opinion and back this up with evidence. Was the content effective in achieving its aim? Why or why was it not effective? Make sure you provide a direct answer to the question.
- Read and re-read and re-read again. Have you fully understood the author’s contention and content of the work? Does the essay flow? Do your points make sense? Have you exhausted every possible point of analysis using the “So What?” rule? Do your examples and analysis work in the context of the essay question? Have you spelled words correctly and remembered your grammar and punctuation?
- Develop your mindset. Perhaps you think you’re bad at English and feel like you have no chance of getting a good grade. Maybe you don’t really care and don’t see the point of this. If you don’t want to do well, chances are you won’t. Instead, find whatever motivation you need to achieve what you want. Maybe you still don’t have much interest but still want to achieve a decent grade. If that is the case, make it as painless as possible by following this checklist and the advice of your teachers. If you are willing to put in the effort of using a tried and tested method of improvement and to learn from your mistakes, with a focus on improvement rather than results. With a positive mindset, the grades will transform as a positive side effect of your hard work.
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