Essay Writing at A2
Introduction This does not have to be long – a few sentences should do. It may define the terms in the question, set the scene for the argument to follow or provide a brief statement of the idea or viewpoint to be developed in the main body of the answer.
Argument This is the main body of the answer. It should consist of a series of paragraphs, each developing one point only and following on logically from the previous one. Try to avoid paragraphs that list information without any depth, and avoid writing all you know about a particular topic without any link to the question set. Make good use of examples, naming real places. Make examples count by giving accurate detail specific to those locations.
Conclusion In an essay answer the conclusion should not be too long. It should reiterate the main points stated in the introduction, but now supported by the evidence and facts given in the argument. It should address the command word in the question, such as ‘evaluate’ or ‘assess’. There should be evidence of synthesis.
Other Points Writing a brief essay plan is always beneficial but make sure it takes no more than a couple of minutes. Use it to organise your thoughts and to help you with the structure of the essay. Brainstorm, think ’lateral’, identify categories and list relevant case studies and examples. Don’t waste time writing details and facts. Read the question carefully and answer the question set! A good answer is one where the reader can work out the question from reading the answer. Avoid lists and do not use bullet points.
Apportioning the time so that you give sufficient emphasis to each question is vital and you must plan the time effectively. Spending a disproportionate time on one question spells disaster. For example, Unit 3 (Contemporary Geographical Issues) is 2.5 hrs long and is split into three sections worth a total of 90 marks. The minutes per mark ratio (150/90 = 1.66) is a helpful way to organise your time. For example:
Section A 25 marks therefore approximately 42 minutes (1.66 x 25)
Section B 25 marks therefore approximately 42 minutes (1.66 x 25)
Section C 40 marks therefore approximately 66 minutes (1.66 x 40)
At the planning stage it is vital to structure the content into categories that will help you to ‘unlock’ the question by identifying concepts, facts and case studies. The use of categories also ensures that your essay will be guaranteed to have some essential evidence of synopticity. Think in terms of:
Scale micro, meso, macro (small, medium, large)
Area local, regional, national, international
Development LEDC, MEDC (or LEDW and MEDW)
Factor economic, social, political, environmental, physical
Time scale short term, medium term, long term
Human environment rural, urban
Physical environment terrestrial, marine, fluvial, glacial, tectonic, desert, periglacial, atmospheric, biotic
Dimension spatial, temporal
Questions are instructions and if you ignore any part of it you will lose marks. Consider this question:
Q: Describe the distribution of the immigrant population in the city shown in Figure 1.
Describe This is a command word. It tells you how you should respond.
Immigrant population This identifies the subject or topic of the question. It tells you what to focus on.
Distribution This is a subject qualifier and is a precise instruction about the aspect required.
City in Figure 1 This is also a subject qualifier and must be used if your answer is to be relevant.
This requires you to break down the content of a topic into its constituent parts, and to give an in-depth account. It is important that you present a logical account that is both relevant and well organised.
You are expected to build up an argument about an issue and to present more than one side of the evidence with supporting examples. This creates a written debate identifying both positive and negative points and then you must reach a conclusion from the debate. You should both describe and explain. Try to create a balanced answer.
Evaluate and Assess
These command words require more than a discussion. In both cases, an indication of the candidate’s viewpoint, having considered all the evidence, is required. ‘Assess’ asks for a statement of the overall quality or value of the feature or issue being considered. ‘Evaluate’ asks you to give an overall statement of value. In both cases, your own judgement is requested, together with a justification for that judgement.
This usually applies to decision-making questions. When you have made your decision you must justify why that course of action was better than the alternatives. Explain why you chosen course is better than the options that you rejected. Also explain how your choice meets the criteria set out for you in the question (or which you had to describe earlier in your answer).
Summarise the various points and give an opinion. You should refer to the data (where given) but then make a statement arising from the data that is relevant, appropriate and geographical, but above all not directly evident. You are being invited to ‘think like a geographer’.
What is wanted is a point by point identification of similarities and of differences (‘compare’ includes looking at contrasts, while a command to ‘contrast’ means only looking for differences). Use comparative adjectives eg. larger than, smaller, more steep, less densely.
The use of ‘critically’ often occurs in questions, for example ‘critically evaluate’. In this case you are being asked to look at an issue or problem from the point of view of a critic. There may be weaknesses in the argument and the evidence should not be taken at face value. You should question not only the evidence itself but also its source, and how it was collected. The answer should comment on the strengths of the evidence as well as its weakness.
The Importance of Synopticity
All essay questions at A2 must include a synoptic element. The definition of synoptic assessment in the context of geography is as follows:
Synoptic assessment involves assessment of candidates’ ability to draw on their understanding of the connections between different aspects of the subject represented in the specification and demonstrate their ability to ‘think like a geographer’.
Consequently, you must look for links between physical, human and environmental geography and identify patterns at a variety of scales. Being synoptic means being able to tie things together, to link different ideas and to summarise them.
Mark Scheme for AQA Essay Questions
1 – 9
The answer shows a basic grasp of concepts and ideas, but points lack development or depth.
Explanations are incomplete and arguments partial and lack coherent organisation or reasoned conclusions.
Examples are superficial.
There is no evidence of synopticity.
10 – 19
The answer is relevant and accurate, and shows reasonable knowledge and critical understanding of concepts and principles with some use of specialised vocabulary.
Arguments are not fully developed and the organisation of ideas and the use of examples and general theories show imbalances.
Some ability to identify, interpret and synthesise some of the material.
Limited ability to understand the roles of values, attitudes and decision-making processes.
Sketch maps/diagrams are not used effectively.
Evidence of synopticity is limited.
20 – 29
Sound and frequent evidence of thorough, detailed and accurate knowledge and critical understanding of concepts and principles, and of specialist vocabulary.
Explanations, arguments and assessments or evaluations are direct, logical, purposeful and generally balanced.
Some ability to identify, interpret and synthesise a range of material.
Some ability to understand the roles of values, attitudes and decision-making processes.
Examples are developed and sketch maps/diagrams are used effectively.
There is strong evidence of synopticity.
30 – 40
Strong evidence of thorough, detailed and accurate knowledge and critical understanding of concepts and principles and of specialist vocabulary.
Explanations, arguments and assessments or evaluations are direct, logical, perceptive, purposeful and show both balance and flair.
There is a high level of insight, and an ability to identify, interpret and synthesise a wide range of material with creativity.
Evidence of maturity in understanding the role of values, attitudes and decision-making processes.
Examples are well-developed and sketch maps/diagrams are fully integrated.
The answer is fully synoptic.