Essay writing in exams

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Essay Writing for Exams



In style, there are many similarities between the essay you write in the exam and the essay you write during the semester. The biggest difference is the amount of time you have to plan your essay, order your thoughts, and get them down on paper.

  1. Quick Plan

Just like other essays, you must plan. If you plan, you will know what you want to say, the order to use, and importantly, your essay will sound more coherent. Like all writing, planning is a personal thing but here are two ways you could go about it. However you choose to plan – keep it brief.

(only 1 -2 minutes)

  1. Brainstorm/Prioritiselist any ideas or thoughts that come to mind about the topic/question. Use words or phrases. These will act as prompts for the paragraphs and sentences of your essay. Then, look at the list and number each point – the

numbers are the order in which you will discuss them in your essay.

  1. Planning Diagram –drawing a plan for your essay

  1. Lightning Introductions

This is a critical difference to the normal essay! You have limited time so only use a three sentence introduction. Do not try to be fancy; be direct and use key words or phrases from the question. In the second sentence signpost what you will be stating in your essay.

Example Question: What is the 5E’s approach to teaching and learning? What is the role of the teacher and student in such an approach?

Example Introduction:

The 5E’s approach is a model of teaching that reflects the basic principles of a constructivist approach to learning. In Primary Connections (AAS) the progression of lessons that make up the 5E’s are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. Firstly, this essay will give a brief explanation of each of these stages and link them to the constructivist approach to learning. Secondly, the roles of the teacher and student in the 5E approach will be described.

Even this brief introduction gives the marker a clear indication that you know the content and what they can expect to read in the essay.

  1. Body Paragraphs

Each paragraph should contain one main idea and this should be clear from the topic (1st ) sentence. Following the topic sentence should be some supporting sentences and evidence to support your argument.


The first phase of the Primary Connections (AAS) 5E’s model is to engage. At this phase the teacher uses explicit strategies to link with student pre-conceptions and developing conceptions about the topic being introduced. Two strategies that can be used successfully to elicit students’ prior knowledge are the Think, Want, Learnt, How (TWLH) chart, and the Concept Cartoon resource. The engage phase is …..

  • Remember, marks in your exam essay are won in the details so be specific and support your comments with detailed examples.

  • Your essay will also read more coherently if you use transition signals to begin each paragraph. E.g. ‘ Firstly..’, ‘A second method of ..’, ‘Another reason for..’

  • When you paragraph, miss a line – it will make your essay easier to read and will show that you are introducing a new idea in your essay.

  • Don’t write the question first – if you have a good introduction it will be a waste of time.

  • There is no set length for an essay –a superior essay addresses the topic quickly and sticks to the question. Try not to be repetitive - keep your points clear, thoughtful and provide examples/evidence. You should be aiming to write about an A4 page every 15 mins.

  1. Conclusion

Keep it short (4 sentences). Summarise your main arguments, and if you’re struggling, resort to the basics ‘In conclusion, …’; ‘To sum up…’ etc You are not trying to introduce new information – just guiding the reader towards how you have demonstrated your knowledge.

Most importantly, re-read the question and check that you have answered it – all parts of it. If you haven’t answered the question you will not get the marks!

  1. Tips.

Handwriting – this is important! Please write clearly and if necessary slow down a bit to make your writing more legible – your marker cannot give you the ‘benefit of the doubt’ if your writing cannot be read easily.
Grammar and punctuation – Written communication skills. Grammar, sentence construction, expression, punctuation and spelling, all contribute to the clarity of your essay. Whether or not examiners are looking at written expression specifically, it will contribute to – or detract from – your final result. In the School of Education we do look at it!
At the end of the exam –don’t leave early! Checking your work will help; look for errors in spelling, grammar, sense, and make sure you have attempted all the questions you have to do. Use the time to revise or think more deeply about the harder questions.
SENTENCE BEGINNINGS - Examples of relationship signals

  1. Exemplification:

    • 'An illustration of this is the...'

    • 'Characteristics such as...'

    • 'For instance,...'

  2. Contrast:

    • 'As opposed to,...'

    • 'This differs from X in that...'

    • 'Whereas,...'

  3. Comparison:

    • 'Like X, Y is...'

    • 'X resembles Y in that...'

    • 'In the same way,...'

  4. Enumeration:

    • 'There are several kinds of...'

    • 'These can be divided into three types,...'

  5. Chronology:

    • 'The earliest...'

    • 'Thereafter,...'

    • 'By the time,...'

  6. Causality:

    • 'As a consequence,...'

    • 'This resulted in...'

    • 'Hence,...'

  7. Process:

    • 'Step 1 involves... Step 2...'

    • 'Initially, ... then ... finally ...'

  8. Spatial Order:

    • 'The base is positioned next to ...'

    • 'X moves outwards to the ...'

Some common directives used in exam questions:


Examine the main ideas or components; consider how they are related and why they are significant.

Compare &


Identify two or more views about the same topic and examine both the similarities and differences.


Provide the meaning of a term or establish the boundaries of a concept or topic.


Consider a topic from various points of view. You should describe and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches/ arguments and then draw conclusions.


Pass judgement on the worth of something. Such

judgement must be supported by pertinent evidence.


Make clear or plain – usually the steps involved in a

process, or the causes/ effects of an event or



Use examples, comparisons, diagrams or graphs to

explain or demonstrate a point.


Briefly review the most important aspects of a topic or the main points of a procedure or argument.

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