Introduction to 20 mark essay writing
Essay writing in Higher History is very important. Overall, 70% of your grade will be ascertained from the essays you write, 30% from your extended essay and 40% from your 2 essays in Paper 1 of the final examination.
As you have advanced through the school in Standard Grade and Intermediate 2 you will have learned how to write short essays worth 8 marks. You will remember how daunting these essays seemed to be when you first started writing them. You will also remember how writing these essays became easier with practice.
Essay writing is a skill, something that has to be learned. You had to learn how to introduce your essay, develop the points and then conclude your argument when writing 8 mark answers.
Essay writing at higher takes you a stage further in your development as rational, discursive and deliberating beings and again you will have to learn how to write Higher Essays skilfully.
However, some words of warning! Your development of these “higher” skills will not come naturally, neither will they come from listening attentively to your teacher or copying your friends essays (it does happen and these people are invariably caught). Your development of these essay writing skills will be down to hard work, reading and practice. Simple.
English as a First Language
This paper is 50% of your total ‘English as a First Language’ exam Grade,
the other 50% is your Coursework Portfolio.
The paper contains 3 questions of which you must answer all three.
You have 2 hours to complete this paper.
Total marks for the paper is 50 marks divided:
Q1. 20 marks, Q2. 10 marks, Q3. 20 marks.
Examiner’s tips for this paper:
• Do not write rough drafts. You cannot afford the time to write out every answer twice, and it is neither required nor desirable that you should do so; plans are sufficient.
• Take two different coloured highlighters into the exam. You need to annotate all the passages, and it is especially useful to use two colours for the summary and other questions where there are two types of material asked for. But don’t go mad with the highlighting! Only single words or short phrases should be highlighted in a text, otherwise you are not precisely identifying your useful phrases and will end up with a ridiculous amount of highlighted text.
• Regulate your time and keep an eye on it: in Paper 2, for instance, question 2 should take half as long as questions 1 and 3, which carry double the marks and require more planning.
• If you run out of time on the last (summary) question write notes instead of full sentences. You will lose fewer marks for doing this than for continuing to write in sentences but leaving the answer incomplete. Indicate what points you would have made and you will get some credit for them.
• Suggestions for length are given as a number of pages and are there to help you understand what is expected and what is possible within the time limit. Answers which are shorter or longer will be self-penalising.
• However, the exam is assessing quality rather than quantity. Do not waste time counting words either during or after you have finished your responses. The time would be better spent improving content, expression and accuracy.
• Avoid using ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ and ‘then’. These are immature ways of linking ideas and events.
• If you finish the exam early, go back and check your answers again; you may have missed something.
• Do the questions in the order in which they are printed on each exam paper, as there is a reason why they are in that order. In particular you should not read both passages on Paper 2 before answering question 1.
• Have a pen (and a spare) for the exam with which you can write legibly and neatly. It is good policy to get the examiner on your side with a well-presented script. Often untidy writing is associated with poor spelling and punctuation.
• Underline the key words in every question, and then use them to plan around.
• Make your endings strong; they are what the examiner has in their mind when they are deciding on a mark. There is no point in repeating anything you have said earlier.
• If you are weak on sentence structure do not attempt over-long and complicated ones in which you lose grammatical control. On the other hand, you should use complex sentences rather than simple or compound structures throughout the exam, as these are what formal English requires and educated writers produce, and they will give concision, precision, variety and maturity to your style.
• Use commas to separate clauses in a sentence. It is sometimes difficult to follow meaning where they have not been used and should have been. Commas are not, however, a substitute for full-stops, and ‘comma-splicing’ is penalised heavily in this exam, as it shows an inability to understand what a sentence is and how the building blocks of language work.
• Detail, detail, detail. Every one of your exam answers will benefit from use of supporting detail, either textual, factual or creative.
• Avoid repeating either ideas (which spoil the effect of the first time you used them) or language (which gives the impression that your command of grammar is limited or your vocabulary restricted).
• Copying and lifting of whole phrases should be avoided throughout the exam, except when you have been specifically requested to select quotations (i.e. Q2). Copying gives no evidence of understanding, rather the reverse.
• Don’t guess the spelling of a word you are not sure of if that word exists somewhere on the exam paper. You should, however, try to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know if you think it is important to your understanding of a text, and you should not be put off by it being a long word. There are three ways of working out the meaning of a word:
i)Is it possible to tell the approximate meaning of the word from its context?
ii)Does it remind you of another word you already know? If so it may be related.
iii)Can the word be broken down into syllables? If so you may be able to work out the meaning of the different parts.
• Check through your answer, pretending you are the examiner, to make sure that what you have written can be clearly read and understood. It is usually possible to improve your answer even at this stage by adding a few more words for clarification or support, or by correcting errors, or by making a word more legible. Use carats (^) or asterisks (*) to add extra material above the line or at the end of the piece.
• Do not be afraid to make corrections, using a line through the word(s) and making a clear substitution above or with an asterisk below.
• Keep up your concentration to the bitter end. Often students start well and then their writing declines in quality as they get tired. Sentence structure, as well as tidiness of handwriting, tends to deteriorate as time passes. Keep producing mature vocabulary even when you’d rather take the easy option and write on auto-pilot; the last questions carry as many marks as the first.
• Don’t ramble; the longer the piece of writing the more likely there are to be mistakes in it and the more time you would have to allow for checking and correcting. Say it once and then move on.
• Checking is crucial for any piece of writing, because slips inevitably occur, particularly when one is writing fast and under time pressure. If the examiner finds the careless mistakes you have left uncorrected, their assessment of your writing ability will inevitably be affected.
Question 1 - Response to a Text
This question is called ‘Response to a Text’ because you will be asked to read a passage and respond to it. 15 marks are rewarded for your understanding of the text, 5 marks for the quality of writing in your answer.
The passage will be literary and/or contain description of a person or place or both. You will have to be sensitive to atmosphere and show appreciation of the feelings of the characters in your response.
• This question is rewarded not only for identification of relevant material in the passage but also inference, development of the ideas and use of supporting detail. There are therefore four types of content required to show advanced comprehension for a top mark out of 15 for Reading.
• For full marks out of 5 for Writing you need to demonstrate structure, sequence, and ‘a wide range of original and appropriate language’.
• It will help you enormously to highlight the material you are going to use in the text, and then write a quick plan in order to organise it into a logical structure before you start writing your response. This will enable you to avoid repetition and to make sure you are fully answering the question.
• Use everything which is relevant, not just some of the material. On the other hand, there may be some parts which you should ignore because they are not covered by the question.
• Do not drift away from the text; everything you write must be ‘tethered’ to the passage i.e. have a direct connection with it and be supported by references to it.
• Before you start writing, decide how formal the task is and adopt an appropriate tone. No question in an exam assessing your ability to use educated English will expect you to use slang or jargon or non-sentences, so expect to have to write in a reasonably formal style whoever your audience is and whatever the task. Even a letter to a relative will be someone distant or older, such as an uncle whom you haven’t met recently, and a report to your fellow students will be official or for publication in the school magazine. It is essential to remember who your audience is and to address them directly as ‘you’.
• Though you can use short quotations from the passage within your response, you should not copy big chunks of text and you should use your own words when not actually giving details.
• If the question has several parts you can either integrate the two, e.g. advantages and disadvantages, or deal with them separately. You can decide on your own structure for your answer, but what matters is that there should be a structure of some kind, and one which the reader can discern.
• It is time-wasting and does not achieve anything to try to design your answer in the layout which you think might be appropriate in real life, e.g. dividing a newspaper report into columns and adding drawings and extraneous advertising material. This cannot be rewarded and can distract you from the real task of providing appropriate and accurate content for your response.
• What is important is that your answer should be divided into paragraphs, as all continuous prose should be.
• If you are given bullet points to remind you what should be included, use them to check you have covered what is required, and they can also help you to structure your answer. The material from the passage should be put into the appropriate section and not repeated.
• Do not add extra sections, for instance where you are given which questions to ask in an interview, stick to those questions only. It makes the response too fragmented or less focused if you add more.
Practise writing formal letters; it is highly likely you will be asked to write a letter on. Letters to people in official positions and whom you don’t know typically adopt a formal style and polite tone, and they are structured in three paragraphs:
i)the topic of the letter/reason for writing it
ii)background information, arguments and factual details
iii)request or suggestions for future action
Practice turning passages into reports; they have a particular style, and structure which is different from any other kind of writing:
i)style - short paragraphs; short sentences; dramatic vocabulary; statistical information; stacking of adjectives and descriptive phrases before the noun (e.g. ‘The Japanese-owned lightweight racing yacht Sunshine II...’, ‘Divorced former model and mother of two, Susan Smith...’)
ii)The expression should be impersonal (do not use ‘I’ or ‘We’ and do not give any opinions).
iii)Use interview material and direct speech as well as reported speech.
iv)structure - contrary to normal chronological sequence, news reports begin with the very recent past (usually yesterday); go on to fill in past background prior to the event; return to the immediate present and how things are developing; then finally speculate about the future.
Practice writing interviews between two people. Interviews typically adopt an empathetic tone.
i)Style – question/answer format. If you must skip a line between questions and answers, or, use names in the margin like a play script to distinguish between the interviewer and interviewee.
ii)The interviewer should not speak that much allowing the interviewer to speak the most. It is through the interviewee that you will show your understanding of the text as they will most likely be someone mentioned in the passage.
iii)Write in first person perspective with personal language (do use ‘I’ and ‘we’ and do give opinions
To show understanding of a viewpoint you may be asked to write a diary entry. Don’t worry , it’s easy.
i)Style – almost identical to an informal letter, but packed full of thoughts and opinions.
ii)The audience must be yourself, not the diary. Never treat a diary like a person!
iii)Always include some kind of hpe/plan/intention for the future.
Examples of Q1 tasks over the last few years:
Imagine you are Aunt Pegg. After one week of looking after the children, you write a letter to their parents in which you:………..
Imagine you are a schools inspector and you have recently visited the school described in Passage A. You are not pleased with what you have observed. Write your report in which you:…………
Imagine that you are Donovan Webster. You are being interviewed for a television programme about your visit to Diudiu in Mongolia.Write the words of the interview.
Imagine you are a reporter, writing from the area. Write the newspaper report which would have appeared a week after the eruption of Vesuvius.
Write a report to the committee that organises the group. In your report give your reasons whether or not Dr. Zinc should be invited to speak at one of the debates.
Write a newspaper report using the headlines printed below. Base what you write closely on the reading material in Passage A.
You have recently stayed at the Shamrock Hotel and, most surprisingly, you thoroughly enjoyed your stay. Write a letter to Mr and Mrs Doyle explaining the reasons why you liked the hotel so much. You know that the Doyles will use your letter to advertise the hotel in future.
Imagine you are the writer of Passage A. Write a diary entry in which you explore your thoughts and feelings about the trip so far. You will be sending your diary entry to your friends and family.
Question 2 – Effect of Language
This question aims to determine whether or not you understand the importance of specific vocabulary. Why has the writer used the word ‘fat’ instead of ‘overweight’ and how did that word change the meaning of the text. You will be asked to look at the language that describes two different things from the passage.
The beauty of question 2 is that it is always exactly the same!
Re-read the descriptions of:
(b) something else
Select words and phrases from these descriptions, and explain how the writer has created effects
by using this language.
The second half of this question will be more demanding than the first. You need to give equal attention to each part and provide at least half a page for each.
• You should aim for 5 relevant quotations in each part of the question. Give the quotation, in quotation marks, explain its meaning, and then explain its effect on the passage. You cannot get higher than 3 marks if you only identify quotations, or higher than 6 marks if you discuss only meanings.
• For 10 out of 10 you should give a full range of explained effects and link them into an overview which shows understanding of what the writer was trying to achieve in the passage as a whole.
• Do not select a quotation which you do not understand as you will not be able to explain either its meaning or its effect.
• When explaining a quotation do not repeat the words used in it. Do not repeat quotations; you cannot get credit more than once.
• Generalised and ‘gushing’ comments such as ‘The writer makes me feel as though I am there’ and ‘The passage is cleverly written’ gain no marks and give the impression that you are failing to find things to say.
• There is no need to use technical terms, and they are no substitute for explaining an effect in your own words; if you do use technical terms, such as onomatopoeia, make sure they are actually correctly used.
• Select brief quotations only, of between one and four words. Do not lift whole chunks of text, or clump quotations together, or list them. Each one must be focused on specific use of language and explained separately.
• Introduce your choices of language with phrases such as ‘gives the impression of’, ‘suggests that’, ‘makes me think that.’ Do not say over and over again ‘This has the effect that...’
• Once you have arrived at an overview, do not contradict yourself, e.g. do not say that one quotation makes a character seem physically old and another one makes her seem physically young. This is not likely therefore you need to look at the passage again. However, there are no ‘right answers’ to this (or any other) part of the exam and you can score highly by engaging with the text and thinking about the way language is being used, whether or not your comments are what the examiner is expecting.
• Things to look for are: use of the five senses; use of contrast; use of colour; use of noise; links between subject and environment; surprising, or unusual words; words which create sound effects; unusual or dramatic punctuation; imagery (similes and metaphors)
Question 3 - Summary
Though this question is called ‘Summary’ it is not a summary in the sense of being a general description of a situation but instead it is a focused list of the specific ideas or details contained in the passage, after anything irrelevant to the two questions has been removed. Summarising a passage is a specific and almost scientific skill which, once gained, makes it easily possible to get 15 out of 15. To get an extra 5 marks, be conscious about you writing style and A* here you come.
The beauty of Q3 is that is nearly always exactly the same!
Summarize the features of something in:
(a)The features of something in passage A
(b)The features of something else in passage B
Here is 5-step process that will make this question a whole lot easier:
i)read and underline relevant material; count that there are at least 15 points altogether, and preferably 20
ii)transfer the points into a plan, whilst changing them into your own words
iii)group the points logically (using arrows/brackets); put them in order (using numbers), and decide which ones can be combined into one sentence
iv)write the summary in two paragraphs (one for Paper 1), using complex sentences
v)check the summary for accurate expression; adapt the length and improve if necessary by adding material overlooked or by removing repetition.
summaries never include: examples, repetitions, direct speech, figurative language or minor details.
• Find all the points you can for each part of the question; do not stop when you get to 15 as these may not be the same ones the examiner has on their list. The only way to be sure of getting all 15 Reading marks is to use everything relevant.
• To get all 5 Writing marks you need to show evidence of clear and concise summary style throughout, precise focus and the use of your own words.
• Do not attempt to synthesise the two passages as this is not required, is not rewarded; it makes your task more difficult to attempt to do so as they may not be directly comparable. Treat the passages separately and focus on the exact wording of the question.
• Do not give your summary in the wrong form as this is penalised i.e. do not offer bullet points or a list, or write in the first person, or comment on the content of the passages, or present a narrative, or use quotation.
• The lengths of the summaries of each passage should be roughly equal.
• Though you must use your own words whenever possible, you do not have to find synonyms for technical objects e.g. solar heaters.
• Both halves of the question are equally important and should be done in the same way and given the same length of about half a page.
• Summaries much longer than half a page are no longer summaries and will be penalised in the Writing mark.
• To be concise enough for summary style and to get in all the points you should use complex sentences containing two or three points in each.
• Do not repeat points, or express them vaguely; (these will be given an R (repetition) or PNM (point not made) respectively in the margin, and discounted.
• There is no need to introduce or conclude a summary, and doing so wastes time and words. Start by using the wording of part of the question e.g. ‘The features of the desert were...’
Useful websites and online resources for English Students
A word of warning: these sites and links were all functional at the time of posting, but it cannot be guaranteed that web addresses will not change. Sites and resources rarely disappear entirely; if a link does not work, try a Google search.
-This is a gateway to thousands of newspapers around the world.
-Sister site to paperboy but allowing access to international magazines.
-This is The Guardian’s archive and contains a wealth of articles from 1899-1999. Type in key dates (or the day after) for useful resources.
-A speech archive plus ideas for teachers.
-This British library site gives access to pictures, biographies, text and spoken records of historical events.
-Try going online to the fruit machine on this site
-Aimed at UK GCSE students.
-Hundreds of language- based ‘how to’ guides and quizzes based on higher level texts.
-is the British Council’s subject gateway for literature
-A collection of online texts
-A collection of video extracts
-Collapser is a utility to turn any text into a sorted list at the click of the Go! button. You can use any text, including material from a web page or a word processed document, to produce activities that give fascinating insights into vocabulary and grammar.
-Hot Potatoes is a utility which enables you to author 6 different types of interactive activity: Quiz; Match; Mix; Cloze; Crossword; Sequence
-Inspiration is a concept mapping tool which enables you to set up frameworks such as brainstorms, storyboards, mind maps for students to complete (or they can create them from scratch themselves).