Non-fiction essay writing is a skill that can sometimes evoke powerful feelings dread in students. This article hopes to provide all students with a solid base of essay writing knowledge to help improve student confidence and skills.
The advice in this article has been written to be as applicable to as many subjects as possible. When using this article, be sure to check your Exam Board’s specification for each subject. There you will find the exact Assessment Objectives you should be working towards, and some exemplar essays as well. For more subject-specific advice on how to achieve a 9 in your exams, please look at some of our other GCSE and IGCSE blogs here.
GCSE Essay-Writing Principles
Writing essays can feel a little bit intangible. There is not one correct answer to any given question; two very different essays can be rewarded in the same way. This can be frustrating for students, however there are some core principles across all subjects and exam boards that indicate a quality essay.
- Content – your essay should be a relevant, focused, and original response to the question.
- Structure – ensure you have a well-organised essay that has clear argumentation.
- Writing – demonstrate a high standard of written English in an appropriate tone, with a focus on clarity and efficiency. The appropriate tone for non-fiction essays is an assertive, academic tone (avoid overuse of personal pronouns and persuasive writing techniques).
GCSE Essay-Writing Preparation
When you are tackling a question that requires you to write an essay, these are the initial steps you should take:
- Read the question – This may seem obvious, but many students will read what they want to read and answer the question they were hoping to answer rather than the question in front of them! Try to break down the key terms to make sure you address the whole question.
- Find your evidence – If you are writing an essay for your coursework, take time to understand the full subject area or text you are being asked about. After you have understood the overview, try to find specific relevant pieces of evidence that are useful to answering the question (such as quotations or specific sources). If you are in an exam, hopefully you will have already gathered the evidence, and this will be just a process of deducing what is most relevant.
- Reach your conclusion – It can be tempting to read the question and jump straight to a specific stance. Try, where possible, to wait until you have gathered sufficient evidence before doing so. Trying to retrofit the evidence to your conclusion can lead to unconvincing arguments.
GCSE Essay Planning
There is no one way to plan an essay. Ultimately, the best essay plan is the one that works for you. You can write it as a list, a spider diagram, or however you like. It is the content of the plan that matters, rather than the format.
You should use your plan to interpret the question, outline the content of your main argument, and the sub-arguments you use to prove that argument. It should also help you to order these arguments and fit in relevant evidence into a clear structure. The more detailed your plan is, the more focused and concise your essay will be.
If you are planning your essay under exam conditions, you don’t need to write in full sentences. This helps ensure you are not wasting time – remember it is only you who will be reading your plan!
Writing the Essay
You should aim for this to be as concise as possible, whilst also including the following ideas.
- Introduce the issue – This should be an opening sentence that introduces the core issue the question has set out, either by defining or contextualising it.
- Interpret the question – This is probably the most important part of your introduction, as it can keep your answer focused. When interpreting the given question, you want to define any ambiguous terms within the question or set out an appropriate scope for your essay.
- State your main argument – Your main argument should directly answer the question that has been posed. It can be nuanced, for example you may agree with the statement to a limited extent.
You should aim to write at least 3 body paragraphs, each following this structure:
- Point – Your points are your sub-arguments. All the points within your body paragraphs should add-up to completely support your main argument. Try to write a range of points that cover the breadth of the content you are being tested on, and make your points as clear and focused as possible. If your main argument is nuanced try following the ‘YES – AND – BUT’ structure detailed here.
- Evidence – Your evidence should be chosen to support your point and should be as specific as you can make it. If you are writing about a piece of literature, the best evidence is a short-embedded quotation or a close reference to the text. This allows you to integrate your evidence with your analysis, which is important when trying to achieve top grades.
- Explain/Analyse – you need to ensure that you explain why your evidence supports your point and analyse how this supports your main argument.
- Link – you want to link the point in this paragraph either to your conclusion or to the next point you will be making. This signposting is useful to help your essay to be easily understood.
Like your introduction, this should be clear and concise.
- Summarise your argument – review what your points were and how they helped progress your overall argument without copying what you have already written.
- Restate your main argument
- Give the reader something to think about – Proceed with caution here. You should not add a new argument to answer the question at this stage. Instead, try giving the reader a new context you could apply your conclusion to.
After Writing Your Essay
Make sure you read over your essay. Ask yourself if you feel your essay adheres to the core essay writing principles discussed above. Pay close attention to the spelling, punctuation, and grammar – easy marks can be gained or lost here. Check back over your plan to make sure you haven’t missed anything out from your initial ideas.
GCSE & IGCSE Tuition
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