THE ART OF ESSAYING
Don’t think that the key to essay writing is to thoughtlessly write down everything you know about a topic or that your teacher will be impressed by the length of your response. Your aim, instead, is quality, not quantity, so follow these tips to become a better essayist, highlighting whatever is “news” to you:
1. Prepare yourself well by testing yourself with some self-styled essay questions.
2. Listen carefully to all instructions before beginning, knowing beforehand…
a. Whether or not you have the full period in which to work
b. Whether all questions must be answered, or if there a choice
c. If all questions are worth the same number of points
d. If using a dictionary or thesaurus is allowed
e. Whether any corrections or additions need to be made to the test
3. Read all directions carefully.
4. Pay careful attention to direction words, so you’ll know HOW to respond.
5. If you have any questions, ask them right away before everyone begins writing.
6. Once you begin, pace yourself, keeping in mind how time you can give each questions—and stick to a schedule or risk running out of time.
7. Don’t spend so much time on one item that you shortchange the other(s).
8. Think before you write, quickly outlining or mapping main ideas & facts and then adding details & examples.
9. Order your notations, so that one leads logically to the next in your essay. Organization is key.
10. Rewrite the question as your introductory sentence. For example, if asked to describe the terrible conditions endured by George Washington and his men at Valley Forge, you might start with: “George Washington and his men endured terrible conditions while camped at Valley Forge.”
11. If possible, rev up your lead sentence, immediately grabbing your teacher’s attention. For example: “Do you think you could sit outside in snowy temperatures that hovered around the ten degree mark? Washington and his crew did at Valley Forge during that awful winter of 1777-78.” (Jason Davis, 8th grader)
12. Stick to your topic and don’t include any unrelated information.
13. If unsure about a remaining question, just start writing. You’ll seldom be asked about a topic you know absolutely nothing about, and it beats leaving a blank!
14. Write legibly, stick to the margins, and always proofread.
15. Use returned essay tests to determine weaknesses, so you’ll do better next time!