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How To Write A Gcse English Literature Essay

Planning

The key to writing a good essay introduction is to plan your answer first. This is more difficult in an exam than for a coursework essay, as you have the additional pressure of limited time. As a general rule-of-thumb, you should allocate about 5 minutes of planning time for each hour of the exam. Your plan should be a very rough bullet-pointed outline of each topic you want to cover in your answer. By jotting down a quick plan, you instantly have a structure for your essay.

The Introduction

- Begin the introduction by referencing the question. Don't simply restate the question in different words though! Use the first sentence of your introduction to demonstrate that you understand why the question is interesting and why it is worth answering.

- Then, in a few of sentences, briefly outline the path that your answer is going to take. Don't try and hold back your points so that you can do a dramatic 'big reveal' later in the essay. Once your reader gets to the end of your introduction, they should have a basic undestanding of where your argument is going to go. Obviously this will be a very brief overview though: you will unpack your argument in more detail in the rest of the essay.

- Having said that, you don't need to present your overal verdict in the introduction. Save that for the conclusion. Outlining your argument in the introduction does not mean that you need to make your entire arugment there.

Practice!

As with everything, the best way to improve your essay introduction skills is to practice. Get some past papers and pick a few questions that interest you. For each one, plan the answer and write an introductory paragraph. There is no need to write the entire answer out for this exercise. If your plan and introduction are good enough, the rest of the essay will be much easier to write.

Writing a Good Essay

Many of my students find writing an essay a daunting task. Getting to grips with a text is one thing, but when you are studying English Language or Literature, you are also required to write about it in a structured and coherent way. Here is a brief, step-by-step guide, on how to approach answering an essay question. I hope you find it helpful.

What is an essay?

  • Answering a question
  • Putting forward a point of view which is focussed, clear and supported
  • Explaining what you think with evidence from the text

Remember, before you begin an essay, you must know your text well.

1.    Introduction

  • Your response to the question
  • How you intend to answer
  • What your essay is going to say/explore/argue
  • State your point of view
  • Your interpretation of the text
  • Are you aware of different levels of meaning?

Consider: the question, the text and the author

AVOID simplistic and irrelevant value judgments (for example, ‘.... is good...’) 

2.    Following paragraphs

 Develop and support your point of view.

 Use your paragraphs to develop your argument using the following method:

Point – make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question

Evidence – use quotations and refer to the text to support your view

Explain – discuss this further 

  • Why is this significant?
  • How is it being done (e.g. the poetic/dramatic methods used)?
  • What can you say about the language, style or structure?
  • Why has the author used those words/expressed an idea in that way?
  • How does it affect the reader/audience?
  • How does it affect the themes/meaning(s) of the text?
  • Complexity – could there be more than one interpretation?
  • Does the style alter or develop across the text?

 When using PEE, you should: 

  • Comment on the method used by the author
  • Look at the effect of the language used
  • Analyse reasons why this might have been done

Always work logically through the text, from beginning to end (this shows that you are also analysing the author’s structure). This will also help give your essay a sense of building up to a conclusion.

 AVOID telling the story!

 Instead, discuss the ideas or messages ‘behind’ the text. Aim to show how these are created, developed and revealed. 

Other things you might want to think about...

  • Consider the genre conventions and how these might shape meaning and interpretation
  • Consider author’s context
  • Consider author’s motivation, intention or purpose

3.    Conclusion – summing up

  • Tell your reader why you’ve said what you’ve said in your essay
  • What are the wider issues raised by your discussion?
  • Leave a final impression – give the reader something to think about

Good luck!

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