Pretty much every written exam will involve writing some kind of extended text that candidates are then assessed on and given marks for. Whether that is simply writing a six-line answer or a full-scale essay, there are many ways in which you can pick up extra marks to boost the final score and fully demonstrate your writing skills.
As with anything in life, failing to plan can often mean that you are in fact planning to fail. However much you may feel that you have to start writing straight away due to the limited time available, always take time to jot down a short essay plan. This can be as simple as writing down the words ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ and a few notes about what you are going to include in each section. If your essay must include arguments for and against a statement or point of view, write down a few words about each point you want to include, as well as the conclusion you want your essay to reach.
All in the timing
Normally, exams tend to include some kind of marking guidance on the paper, so candidates can work out which questions will be awarded the most marks and therefore, which ones need longer and more detailed answers than others. It can be useful to source some past papers, preferably with suggested marking sheets included, to see what type of answers and essay lengths the examiners have looked for in the past. Time yourself doing some essay questions to see how long they take you to complete. In the actual exam, if you have any spare time left at the end, use it to double check your answers.
Answer the question
Exam conditions can be stressful, which can lead to panic and an increased likelihood of misreading or misunderstanding a question. Take the time to read each question carefully, several times over. Underline key words and phrases, such as ‘argue’, ‘discuss’, ‘compare’ or ‘describe with examples’ and make sure you follow the implied instructions to the letter. If the question refers to just one section of your studies, for example, a particular chapter of a book in a literature exam, keep your answer focussed on that chapter and do not go ‘off-topic’.
Watch your language
Whatever the subject of your exam, paying careful attention to the language you use can reap rewards in terms of extra marks. Always write in full sentences. Try to use more interesting words, so long as they are relevant to the question you have been set. In other words, don’t simply opt for the easiest word you can think of. If you need to express that someone ‘said’ something or ‘went’ somewhere, why not choose words like ‘exclaimed’ or ‘announced’ instead, or ‘journeyed’, ‘explored’ or stepped out’? Always keep your language free from vulgarities and avoid using slang and abbreviations wherever possible. Definitely no emoticons – this is formal writing and should be treated as such.
Spelling and grammar
Linked to the point above is a careful adherence to proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. While this comes more easily to some people than others, everyone
should make an effort to produce the most accurate written work as they possibly can in an exam. If you know that there are certain words or spellings that cause you difficulties, practise these in advance so that you are completely confident about how you spell them. You might like to buy some grammar workbooks as well as a dictionary and complete some of the exercises as part of your revision to make sure you are happy with the rules of written English. While you may not always gain marks specifically for spelling, presenting a more accurate essay will improve your standing in the examiner’s eyes and will make your work easier for them to read.
The big finish
Always end your essay on a strong point, referring back to the question and providing a firm conclusion to the arguments you have made. Even if you find yourself running out of time, writing a good finish will help you gain marks – you can always list the points you didn’t have time to write down at the end of the essay in the hope that your examiner will take them into account as well. Never let your essay just tail off into nothing – this will leave a far less positive final impression on the examiner and will make it obvious that you ran out of time.