Essay writing TIPS

Essay writing tips for a level english literature students

The tips below should help gain higher marks and allow your work to stand out.

Imagine your examiner sitting at home in the middle of the summer months, marking your examination paper. Does this give you nightmares?

It certainly gives some of the examiners nightmares as they wade through script after script. The weather outside is warm and sunny and they are inside marking. Many examiners have up to 500 scripts to mark and yours will mean absolutely nothing to them except the fact that they are one script closer to the completion of all their marking.

You need to make a positive impression upon that examiner and your responses need to stand out from other answers.

There are many things that you can do to achieve this and help yourselves get higher marks.

Choosing the right question – this will be the one where you have most material and most to say.

Choose the right texts or parts of texts

There is nothing more frustrating from an examiner’s point of view, than seeing the wrong choice of poems in answering a question. The poems should be relevant to the task and not the ones you wrote your mock answer on or your favourite, or – worst of all – the only ones you have revised!!

When using quotations from texts it is important to pick the most appropriate sections for the question so you should know your texts well in the examination.

Revision is crucial in helping you have the right material ready, quickly, in the exam.


Planning is always useful.

Brief plans are best, perhaps a spider diagram or a few sub headings to remind you of the structure of your essay.

Do not spend more than 5 or 10 minutes planning. The rest of your time should be spent answering the question.

Some students who don’t plan write a side of an essay and then decide they have no more information, so they cross that out and try another one instead. This is bad practice in an examination and wastes times and loses you marks.

Underline key words in the question

Underline key words in the question and make sure you do not miss any part of the question out. Missing sections of the question can mean your response does not fully answer the question set and will lose you marks.


Using research and critical comments from other writers in your answers is good, but only if you actually say something about these comments yourself.

The critical comments should also be relevant to the question and not just there to try and impress the examiner, as it will not!


Clearly structured answers are always well received by any examiner.

Answers that are jumbled and have no key ideas in each paragraph are unclear and difficult to mark. Examiners do not like this!

Use paragraphs.

Have a main idea for each paragraph.

Plan your structure with brief subheadings.


Make this useful!

Do not tell the examiner what you are going to write about.

Instead answer the question immediately, saying what you think about the ideas expressed and addressing all parts of the question straight away.


Try not to merely repeat what you have just said, but draw your argument to a close with one final point which best summarises the ideas you are trying to make.

Do not end with a quotation or in the middle of a sentence.


Use them


  • Do not use really long quotations from the text. Short 2 or 3 word sections are best so you can then examine and explore the various meanings of the language or ideas.
  • Long three or four line sections copied out a hard to then explore and break down into detail. You are not being tested on your copying ability.

Texts are not definite

There is more than one interpretation to every poem and characters and ideas can be seen in many different ways by different critics.

Try to explore a variety of different possible interpretations and do not say that there is only one meaning to a text.

This is very important when looking at unseen texts for the first time. There are lots of possible ideas in any piece.

Some Common Problems Summarised

  • Merely listing information about the text and not answering the question
  • Having no detail on the context of the text at all (if it is being tested in the question)
  • Starting with context in the opening paragraph and then never mentioning it again.
  • Not having a balance of all the Assessment Objective qualities (you should know what these are – if not find out from your teacher)
  • Not using quotations
  • Using too many quotations
  • Abbreviating words excessively
  • Using the same essay you wrote in your mock to answer a different question in the exam
  • Not using the time well, having a huge plan and then running out of time for the answer. A brief plan is helpful.
  • Calling writers by their first names is too informal and bad e.g. Mary instead of Shelley (writer of Frankenstein).


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