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How to write a solid English essay / full marks or near it

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    I'm doing Advanced Higher English in Scotland which is similar to A level English in England. I'm studying Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweet Bird of Youth and the exam is an hour and 30 minutes of a comparative essay. I just can't seem to get a stable A (or even an A for that matter) but I really need an A in this subject and a very STRONG A or full marks or near it. My coursework has been average so far which will give me a B or borderline C/B.

    So far, for my analysis paragraphs I do: PEEEEL. Point, Evidence, Explain, Evidence, Explain, Link. After the Link or before it (depending on the question) I add in a lot of views and interpretations of the thematic concerns gathered from my analysis. Also, I try to be especially sophisticated with my language.

    Does anyone have examples of full mark essays at A level/Advanced Higher/IB? Or can someone give me advice please on English essay writing? I've asked my teacher over and over again and she, like most teachers, is so vague. She just won't tell me how to get a stable A grade, or a B or go up to an A from a B. She's so very vague.

    Also, for my comparative essays I usually deal my points text by text (in separate paragaphs). Is that how you would do it for better marks? Moreover, I never really explicitly compare the texts together (my essays are usually answering the essay question but with two texts), so should I do that somewhere in my essay? Explicitly comparing the differences/similarities within my essay? Or should that be prevalent throughout my whole essay? This gives me another problem which I actually struggle on heavily: structure. I find it especially difficult to structure my essay, my points, my texts etc. I find that there is just so much to talk about and it seems like I go on a tangent. But, for example, I may be arguing that Blanche DuBois is flawed or something and in that paragraph I will use several examples, but my teacher questions their relevance as it seems like I'm going from one thing to another carelessly.


    Here is what our exam board says:

    CATEGORY 1 MARKS: 27 – 30
    Excellent – well aligned with a significant number of the published indicators of excellence.
    Understanding

    A thorough exploration is made of the implications of the prescribed task.
    Sustained insight is revealed into key elements, central concerns and significant details
    of the texts or of the linguistic or media field of study.
    Analysis
    A full and satisfying range of critical/analytical comment is offered.
    Literary, linguistic or media concepts, techniques, forms, usages are handled with skill
    and precision.
    Evaluation
    Perceptive and incisive judgements are made.
    Deployment of evidence from texts, sources or contexts is skilful and precise.
    Expression
    Structure, style and language, including the use of appropriate critical/analytical
    terminology, are skilfully deployed to develop a pertinent and sharply focused
    argument.

    -------------

    CATEGORY 4 MARKS: 15 – 18
    Competent – in overall quality firmly anchored to the published performance criteria.
    Understanding
    The response takes a relevant and thoughtful approach to the prescribed task and
    demonstrates secure understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant
    details of the texts or of the linguistic or media field of study.
    Analysis
    The response makes relevant and thoughtful critical/analytical comment and
    demonstrates secure handling of literary, linguistic or media concepts, techniques,
    forms, usages.
    Evaluation
    Judgements made are relevant, thoughtful and securely based on detailed evidence
    drawn from texts, sources or contexts.
    Expression
    Structure, style and language, including the use of appropriate critical/analytical
    terminology, are consistently accurate and effective in developing a relevant argument.

    I don't get what the exam board is really saying, or what I should do. I feel like I'm on Grade 1 (although I've never had anything above 20/30...), and then when I look at Grade 4 and it keeps on saying 'firmly' that's how I feel my essays are like! Also for grades between Grade 1 and 4, so 19-26, the marking scheme uses words like 'glimmer' etc.

    All in all, how do I write a solid A level/Advanced Higher/IB English essay? How do I get full marks? Or near it? Does anyone have examples of really good and strong essays even from university level that they can share and tell me/explain to me/show me how to do well/better?
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    I'm not sure if Scotland follows the same mark scheme as England but here there are four AOs (not sure which order they go in but): language, structure and form, context, critical analysis and clarity of writing. Each AO is 25% of your overall mark so if you can hit each of them on the head you should do well.

    Also, break away from the GCSE language you used. Obviously still talk about metaphors, similies and imagery, but try and expand upon it as you're and A Level student now. Upgrade your language and technical term. For example:

    GCSE: "the setting had a bleak atmosphere". That's perfectly fine at GCSE but not for A Level.
    A Level: "the setting holds a rather dismal atmosphere, twinned to dystopia" or something like that.

    That's what my teacher told me anyway. Hope that helps

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Updated: May 17, 2012
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