Producing a First Class essay

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Venom123
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How do you guys go about consistently producing first class essays, what do you ensure you do?

I've been getting close but not breaking the first class boundary consistently would say average essay marks were 65.

What steps do you take; from planning to end product?

Cheers
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kat2pult
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I used a range of materials; books, ebooks, journals, articles, the databases. Produce a contradicting argument, but enforce your own opinion (which you should back up with opinions on others).
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Aeschylus
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Take as long as you think to need to work on an essay and add 50% onto it. And focus on your argument. There are people who can write something the night before and get a first but I am not one of them.
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Gubey
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Make sure you use your sources and articles effectively. Citing and referencing is par for the course, and doing so extensively may get you a 2:1. However, I find that most First Class essays require a clear engagement with the critics and their arguments, deconstructing their points to fit your own etc. As someone mentioned above, raising contrasting points made by other scholars only to effectively disagree with them is another useful technique that achieves the same engagement. After that it's just a question of coherent argument, focus, and style.
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Craig_D
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Find every kind of relevant source you can, as kat2pult suggests. Try and reference them all.

Make your pre-essay narrative lead your choice and order of sources, rather than just letting your sources form your narrative during writing. We've all done the latter at some point, and you could easily get 65-70 that way, but really the best essays are the ones where you've done enough reading to know the direction you want to take before you start writing.

Use of relevant pictures, anywhere from 2 to 4. Easy marks.

Adequate proof-reading to avoid silly errors. Correct referencing, again another area where many people lose marks needlessly.

A couple of hundred words over the word limit is always better that a couple of hundred under. One of my highest scoring essays was about 30% over.
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Salgoud
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I would imagine that would depend on your subject. I did Management with Marketing and consistently scored around 80%. A lot of our essays were based around a specific concept that you had to evaluate and/or contrast to another concept. My formula consisted of reading, reading, reading! I'd start with any recommended reading and add about 10-20 (depending on how much the essay was worth) articles per 1000 words of the upper word limit, starting with a base of around 10. So for a 3000 word essay I'd read between 40-70 articles (usually the higher), and normally would find about 80% of them useful (assuming I'd done some good vetting). Once you've got a good, solid understanding of the topic and the different stances people are taking (and their arguments as to why), the essay writes itself.

In short, reading a lot was my key to success.

EDIT: My lecturers also tended to love anything novel that showed you really understood the topic at hand. So if I could, I'd always try to do a summary model/graph or even just a well thought through table.
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Aeschylus
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(Original post by Craig_D)

A couple of hundred words over the word limit is always better that a couple of hundred under. One of my highest scoring essays was about 30% over.
I agree with everything else but that would get 5 marks off at my institution/department and they are pretty stringent with it.
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willbee
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I have found that the only time I get a first is when I have truly finished the essay about a week before it's due. Then four or five days later, I read through it again, and it's like reading an essay and I can see how to make it better. And then I make it better. And then I hand it in. And then I normally get a first. Everything has to be wholly relevant and every bit should add something. Sometimes it's not a case of removing what is wrong but replacing it with something improved or some structure more suitable.

I also got 67 once though in a night-before essay, but that was because I really connected with both the question and the book (Eng Lit student)

And make sure it's as interesting and enjoyable to read as you can possibly make it.

Edit: oh and as has been said, try quoting a range of sources to show you have researched extensively. One of the main criticisms of one of my most recent essays was that it was "a little bit Canadian" with regards to the writings coming from the same Journal that was printed in Winnipeg. It didn't matter that they happened to be the best question-related sources I could find, because the marker didn't know that and assumed I hadn't researched much.
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Craig_D
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(Original post by Aeschylus)
I agree with everything else but that would get 5 marks off at my institution/department and they are pretty stringent with it.
Yeah, the department generally had a 10% rule, but 10% over was still better than 10% under. For some reason that specific lecturer had a 30% boundary, I guess he wanted to give more freedom for producing what the student felt was a good length.

I feel that my list was rather incomplete but I don't know what else to add. I think though that with loads of practice you get a 'feel' for it.
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Aeschylus
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(Original post by Craig_D)
Yeah, the department generally had a 10% rule, but 10% over was still better than 10% under. For some reason that specific lecturer had a 30% boundary, I guess he wanted to give more freedom for producing what the student felt was a good length.

I feel that my list was rather incomplete but I don't know what else to add. I think though that with loads of practice you get a 'feel' for it.
By the end of my third year I 'knew' if I'd written an essay to a first class standard, if that makes any sense. It just worked. The only difference was that I always made myself start writing much earlier than I thought I needed to.
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CGB
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Do you get taught how to write a good essay whilst at uni (in the first year at least) or are they expecting you to already be able to write one? I didn't really do any essay based A Levels apart from languages, where the essays are fairly straight forward as long as you've worked hard with the language side of things, so I'm kind of worried my first few essays are gonna be really poor and that I'll quickly start to fall behind everyone else...
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Tesphena
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I personally would feel more comfortable writing too little than too much. I think its really important to be concise and economical with the words you use. I really hate rambling and am quite obsessive about removing stuff from my essays that doesn't seem wholly relevant to the argument. I am consistently under the world limit, sometimes by as much as a couple of hundred words. and don't recall ever being over, but I still average well over 70% in my essays. I don't really think word count matters too much.

I think its much more important to proof read, use a variety of sources, and try desperately to find some way of being unique.
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Tesphena
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(Original post by CGB)
Do you get taught how to write a good essay whilst at uni (in the first year at least) or are they expecting you to already be able to write one? I didn't really do any essay based A Levels apart from languages, where the essays are fairly straight forward as long as you've worked hard with the language side of things, so I'm kind of worried my first few essays are gonna be really poor and that I'll quickly start to fall behind everyone else...
It depends where you go and what course you study I guess. We had a couple of lectures in the first week explaining good essay technique and they were the dullest couple of hours you could imagine. Everything that was said really was common sense. We also were given a booklet which explained pretty much everything we needed to know, and flicking through that was actually quite useful, especially at explaining how to source things. Our library also ran a programme which helped people with essay, but I never went so don't know how useful that was.
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Rags
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My advice would pretty much repeat what has already been said. How you write your essay, such as the basic grammar and the way you use your words, is important and I have had markers immediately pick up on it any time I let my writing slip a little. Also, I would say to pay attention to how you link your paragraphs/points as that can have an impact on the fluidity of your essay. One of my friends was consistently stuck in the 2:1 range and reading through his essays I think it was partly the lack of links between his different points that restricted his progression as his essays always read choppy and unconnected. Another thing a lecturer told me to always do is relate each point you make specifically back to the question and just be explicit in how what you have just wrote answers the question... I find this can also help re-orientate you if you start to drift as it makes you question whether what you have just wrote actually does contribute to your argument or whether it was unnecessary.

I think if you have problems with structuring essays it would probably be a good idea to go to your university's centre for academic practice as they typically run workshops or provide information packs on a variety of academic issues that could be helpful.
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gravityisamyth
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I always make sure that I bring in current affairs and use a wide range of sources. I don't rely too much on the reading list either.

Also, write confidently (even if you're not). Ask your lecturers for help if you need it. Ask them to check your plan. I don't plan too much because I never stick to it anyway - but I always make sure it flows well.

That's what works for me anyway (as well as the stuff already mentioned).
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StrangeTaco
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This is all very helpful stuff, guys! Thanks

What would you all say is needed to consistently gain firsts in exam essays, though? The same sort of thing? I do a science-based subject, so there's not much arguing to do. :confused:
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georgia
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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Essa.../dp/0415230136

That book is amazing. As soon as I read it and started actually using the techniques it gives then my essays went from 62s to 74s. Win

Along with a LOT more research and generally thinking about what *I* wanted to say and what my own points were rather than just linking together the secondary sources opinions.
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EonBlueApocalypse
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I've found that producing a really solid list of references from a variety of sources making sure they are all relevant can make the difference.

Also making sure your spelling and grammar is flawless.
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CookieDoughLove
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I found that by using more up to date data,, more journals, more references and greater in depth analysis got me a few firsts.

I kept getting 2.1s, then I decided to use more journals for one particular essay and referenced maybe 20-25 for a 3000 word essay, and I really put my all into analysing and concluding (not that I didn't do that before) and I got a first. Used this for the next few essays and found I was getting better marks
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ilovecatsforlife
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This stuff is great for someone starting a History degree in September! Seems like I'll be a step ahead of the game after reading this thread! Need 60% to go abroad! Thanks!!
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