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Keep achieving 2:2s in my second year and I want to become better Watch

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    Hi StudentRoom,

    I didn't really know where else to turn to. I am currently studying History/Politics and since the start of second year I have repeatedly achieved both thirds/2:2s. This is in contrast with my first year where I achieved 2:1s/Firsts. I know I am capable of better, yet I feel like I have hit a wall or barrier that I cannot overcome.

    Lifestyle wise I cannot make excuses, there are no major issues with my life.

    Here is the kind of feedback I get:

    -This essay could have benefited from greater critical analysis
    -Your work is a little bit descriptive. Always set relevance to the question
    -You need to state clearly the structure of the essay

    I suppose what I came here for is either tips on how to write a decent History/Politics essay from your experience, or just general advice about overcoming failure and self-doubt.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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    (Original post by Girv05)
    Hi StudentRoom,
    I did economics rather than history / politics but the general gist of writing a critical essay is the same so here are a few pointers.

    I think a lot of being critical comes down to your planning. Firstly a high scoring essay will require doing lots of additional reading, you'll find that reading a wide range of material will give you different ways to approach the essay. (I used to have a running word document where I would write down any good points that I'd taken from journals etc)

    Before you do anything else plan your essay's angle, how are you going to answer the question. A good approach is to break it down into two parts, thats how people tend to answer questions anyway, for example:

    I really enjoyed the film, but I thought the actor was better in his last one.
    My heart says GB would thrive outside the EU, my head knows that economically its folly.

    Government should generally try to avoid intervention however in some circumstances it becomes necessary.
    Short term v long term
    The main cause of the civil war was political but it would have been less of a driving factor without economic difficulties.

    It is important to understand that choosing an angle implies trade-offs. You cannot say everything there is to say about a subject (not only because of the word constraint). Saying one set of things implies not saying others. The choices that you need to make are those that allow you to say what you want to say. They should help you argue your case.


    After you've thought of a few different possible angles, you can pick the best (or your favorite) and start a plan.

    Stating your structure: I think having a clear angle from the beginning will help, but talk about this in the introduction. Make it clear that you've understood the complexity of the question, indicate your angle and also announce how you're going to go about it ie structure.

    Descriptive writing: I think with history particularly it can be easy to fall into telling the story of what happened, you need to focus not just on what happened but WHY that was important. Make each point relevant to your angle, and that should help keep a narrative going through your essay.

    Good luck!
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    (Original post by Girv05)
    Hi StudentRoom,

    I didn't really know where else to turn to. I am currently studying History/Politics and since the start of second year I have repeatedly achieved both thirds/2:2s. This is in contrast with my first year where I achieved 2:1s/Firsts. I know I am capable of better, yet I feel like I have hit a wall or barrier that I cannot overcome.

    Lifestyle wise I cannot make excuses, there are no major issues with my life.

    Here is the kind of feedback I get:

    -This essay could have benefited from greater critical analysis
    -Your work is a little bit descriptive. Always set relevance to the question
    -You need to state clearly the structure of the essay

    I suppose what I came here for is either tips on how to write a decent History/Politics essay from your experience, or just general advice about overcoming failure and self-doubt.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.
    I did History & Politics for my degree. Some pointers off the top of my head, and in response to what you listed as feedback:

    * with regards to being critical, a lot of that comes down to making sure you read widely. Don't just read the recommended texts, actively search for more articles/books. Of course, you should read the 'basic' texts in order to get a proper grasp of the topic, but expand beyond them. A good place to start is actually the footnotes of these books! See what other books and articles they are citing that are relevant for the essay in question, then go and read them. Use resources such as the Bibliography of British and Irish History to find yet further reading.

    * on top of that, you need to develop the skill of being critical in your reading. How convincing is the argument of the author, and what kind of evidence does s/he present to support it? How does that compare to what Professor X said in his article on the same subject? Two historians can reach very different conclusions based on the same document. You need to be evaluative, and then introduce this knowledge and evaluation into your essays. So if the essay is on Henry VIII's reformation for example, you can argue that Professor X's argument is more convincing because he showed the influence of reform-minded people in Henry's circle, versus Professor Y who argued for Henry's innate conservatism, or something to that effect.

    * the above point is related to the problem you highlighted about being descriptive. In the essays I mark, students do sometimes fall into the trap of just describing the sequence of events. So with Henry VIII, you just talk about the various events leading up to the divorce, break with Rome etc. without delving any further into evaluating causes, arguments etc. That will get you a low mark, since you haven't really provided any evidence of engagement beyond having read a chronological summary. If you wanted, you could do a kind of summary of major events towards the beginning of the essay, depending on the kind of question it is, just to establish a chronology, but don't spend the entire essay just moving from one event to the next and have that be the essay.

    * this is also related to the issue of answering the question. Typically, history essays will ask you something using words/phrases like 'How important was...', 'Why did...', 'Evaluate the factors that caused...'. It's easy to fall into the hole of description with some of these, but you need to take a moment to really figure out what the question is asking you. You've done your wide reading, now really look at the question - it's asking you for an argument, based on your reading. You can agree with the question, in which case you set out your argument why, with some acknowledgment of the opposing argument of course. You can say that no, you don't agree for the following reasons, etc. A question is just that, a question, and so you need to answer it, and stay on topic while you answer it. Too often students answer the question they wish had been asked, rather than what the actual question is, particularly in exams.

    * this is related in turn to planning and structuring an essay. When you've done most of your research, and have evaluated carefully the question and decided what your principal arguments are going to be, you need to devote some time to figuring out how the essay should flow together. It's usual in the introduction to 'signpost' what you will discuss in the essay - so after your opening remarks, establish clearly what the main arguments are, and how you will introduce them, and in what order. This may seem obvious and even a little clunky, but signposting is important since it sets the reader up both in terms of your overall point, but also how the arguments link together to form a coherent whole. It's something that's still critical even now, as I'm writing up my PhD - at the beginning of my chapters, I have to establish what it is that I'm saying, and what I want the reader to take away from this particular chapter.

    * carefully structuring and planning your essay will also help to make sure you aren't being too descriptive, and that you aren't leaving out any major arguments or points, since you have to think properly about how points link together and how they support your overall argument. I still spend ages planning my writing - I have a dedicated notebook for it. Doing this part on paper is especially helpful I find for some reason - I suppose since you can draw linking arrows everywhere, etc. Whatever way you do it, make sure you allow enough time in your schedule for the essay both to research properly, and to plan properly. I think it will be greatly beneficial to you.

    I hope this helps a bit, and isn't too much wall-of-text! As a student of history and now also a lecturer doing a PhD, I can tell you that writing is hard! So try not to feel too downcast. Use the feedback you've been given, alongside the tips above & from the previous poster, and I'm sure you'll start to do better. It's all part of your historian development!
 
 
 
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