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    Hi All,

    I'm in my last year of uni and really struggling to hit those top grades. I have approached my professors and gone through my uni grades (highest I've got is 68) but I tried really hard for that piece of work. The one I did straight after that I got a 50 and was really upset, as when I read over it I thought I had done just as much as I could for the 68 one.

    My problem is I can't really think about arguments in a complex way, I struggle to think differently and analytically. I feel like my arguments lack substance and are very basic in my explanation. I try to do the whole PPE structure throughout my essay. Do any of you have any tips for me as to how I can get the 70+ marks for someone who struggles with detail and thinking "outside the box"?
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    Do you mean point, evidence and explain in every paragraph of your essay? Is that the structure that is recommended by your tutors? My concern would be that, whilst rigidly following such a structure might produce a solid and unobjectionable essay, it may lack that touch of something extra that they are looking for at degree level (often some degree of personal argument or interpretation not just 'this shows this; that shows that; and the answer is probably somewhere between the two'). Are you able to look at the essays of someone on your course who is scoring highly? And are you spending time reading and re-reading the questions and really breaking it down before starting planning? (sorry if that is a really dumb question but I found it so important).

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    (Original post by Cremedalemer)
    Hi All,

    I'm in my last year of uni and really struggling to hit those top grades. I have approached my professors and gone through my uni grades (highest I've got is 68) but I tried really hard for that piece of work. The one I did straight after that I got a 50 and was really upset, as when I read over it I thought I had done just as much as I could for the 68 one.

    My problem is I can't really think about arguments in a complex way, I struggle to think differently and analytically. I feel like my arguments lack substance and are very basic in my explanation. I try to do the whole PPE structure throughout my essay. Do any of you have any tips for me as to how I can get the 70+ marks for someone who struggles with detail and thinking "outside the box"?
    I remember the current admissions tutor at Murray Edwards college, Cambridge, saying they spent most of the first couple of terms trying to knock such rigid A-level structures out of their students. Perhaps you need to be more flexible?

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    Kiki09 ageshallnot thank you for both of your responses! It is the only structure I know, and haven't been taught any other way. I can't believe I have made it this far at uni, and it's upsetting as I used to get pretty decent grades at A level even achieving a 100% in an essay based A level exam. My method in terms of taking notes is getting my recommended readings and writing the question on top of a plain piece of paper, splitting it 4 columns (topic, content, page and thoughts) and writing anything that directly answering that question word for word. I do this for around 20-30 pieces and have always been praised for my range of materials.

    However writing is a challenge, and my problem is the following: "this essay doesn't fully engage fully with historiographical debate and doesn't clearly enough the differences between the primary and secondary sources it draws upon. It is also undermined by the quality of argument and expression. The writing makes it hard to follow the argument and reads more like preparatory notes than coherent sentences".

    I have also been told I need to work on the complexity of my ideas, which for me is really hard to grasp as I have a pretty basic understanding of ideas. For example I’ll have a question and I will only takes notes down which I feel the answers it on a very basic level, as I cannot understand complex ideas and feel like it will only complicate things.

    As you can see I can a ton of problems and it’s caused me to have bad anxiety as I feel the calibre of my work isn’t what it used to be. I’d really appreciate some advice.
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    Ok, so first off Cremedalemer - don't be too hard on yourself! 68 (which you have acheived) is not a score to be sniffed at - in my experience history at university rarely uses the full range of marks out of 100.

    Next up, and most important since there is only so much that can be done online in abstract, does you university offer any essay writing/study skills courses? You may have to do a bit of digging as some are better at advertising these courses than others - they may be offered by a central department or division not history. If they exist, sign up for one!

    However, to give my thoughts on what you have written:

    Note taking
    I am not going to say completely change how you do it as you clearly like the order (and would probably hate my method of note taking which is a lot less ordered) but please think carefully about whether you are being too restrictive in only writing things down that clearly answer the question word for word. You are getting through a lot of material but I worry you might be missing things which whilst not immediately relevant might turn out to be useful when you get to writing. Also, assuming that you have exams as well as essays as part of your degree, you may be short changing yourself by ignoring everything not related to your essays.
    Maybe, next time, try keeping an eye out for some information that does not exactly answer the question but is interesting and related to the topic - write it down and just have it there on paper (even if you still decide not to use it).
    I am not clear if these are essays that count towards your degree or just weekly practice but if the latter maybe try a week where you read slightly fewer books but write a fewer more notes on each one.

    Historiography
    My reading of the comment you included would suggest that whilst you are quoting from different historians, you are maybe not relating them to each other. It is all very well quoting that one historian said x was caused by y but that historian may have been discredited or used an approach that other historians don't agree with. I think what the tutor is trying to get at is the need to show how historical study of a topic has developed.
    For example, if we are talking about the causes of an event, what did historians used to say? was there a point where they started saying different things? why did it change?
    If you look at the books you read, a lot of them start by talking about the previous historical study either in the introduction or a standalone chapter. Maybe, in your next essay you could start with a couple of paragraphs on the historical debate around the topic?
    (I have a lot of sympathy by the way, I have always found historiography the hardest bit!)

    Consciously writing about the secondary sources on their own might then help with the next one...

    Secondary v. Primary sources
    You really need to get on top of making the distinction clear. It may be as simple as how you are referencing/introducing a quote isn't making it clear what the source is BUT you also need to start move on from re-capping other historians to your own conclusions if you want to get the top marks. If you have addressed the historical debate ie: what historians are saying, you can then move on to what the primary sources are saying and what you think about them.

    Maybe try reading a history book - not for the content you need to answer a question but to think about how they are constructing their argument. Think of it more like an english lit review of a book.

    Writing style
    Hard to comment on without seeing your style but I do wonder if the PEE structure is hampering you. If you are trying to force your work into that rigid structure it is likely to be affecting your style of writing.

    I hope there is something in the above that helps! Without an essay title or topic it is hard to break down exactly how you could approach it differently.
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    (Original post by Cremedalemer)
    Kiki09 ageshallnot thank you for both of your responses! It is the only structure I know, and haven't been taught any other way. I can't believe I have made it this far at uni, and it's upsetting as I used to get pretty decent grades at A level even achieving a 100% in an essay based A level exam. My method in terms of taking notes is getting my recommended readings and writing the question on top of a plain piece of paper, splitting it 4 columns (topic, content, page and thoughts) and writing anything that directly answering that question word for word. I do this for around 20-30 pieces and have always been praised for my range of materials.

    However writing is a challenge, and my problem is the following: "this essay doesn't fully engage fully with historiographical debate and doesn't clearly enough the differences between the primary and secondary sources it draws upon. It is also undermined by the quality of argument and expression. The writing makes it hard to follow the argument and reads more like preparatory notes than coherent sentences".

    I have also been told I need to work on the complexity of my ideas, which for me is really hard to grasp as I have a pretty basic understanding of ideas. For example I’ll have a question and I will only takes notes down which I feel the answers it on a very basic level, as I cannot understand complex ideas and feel like it will only complicate things.

    As you can see I can a ton of problems and it’s caused me to have bad anxiety as I feel the calibre of my work isn’t what it used to be. I’d really appreciate some advice.
    There's a good thread in this section about writing history essays. Have you had a look at that?

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    (Original post by Cremedalemer)
    Kiki09 ageshallnot thank you for both of your responses! It is the only structure I know, and haven't been taught any other way. I can't believe I have made it this far at uni, and it's upsetting as I used to get pretty decent grades at A level even achieving a 100% in an essay based A level exam. My method in terms of taking notes is getting my recommended readings and writing the question on top of a plain piece of paper, splitting it 4 columns (topic, content, page and thoughts) and writing anything that directly answering that question word for word. I do this for around 20-30 pieces and have always been praised for my range of materials.

    However writing is a challenge, and my problem is the following: "this essay doesn't fully engage fully with historiographical debate and doesn't clearly enough the differences between the primary and secondary sources it draws upon. It is also undermined by the quality of argument and expression. The writing makes it hard to follow the argument and reads more like preparatory notes than coherent sentences".

    I have also been told I need to work on the complexity of my ideas, which for me is really hard to grasp as I have a pretty basic understanding of ideas. For example I’ll have a question and I will only takes notes down which I feel the answers it on a very basic level, as I cannot understand complex ideas and feel like it will only complicate things.

    As you can see I can a ton of problems and it’s caused me to have bad anxiety as I feel the calibre of my work isn’t what it used to be. I’d really appreciate some advice.
    Good advice from Kiki09 above.

    Plus you could look at a couple of books:

    Writing History Essays, by Ian Mabbett

    Studying History, by Jeremy Black and Ian Macraild (particularly the later chapters).
 
 
 
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