The Student Room Group

Advice for writing an essay

hey, i currently do english lit a-level and i was wondering what are people's best tips when actually writing an essay? eg. what is your method and approach to beginning it, do you have a set structure which works really well for aiming for an a/a*, and how to make it less frigid (if you know what i mean)

im struggle with the essay writing part quite a bit currently, and going into year 13, i hope to begin to become a more natural writer!

thank you to anyone for helping!
hi!! A* eng lit student here :smile: here are some of my tips (although i am aware this doesn't work for everyone, this is what worked for me)

- read model student answers; i found that this rlly helped me curate ideas of my own that i could embed into my own essays later and discover some new and useful vocab to add in too. the structure of these essays could be something to aid your writing, however, i don't recommend doing that just because it's hard to learn another person's style and different essay styles can garner similar marks anyway so stick to what suits you and improve on that!

- if your teachers are reliable: make sure to do an extra practice timed essay after class if you have a free study afterwards and ask your teacher to mark it. this can totally be a pain but if you compile a doc with all of your teachers' feedback on it this can RLLY help in the long-run

- PEEL ALL THE WAY! Now, when i say 'PEEL,' your best shot at an A/A* is to not make the structure so obvious. for example, you could do a point, evidence and then make sure you expand on explanation a lot whilst also embedding extra small quotes in there to mix evidence and explanation together which makes your writing sound more fluid rather than an obvious PEEL structure.

- if you don't know any techniques to add in to gain AO2 marks, no worries! if you can explain the writer's craft/effect well enough, this can still get you marks so no need to worry about memorising language techniques you don't already know because you're more likely to forget them anyway or not know how to explain it.

- at the end of your paragraph always link to the question BUT also a bigger idea. for example, if the point of the text is related to social class you could also bring in some philosophical ideas during the time of the book's publishing that relates to social class to make you look more knowledgeable and evaluative.

- LANGUAGE + STRUCTUREE - the mistake a lot of my classmates made that lost them marks was not talking about language and structure equally and mostly pandering towards explaining language techniques. make sure to mention the structural features of the text (how the text is divided, the chronology of the narrative etc...). pointing out structure will always make you stand out than language techniques.

- I'm not sure about your essay writing style but i always knew that if i could not find a good quote with lots of techniques or that fit perfectly to the point i was trying to make i just wouldn't write about it. if you can't support your argument well enough with the text then don't write about it. however, if you are able to expand your point and are confident in it with limited evidence by all means do what you are comfortable doing. however, in my personal experience, this rarely worked out for me.

i think that's all i can think of for now but if you let me know what texts you're studying or the exam board you're under i could help you there too if I've done them before :smile: hope this helps!!!
Reply 2
Original post by niaaanz
hi!! A* eng lit student here :smile: here are some of my tips (although i am aware this doesn't work for everyone, this is what worked for me)

- read model student answers; i found that this rlly helped me curate ideas of my own that i could embed into my own essays later and discover some new and useful vocab to add in too. the structure of these essays could be something to aid your writing, however, i don't recommend doing that just because it's hard to learn another person's style and different essay styles can garner similar marks anyway so stick to what suits you and improve on that!

- if your teachers are reliable: make sure to do an extra practice timed essay after class if you have a free study afterwards and ask your teacher to mark it. this can totally be a pain but if you compile a doc with all of your teachers' feedback on it this can RLLY help in the long-run

- PEEL ALL THE WAY! Now, when i say 'PEEL,' your best shot at an A/A* is to not make the structure so obvious. for example, you could do a point, evidence and then make sure you expand on explanation a lot whilst also embedding extra small quotes in there to mix evidence and explanation together which makes your writing sound more fluid rather than an obvious PEEL structure.

- if you don't know any techniques to add in to gain AO2 marks, no worries! if you can explain the writer's craft/effect well enough, this can still get you marks so no need to worry about memorising language techniques you don't already know because you're more likely to forget them anyway or not know how to explain it.

- at the end of your paragraph always link to the question BUT also a bigger idea. for example, if the point of the text is related to social class you could also bring in some philosophical ideas during the time of the book's publishing that relates to social class to make you look more knowledgeable and evaluative.

- LANGUAGE + STRUCTUREE - the mistake a lot of my classmates made that lost them marks was not talking about language and structure equally and mostly pandering towards explaining language techniques. make sure to mention the structural features of the text (how the text is divided, the chronology of the narrative etc...). pointing out structure will always make you stand out than language techniques.

- I'm not sure about your essay writing style but i always knew that if i could not find a good quote with lots of techniques or that fit perfectly to the point i was trying to make i just wouldn't write about it. if you can't support your argument well enough with the text then don't write about it. however, if you are able to expand your point and are confident in it with limited evidence by all means do what you are comfortable doing. however, in my personal experience, this rarely worked out for me.

i think that's all i can think of for now but if you let me know what texts you're studying or the exam board you're under i could help you there too if I've done them before :smile: hope this helps!!!


hey, thank you for all the amazing advice! i will definitely be saving this to refer back to in the future, and even just reading it has helped my understand my next steps for studying :smile:

my current exam board is edexcel and the texts i do are:
prose - wuthering heights, a thousand splendid suns (to compare)
play - a streetcar named desire, shakespeare's hamlet
poetry - poems of the decade *post 2000s*, the Romantics
the coursework books i am doing are handmaid's tale and 1984

some of these aren't common texts to pick but i appreciate any guidance you have for me!

thank you so much again!!
Original post by gabskinner
hey, thank you for all the amazing advice! i will definitely be saving this to refer back to in the future, and even just reading it has helped my understand my next steps for studying :smile:

my current exam board is edexcel and the texts i do are:
prose - wuthering heights, a thousand splendid suns (to compare)
play - a streetcar named desire, shakespeare's hamlet
poetry - poems of the decade *post 2000s*, the Romantics
the coursework books i am doing are handmaid's tale and 1984

some of these aren't common texts to pick but i appreciate any guidance you have for me!

thank you so much again!!

hi!! i'm very happy to help :smile: i'm glad to know i've done the same exam board as you so this makes it easier for me to help you

prose: now, i do not have advice to aid you on your texts in particular HOWEVER, i know that prose is often the hardest paper to score top marks in but i found a technique that's quite useful:

1) INTRO
2) COME UP WITH 2 POINTS THAT FIT BOTH TEXTS. for example: both texts explore gender through a female perspective, both texts portray gender as a malleable concept (idk just making this up LMAO). with those two points, you can then create 4 paragraphs. 2 paragraphs would be about wuthering heights and the other 2 would be about a thousand splendid suns. this method honestly made it easier for me to include more points and prevented me from over-writing - although with the added paragraph it does make it look like more work.
3) PEEL
4) At the end of each paragraph, ALWAYS write a sentence that compares the two. for example, if you're writing about wuthering heights and its portrayal of gender, at the end when you're about to finish your point, include at least 1 sentence saying 'this could be compared with a thousand splendid suns as they both draw upon comparisons of ___.' this is a nice way to not forget AO4 and to possibly segue to the next para where you expand on this further.

drama: this was my favourite paper by far and streetcar was def my fav text. for this paper, my BIGGEST advice is to TALK ABOUT STAGE CRAFT! so many people focus on the play as another text. however, we must remember it is a performance and much of the effect of the text is through what we see on stage rather than how we read it to ourselves. in your essay, always mention a key feature of how the stage is set up to gain marks. you could do this by watching live versions of the play (the gillian Anderson one is a good performance to reference) and seeing how they set up the stage. BEWARE of over-analysing the stage production rather than the text in front of you as you could lose marks by going off track. however, it is good to reference the different ways the play has been adapted onstage to lift your AO2 and AO3 marks. some stage craft features i would always point out would be how the stage is set up for audiences to witness the interior and exterior of the apartment (showing the intrusion of the new south upon the old south), the significance of the portieres and how during the poker scene the silhouette of blanche's figure could be seen by the men in the other room (conflict between masculinity and femininity).

another piece of advice i have about drama is to learn the conventions of greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy. this is something i wish my teachers had embedded in me earlier as i only truly learned about it during exam week itself but PLS LEARN THEM. it won't necessarily come up as an exam question but there is still a chance and ALSO it is very beneficial for you to insert greek tragedy conventions or terminology (if relevant) in your essays to impress examiners.

poetry: for poetry, i would say i struggled with this paper the most throughout the course but during the exams, i performed the best in this one. rlly weird but my advice would be to create a document now (or during a term break) of key quotes from at least 3/4 main themes within each poem. you don't need to go into detail of explaining these quotes but as long as you write a mini 'note' / reminder of the significance of the quote + the technique associated with it, this can rlly help in the long run when it comes for revision and all your classmates are scrambling to memorise the poems.

also, DONT FORGET TO COMPARE!! this is a very easy mistake to make but as long as you remember to end your paragraphs with a mini 'conclusion' of how the two poems compare then you will receive AO4 marks that most people tend to miss out on. ALSO PLEASE REMEMBER THAT FOR THE ROMANTICS' SECTION YOU DO NOT NEED AO4. so many people on exam day discovered this and had to come up with a new structure hours before the exam because they thought they needed to compare the two. do not make this same mistake as it will save you so much time (even my classmates were panicking about this).

ALSO, on the student room if you search up practice comparison essays to do with the poems of the decade texts and unseen texts, there is one thread where someone writes what their class did which i used to practice how i wrote about unseen texts within timed conditions.

hope this all helps again and i wish you the best!!!
Reply 4
Original post by niaaanz
hi!! i'm very happy to help :smile: i'm glad to know i've done the same exam board as you so this makes it easier for me to help you

prose: now, i do not have advice to aid you on your texts in particular HOWEVER, i know that prose is often the hardest paper to score top marks in but i found a technique that's quite useful:

1) INTRO
2) COME UP WITH 2 POINTS THAT FIT BOTH TEXTS. for example: both texts explore gender through a female perspective, both texts portray gender as a malleable concept (idk just making this up LMAO). with those two points, you can then create 4 paragraphs. 2 paragraphs would be about wuthering heights and the other 2 would be about a thousand splendid suns. this method honestly made it easier for me to include more points and prevented me from over-writing - although with the added paragraph it does make it look like more work.
3) PEEL
4) At the end of each paragraph, ALWAYS write a sentence that compares the two. for example, if you're writing about wuthering heights and its portrayal of gender, at the end when you're about to finish your point, include at least 1 sentence saying 'this could be compared with a thousand splendid suns as they both draw upon comparisons of ___.' this is a nice way to not forget AO4 and to possibly segue to the next para where you expand on this further.

drama: this was my favourite paper by far and streetcar was def my fav text. for this paper, my BIGGEST advice is to TALK ABOUT STAGE CRAFT! so many people focus on the play as another text. however, we must remember it is a performance and much of the effect of the text is through what we see on stage rather than how we read it to ourselves. in your essay, always mention a key feature of how the stage is set up to gain marks. you could do this by watching live versions of the play (the gillian Anderson one is a good performance to reference) and seeing how they set up the stage. BEWARE of over-analysing the stage production rather than the text in front of you as you could lose marks by going off track. however, it is good to reference the different ways the play has been adapted onstage to lift your AO2 and AO3 marks. some stage craft features i would always point out would be how the stage is set up for audiences to witness the interior and exterior of the apartment (showing the intrusion of the new south upon the old south), the significance of the portieres and how during the poker scene the silhouette of blanche's figure could be seen by the men in the other room (conflict between masculinity and femininity).

another piece of advice i have about drama is to learn the conventions of greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy. this is something i wish my teachers had embedded in me earlier as i only truly learned about it during exam week itself but PLS LEARN THEM. it won't necessarily come up as an exam question but there is still a chance and ALSO it is very beneficial for you to insert greek tragedy conventions or terminology (if relevant) in your essays to impress examiners.

poetry: for poetry, i would say i struggled with this paper the most throughout the course but during the exams, i performed the best in this one. rlly weird but my advice would be to create a document now (or during a term break) of key quotes from at least 3/4 main themes within each poem. you don't need to go into detail of explaining these quotes but as long as you write a mini 'note' / reminder of the significance of the quote + the technique associated with it, this can rlly help in the long run when it comes for revision and all your classmates are scrambling to memorise the poems.

also, DONT FORGET TO COMPARE!! this is a very easy mistake to make but as long as you remember to end your paragraphs with a mini 'conclusion' of how the two poems compare then you will receive AO4 marks that most people tend to miss out on. ALSO PLEASE REMEMBER THAT FOR THE ROMANTICS' SECTION YOU DO NOT NEED AO4. so many people on exam day discovered this and had to come up with a new structure hours before the exam because they thought they needed to compare the two. do not make this same mistake as it will save you so much time (even my classmates were panicking about this).

ALSO, on the student room if you search up practice comparison essays to do with the poems of the decade texts and unseen texts, there is one thread where someone writes what their class did which i used to practice how i wrote about unseen texts within timed conditions.

hope this all helps again and i wish you the best!!!


this is absolutely amazing, thank you so much!

i know it is so easy to forget the most important stuff when a teacher is explaining it, so seeing it all written down here is super helpful just to have to refer back to the day of the essay :smile: your replies are definitely going to be the staple of my exam revision haha
Original post by gabskinner
this is absolutely amazing, thank you so much!

i know it is so easy to forget the most important stuff when a teacher is explaining it, so seeing it all written down here is super helpful just to have to refer back to the day of the essay :smile: your replies are definitely going to be the staple of my exam revision haha

you're so welcome!!! <3 all the best x
Hi,I've been trying to find that thread, but I can't find it. I'm revising for my mocks and struggling with the unseen poetry.
Original post by gabskinner
hey, i currently do english lit a-level and i was wondering what are people's best tips when actually writing an essay? eg. what is your method and approach to beginning it, do you have a set structure which works really well for aiming for an a/a*, and how to make it less frigid (if you know what i mean)

im struggle with the essay writing part quite a bit currently, and going into year 13, i hope to begin to become a more natural writer!

thank you to anyone for helping!


Hi there, from my years of experience teaching lit, I'd say that the best essays always include a strong, defensible argument (this is usually your thesis statement in the intro para), which can be extended into specific ideas corroborated by relevant textual evidence/quotations and framed through the lens of critical scholarship (secondary criticism). I run a YouTube channel dedicated to helping lit students like yourself get top grades in the subject - I have lots of sample top grade essay walkthroughs, so see if it helps: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhe5sjPdsN7a5LNSC-8X4Pp9B4EVa6Fvi
Sorry for adding a late reply here. I see you have added a youtube link as a reference. I want to let you know there are so many writing platforms now-a-days. Some of them really provide high-quality writing services. And of course, for better services you should pay high.

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