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Preparing for an in-class essay

By Danielle Barakat on 19 February 2019NSWblogUKblogAssessmentsEnglishStudy tipsSubject advice

This is a bit of a lengthy one so strap yourselves in.

We have focused a lot of our time looking at how to prepare for exams and how to study or write notes, but we haven’t really had a look at how to prepare for something like an in-class essay. These are a little different because they’re not exactly a full-blown exam but are still a legit assessment that you need to know how to study for.

Everyone has a slightly different approach to this: Do you memorise the whole essay beforehand or do you just know themes and quotes and construct the essay on the day?

Personal opinion: I always liked going in with a pre-prepared essay, but one that was able to change and mould depending on the question. The thing is you need to be prepared at least 3 weeks in advance if you’re going to pick this option and I’ll explain why in a second.

That being said, we’re going to use this article to dive into how you would go about preparing for an in-class essay, no matter which method you use.

1. Start 3 weeks before

Being organised for these assessments is your key to doing well, so it’s important to start collecting your themes, quotes and ideas at least 3 weeks before so that you have enough time to formulate a structured response, have your teacher read over your drafts and give you feedback as well as practise. The essay you write 3 weeks out is not going to be the same essay you write in your assessment - and this is what we want.

This is probably considered the hardest step because it involves actually formulating a thesis and writing the bulk of your essay. But how do you actually do this?

Well, it comes down to personal preference and the way you like to write. Some people like to follow the PEEL structure of essay writing where you break your paragraphs down in order to include:

  • Point or topic sentence
  • Evidence
  • Explanation
  • Link sentence

I find this a really good foundation to write your essays because it makes sure you have a solid and succinct overall structure. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to repeat these steps a couple of times per paragraph to get some good quality essay writing. We’ve written a whole post on how to use this essay structure, so check that out here if you’re still a little unsure.

Now that you’ve got the basic structure of your essay down, how do you push the essay up into the band 6 range?

I’ve asked our resident English content creators here at Atomi and here are the 3 things they recommend doing to ensure your essay reaches those higher bands:

a) Start off with a strong introduction

It’s super important that your intro has a very clear thesis and that the points you are planning to address in your essay are clearly outlined from the very beginning. This will prove to the marker that you have a clear understanding of your essay as a whole and that you are completely aware of the points you have to address in order to back up your thesis. You then have to make sure that the body of your essay clearly links to every point made in the introduction. If you follow a good structure, it will be easy to make sure that your paragraphs are doing this, which brings me to my next point...

b) Focus on your sentence structure to ensure you are analysing your evidence properly

But how do you do this?

We recommend the technique - verb - effect method. The reason we use this sentence structure is because it allows you to analyse how the composer has chosen specific techniques in order to teach the audience something.

Let me quickly break down how to actually construct sentences using this method:

  • Technique - This one is pretty straight forward. You need to first identify the technique used by the composer, e.g. metaphor or symbolism.
  • Verb - This is where you clarify what the technique is actually doing for the audience. For example, does it highlight, contrast or undermine a certain idea or notion?
  • Effect - This is probably the most important part of the sentence where you explain the impact this technique has on the audience. Does this technique allow you to prove your topic sentence or thesis, and how? This is where you create a link back to the main idea you’re focusing on in that paragraph.

A few of these per paragraph and you’ll be on your way to a band 6 essay. We go through some example paragraphs using this method in our English: How to Write an Essay video series. Check out the Sentences and Logic videos 😊.

Don’t just stick to the same old techniques of metaphor or simile. You need to be able to analyse the texts at a higher level in order to push your essay into the high band 5/band 6 range. This means diving deeper into the text and trying to find other forms of evidence that make your essay stronger. The same goes for related texts. Try experimenting with a more diverse range of related texts, for example, a poem instead of a movie or novel. This will prove to the marker that you have a more in-depth understanding of the meaning of the texts and that you are able to establish meaning in various ways in order to prove the point you’re arguing in your essay.

You now have the first draft of your essay. It’s time to send this through to your teacher for them to read and provide you with some feedback.

2. Re-work it

The next step comes after your teacher has sent you back their feedback on your essay. This step is important because your teachers are going to be the ones marking your in-class assessment, so their feedback will give you insights into what they’re expecting. Take what they're saying seriously and re-work your essay to implement their feedback as much as you can.

The process of handing your work in for marking, getting feedback and then re-working it should happen multiple times, not just once. This is how you can get your essay close to perfect.

3. Memorise

Once you have your essay as close to perfect as you can, you should still be about a week out from the assessment. It’s now time to start memorising your essay. Some of you may be shocked that you’re memorising this far out, but the memorising that’s happening now is important for practise purposes. You want to be able to know your essay enough so that you can do some practise questions closed book.

When it comes to memorising, everyone has their own way that works for them. For me, walking around my room saying my essays out loud, paragraph by paragraph until I remembered the whole thing was the only thing that worked. Some people find it easier to write out their essay over and over, but the thing about this is that it takes a lot longer and isn’t as efficient.

For a guide on exactly how to memorise long responses, check this out!

4. Practise

So you now have your essay written and memorised. Well done! But here’s where a lot of people go wrong because they go into the assessment and just regurgitate their memorised essay without changing it. This is bad. Don’t do this.

This is the number 1 mistake you can make because your teachers and markers will pick up on this instantly because it will be obvious that you haven’t explicitly answered the question.

Practise questions will help overcome this. Get your hands on as many practise questions as possible and give them a go. Start off doing them not under exam conditions. Have your pre-prepared essay in front you and work on moulding your essay and specifically answering the question. Hand these into your teacher for feedback and work with the feedback on your next attempt.

Once you feel confident with this, the next step is to introduce exam conditions so that you can practise moulding your essay in a high pressured environment where you’re relying on your memory rather than a cheat sheet. I would even go to the extent of writing out multiple exam questions, folding them up and then picking them out of a hat when you go to practise so that you can test your ability to answer an unseen question - one that you haven’t had prior time to think about, because after all, that’s what the in-class assessment will be like. Doing this also allows you to test your timing to know whether you can write your essay in the given time slot.

5. The night before the assessment

The night before is finally here. You are now ready. You’ve got your essay, you’ve received feedback from your teacher, you’ve made the amendments, you’ve practised it under exam conditions.

So what now?

Here’s what I would recommend doing:

  1. Re-read your essay and make sure you’ve got it fully memorised;
  2. Write it out under exam conditions (whilst timing yourself) one more time;
  3. Read through your essay one more time;
  4. Sleep early.

The next morning, make sure you have a good breakfast and then if you’re keen write your essay out one more time (this one’s optional).

You’re now ready to sit an in-class essay assessment.

Good luck! 💪

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