The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Top Notch Essay (plus some study tips!)
No matter which subjects you do, chances are that if you’re a high school student, you’ll be writing an essay. Or rather, essays. But what should you do if you want to write an effective essay? And more broadly, how are you supposed to study during the lead up to your essay writing?
By using the tips below and dedicating yourself to the art of the essay and studying in general, you’ll become an expert in no time. Or at least, know what you’re doing. So, let’s get started then.
How to write an essay
Step One – Break down the essay question
Whenever we worked on an essay as a class back in Year 12, the first thing my teacher did was write down the question on the board. She circled the key words, and defined each one. Then, she wrote down a bunch synonyms for them.
This provides you with some tools to build up a foundation, particularly for your topic sentence.
More often than not, a topic sentence is the essay question paraphrased, which is where you’ll use the synonyms. Understanding what the question is asking will springboard you into your first draft.
Step Two – Write up your essay structure
Now that you understand what the question is asking, it’s now time to write all your ideas down. As I said before, breaking down the question leads to the topic sentence, but what about the other parts of the essay? Here’s how I usually structure my plan:
Body Paragraph 1
Body Paragraph 2
Body Paragraph 3
Body Paragraph 4 (Rebuttal)
Under the headings, you should summarise the main idea for each body paragraph. And under that, you should list down all the supporting evidence you’ll be using.
Remember that it should only be a couple of dot points for each section. This is just the first draft after all.
Step Three – Focus on your thesis statement
The thesis statement is the main point of your essay.
It should be noted that no matter where you fall on the scale, you should always think about the other perspective and mention it in your rebuttal paragraph.
Every piece of evidence, every line of explanation should all relate to your thesis statement. Even your rebuttal should tie to your thesis in some way.
Step Four – Find your evidence
You may already have some evidence in mind and have written it down in your plan, but if you want to write a really exceptional essay, you’ve got to read widely.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t start the writing process if you’re confident in your ideas, but for the body paragraphs, you need an extensive list of potential evidence you could use.
If you’re writing your essay on a particular book, reading that book again, summarising your notes on each chapter and finding quotes is a given.
But finding out more information about the author’s life and the overall context surrounding the book could give you a broader understanding and thus, a better essay.
Step Five – Proofread!
Never underestimate how much proofreading can improve an essay. Whether it be a minor change like fixing a spelling error or rewriting a sentence so it flows better, the smallest changes can make the biggest of differences.
Getting someone else to proofread it, preferably a teacher, was probably the most useful thing I did when I was learning to write essays.
Don’t be shy to ask them for their opinion. It’s good preparation for when you have to write essays under exam conditions, so start early, hone in on your writing skills, and practice, practice, practice!
Study Techniques – How to stay productive:
When students sit down to study, it’s not uncommon to be distracted, or frustrated that nothing is getting absorbed.
Here are some of the things I’ve done to keep me focused:
Variety is the spice of life
Variety is the key here to keep yourself interested. Most people start to lose focus when they stare at words for far too long.
But there’s a lot, and I mean a lot of different study skills you can use to your benefit. There’s flashcards, highlighting and note taking, quizzes, acrostic poems, acronyms, songs, and plenty more.
One of my favourites was that, whenever I was in a study group with my friend, we pretended to be on a TV quiz show where the questions related to the content we were studying. Silly, but very effective in my opinion.
You might find that some of these techniques don’t work out for you. I know I wasn’t a huge fan of summarising my notes, so I moved onto flashcards. I also find that general exposure to content was helpful in the long run.
I used to tape up posters of flow charts and definitions all around the house, and that worked out pretty well. All in all, try out a whole bunch of techniques, and you’ll figure out what the right approach is for you.