How to Write a Successful Undergraduate Essay in an Exam Context

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The essays you write during your formal education, term time and those you produce under duress in an examination context are two very different beasts. The essays you produce as part of your coursework come without a time limitation, which means you can spend weeks gathering together your research, reading around the subject and putting together a concise and coherent argument.

Examination essay questions similarly give you the opportunity to show evidence of reading, critical thinking and knowledge of the topics covered during the course. The real difference is the restricted period of time you have at your disposal. Here are some tips from the professional essay writing service Oxbridge Essays to help you get top marks in examination essay questions:

  • Address the question directly
  • Develop a clearly structured and logical argument in relation to the question
  • Support the argument by referencing published sources
  • Show an ability to work under time pressure

Examination essay questions that do these four things and show a degree of originality will receive top marks.

How are term time and examination essays marked?

The criteria for judging a term time and examination essay are largely the same. Of course, the glaring difference between the two is the time factor, which means certain compromises will have to be made. However, an exam essay should not simply be an abbreviated version of a piece of work you’d produce during the year. In the context of an exam, some areas of the essay should be compromised to allow certain aspects to take centre stage.

Prioritise your argument – The key part of the essay is your ability to construct a compelling argument. Under exam conditions, it’s essential you focus on the central body of your essay, rather than producing a lengthy and time consuming introduction or conclusion.

Identify the key points – An exam will not give you the time you need to cover all the points you’d like to make. Rather than covering as much as you can in minimal detail, concentrate on a limited number of key points and argue those well. You can also imply or raise questions that indicate this is the approach you are taking.

Limit introductions and conclusions – An essay produced in an examination context should still have the sense of being a complete piece of work with an introduction and a conclusion, but these parts of the essay should only take a limited form.

An examination essay introduction should be no more than couple of short paragraphs, which simply analyse what you understand by the question, and outline how you intend to answer it.

The conclusion should be as long as the time you have left allows. If you’re really struggling for time, two or three reflections or insights which emanate from the arguments you’ve presented, and perhaps one or two questions that arise from them, should be sufficient.

Structure – When time is of the essence, structure is often the one feature of your essay that will suffer the most; however, a good structure is actually never as important as it is in this context.

The temptation is to pick up your pen and write the minute the examination starts, without any advance thought as to how the essay will progress. The result is a random sequence of points with no logical progression from one to the next. The risk of this approach is that the most important points you should be making will be marginalised and not receive the attention they deserve.

Taking five minutes of the allotted time to create a quick essay plan is a necessity, not a luxury. This will ensure the rest of your time is used productively, helping to structure your essay and cut out all that waffle.