For my students, essay writing is really tough. Having never had to write anything similar in their time at school or university, they find it difficult to adapt to the way that Cambridge wants an essay written. Given that there is a set structure they have to use, the essay should be one of the easiest parts for them, and serves to compensate for other sections of the exam that are less predictable and usually yield lower scores. I’ve put together this guide for how you can improve the standards of an essay and get those top marks!
There are two ways that I teach to write an essay. Students can choose whichever they find easier. Here is an example question. Remember that the essays are discursive (they must have two opposing points of view).
Some people believe that life was better 100 years ago, do you agree?
- Your Own Idea…. (Example; Opportunities for Women)
As you can see, the introduction and conclusion elements of the essay are common to both and are essential for a good essay. Both should comprise around 3 or 4 lines. See below for guidelines on content. Besides that, and keeping in mind that the essay should contain contrast, the students have the option of contrasting each element in its own paragraph or contrasting all of them at once in two separate paragraphs.
When the former is chosen, the idea is to state how technology, for example, was better 100 years ago, and then provide a different perspective with how it is better today. E.g;
Technology 100 years ago was less advanced, so people were not dependent on their mobiles or computers, instead relying on face to face communication. However, today technology has connected everybody in the world and is said to have made people more tolerant and understanding.
To introduce contrast, students should use words like these;
- On the other hand
- In spite of
If students prefer the latter structure of only 4 paragraphs, they will have to instead talk about all the good things of 100 years ago, and then all the good things now, in two separate paragraphs.
A formal style should be used in all the essays your students write. Accordingly, they will lose marks for anything that constitutes informality;
- Phrasal verbs (In the vast majority of cases where the main verb is more formal, in some situations (e.g. To pass away / To die) the phrasal would be allowed.
- Abbreviations (e.g. ‘TV’ instead of ‘Television’)
- Idioms and Expressions
With this being a formal piece of writing, students should avoid using any form of opinion in the body of their essay, saving it only for the end when they answer the question. In this case the question is ‘Do you agree?’
Sometimes, they have a hard time understanding what language constitutes opinion. Phrases like ‘I think’, ‘I believe’ and ‘As far as I’m concerned’ are obvious to them but the following examples are also opinion and should be avoided;
- Technology has improved our lives for the better
- It is obvious that nowadays people don’t care about face to face communication
- The world nowadays is the best it has ever been.
If students want to express a popular opinion, then reporting verbs can be used. See below.
Is a huge part of any piece of writing, and is heavily weighted when it comes to marking. This is their opportunity to show the examiner what they can do. It’s also your responsibility to make sure that they understand the grammar to such an extent that they can use it fluently and in the wide range of the possible exam questions they receive. Here are some key structures and an example of how to fit them in with the topic;
- The Passive – How To Teach The Passive Voice
Technology in hospitals has been improved so that a better standard of healthcare is being provided.
- The Passive with Reporting Verbs
It has been said that technology has improved our lives for the better.
- Conditional – How To Teach Conditionals
If I had to decide whether life is better today or 100 years ago, I would…….
Other structures to recommend include;
- Relative Clauses – How To Teach Relative Clauses
- Participle Clauses – How To Teach Participle Clauses
- Inversion – How To Teach Inversion
- Verb Patterns
- And obviously, they should use a wide range of verb tenses.
Throughout the courses, students should be encouraged to constantly make note of new vocabulary. As they will be expected to use topical words in their essays.
- Encourage students to be consistent when beginning paragraphs, such as using ‘Firstly’, ‘Secondly’, etc…
- The introduction should be a brief sum up of the question;
Nowadays, the world has advanced a lot in terms of technology, health and opportunities for women. With progress being made every day in all of these areas. But can we say that life is better today?
- They should always read the essay through after finishing.
- A rough plan is helpful, written before they start writing the main answer.
Notes for Marking
When marking, make sure that you have the essay question in front of you and look out for the following;
- Does the student answer the question?
- Is the structure clear and easy to follow?
- Have they used a wide range of verb tenses, grammar structures and vocabulary appropriate to the topic?
- Have they included their own idea?
- Do they write in an appropriate style?
- Have they kept to the word limit?