Updated: Feb 16
This article provides a comprehensive guide to overcome the difficulties associated with writing exam essays. The article covers the three key challenges in writing an essay in English - essay structure, lack of ideas, and idea development. The importance of paragraphing and sentence arrangement is emphasized, with guidelines on how to form well-constructed paragraphs. The article also highlights the importance of having an introduction that introduces the topic and conveys one's opinion, and body paragraphs that expand on the ideas presented in the introduction. To overcome the lack of ideas, the article suggests remembering that writing is evaluated based on four criteria and to not be intimidated by the task of finding an appropriate topic to write about. The article also provides tips on developing one's ideas, such as starting with the basics and moving on to more specific information, providing an opening statement for each paragraph, and ending with a concise, conclusive paragraph. The article concludes with a few additional tips to consider, such as practicing writing skills, acquiring an appreciation for writing, proofreading one's work, and avoiding common writing errors.
Writing essays can be extremely challenging for most students, even for those who are native English speakers. In this post, we will discuss the possible difficulties associated with writing exam essays, and provide ideas for how to overcome them.
This post was written with the intent to be a comprehensive resource for approaching essay writing in any setting, as the basics of essay writing are applicable in most exams or writing assignments.
Difficulties of writing
Writing an essay can prove to be a difficult endeavor for both beginner and experienced English language learners. Three key challenges present themselves when constructing an essay in English.
Lack of ideas
At times, encountering difficulty in completing a task may be due to multiple obstacles. Such a complex situation may be intimidating for even the most determined of writers. An analysis of this issue necessitates a consideration of the individual components.
When considering English exam writing, we tend to look at paragraphing and sentence arrangement (with more detail on idea development being discussed later). Here, the emphasis lies with forming well-constructed paragraphs.
The use of multiple paragraphs in an essay serves to make the content clearer and more informative by grouping together related information. The sentences within any given paragraph should all relate to a particular aspect of the main theme being addressed, enabling smooth transitions between ideas and making the text more comprehensible for readers.
To demonstrate the importance of paragraphing, especially in IELTS exams where there is a 250 word limit, an ideal number of paragraphs to include should be two or three body paragraphs plus an introduction and conclusion. With fewer than this it becomes difficult to cover all angles of the given text; conversely, if more than three are used there may not be enough words to properly develop one's ideas.
An introduction that introduces the topic and conveys one's opinion of it should serve as the foundation for any written composition. This introductory paragraph should be concise, usually consisting of no more than three to four sentences, in order to maintain a harmonious structure between the opening statement and subsequent body paragraphs which will provide further nuances on the subject matter.
In the body paragraphs, you should expand on the ideas or notions that were put forward in the introduction. The goal is to develop your points as much as possible, without being too verbose. You can create separate paragraphs for different aspects of the issue you are discussing - for instance, if the topic is about a welfare system, one paragraph could be dedicated to its benefits while another could focus on its drawbacks. There is no need to add any more body paragraphs after this. Once you have explored both sides of the argument, it's time to bring the essay to a conclusion.
When writing the concluding paragraph, it is okay to reiterate points already mentioned. To make your conclusion stand out, try rewriting your main points in a different way by using synonyms, changing active voice into passive, and changing sentence structure. Additionally, try adding an introductory summarizing phrase at the start of your conclusion such as "Having considered both advantages and disadvantages of this welfare system, I came to believe that it is an integral part of our society as it helps people in need to..." Make sure to support the conclusions with ideas and examples from the essay content.
Having a lack of ideas
Initiating an essay can often be the most challenging aspect and is a dilemma that many students face. This feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to move forward is commonly referred to as "writer's block."
Writing can feel intimidating when faced with a blank page. Self-criticism is often a factor, as young people tend to strive for perfection and worry that their work will be judged harshly. Remember, the only readers of your essay are a few examiners – relieving some of the pressure by reminding yourself that your work will never appear before a wider audience can help ease this anxiety and make it easier to get started.
It's important to remember that your writing is evaluated based on four criteria. If you are unfamiliar, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with these criteria, as artistic value does not factor in to the assessment.
Don't be intimidated by the task of finding an appropriate topic to write about — it's a great chance to showcase your writing skills and demonstrate that you can effectively use the language, its words and structure, and create a well-connected piece of writing.
Developing your ideas
Ensure that the ideas you plan to explore in your writing are introduced or subtly alluded to in your introduction. This will demonstrate your consideration for your reader, while also providing a sense of continuity. It is usually best to conclude the introductory paragraph with the main points you intend to discuss. As an example:
Juvenile delinquency, or crime among young people, is a serious social issue. Over the past decade, the crime rate among teens rose by a staggering 17%. This phenomenon can be caused by a number of factors, such as peer pressure, insecurity and lack of sound judgement.
When writing about a topic, it is a good idea to follow a simple rule: start with the basics and then move on to more specific information. This can be applied to any paragraph in your text, but especially when constructing the body paragraphs. These paragraphs help to further explain and develop the ideas presented in the text.
When beginning a paragraph, provide an opening statement that outlines the idea, statement, or concept that you want to address. Subsequent sentences should then extrapolate on this, helping your reader to understand your point without losing their place. This way your ideas become clear and easy to follow.
Peer pressure seems to be the most contributing factor. In an attempt to find acceptance among the people of their own age group, young men and women commit offences, both minor and serious ones. Disregard for societal norms is seen as “cool” by the young and therefore openly defying the law is an easy way to gain the respect of one’s peers.
In the previous paragraph, I explained my understanding of peer pressure and then presented how it can be a contributing factor to juvenile delinquency in a gradual manner.
Finally, end your thoughts by crafting a concise, conclusive paragraph. Make sure to paraphrase ideas if you choose to reiterate them.
Here are a few additional tips to consider.
Perfecting one's writing skills requires practice, so utilizing sample essay topics and drafting mock essays from the comfort of home can be immensely beneficial.
Acquire an appreciation for writing — it is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life. It can enhance your literacy, foster creativity, and be advantageous to mention on your CV. Consider the possibilities beyond your exam.
Be sure to proofread your writing always. This can greatly reduce, if not eliminate, any spelling or grammar mistakes you may have made. This is a skill that requires practice, so it is highly recommended to write some essays at home.
Don't be discouraged if you have to make corrections. A correction that is easily understood will not adversely affect your final grade.
Steer clear of these common writing errors.