How to improve your essay writing skills

by Anita Naik

Essays are a crucial part of many GCSE and A-level subjects, and can easily be the difference between a high grade and a low one. No matter how much revision you have done or how much you know, you will always lose marks if you can't write a good essay. Here's how to improve your essay writing skills.

A good essay should be well structured, supported by evidence, and answer the question being asked! Once you know how to do this, you can apply the same techniques to any writing piece, no matter what the subject.

Step One: Understand the question

Understanding the question is vital when writing an essay and is the number one reason students get marked down. If you don't answer the question, then your essay isn't fulfilling its purpose, no matter how good it is. The question will indicate where the focus of your essay should be and should be the starting point for the structure.

What can help here is to read the question a number of times and also get used to the way essay questions are phrased. Look over past papers to see how questions are structured, and what approach you need to take to get maximum marks. Viewing the examiners' report for a subject will also help as it will enable you to see precisely what examiners want to see in an essay.

Step two: Get used to debating

Debating your ideas and theories with peers, teachers, and tutors helps in several ways. Firstly, it allows you to hear different views and opinions on a topic and secondly, it enables you to craft your arguments more clearly with solid evidence. This is in turn, will help you construct debatable solid points within your essays.

Crafting arguments concisely is another factor essential for a higher grade, as you need to show examiners that you can use critical reasoning, evaluate theories and offer ideas within essays.

Step three: Read more widely

As in read more academic texts, topic essays, fiction and non-fiction, and news reports, all of these will help you learn how to argue more effectively in your essay. What also helps is to read, listen and watch everything with an active critical eye. If you're constantly questioning what you read and hear, then you'll know to do the same when writing an essay and structure your argument accordingly.

Step four: Practice, practice, practice

Many students struggle to put together a good essay under exam conditions, so practice is vital. Good essay skills come from continuous practice in class and during revision, and under timed circumstances.

Always remember a good essay should follow a logical structure with an introduction and conclusion aside from the essay's main body. Evidence should be used and referenced, and your argument should flow, not stop and start. Again, reading past essays in all subject areas can help here show you structure and how arguments are debated within essays.

Step five: Get feedback

It's feedback that will improve your essay writing skills the most. Ask your peers, and teachers for feedback or work with a tutor. A tutor will be able to tell you if your writing skills need work, whether your argument is clear, and if your essay flows correctly. Choose a tutor that's subject appropriate to help you improve your chances of a higher grade.