Help with A-Level Essays
While it might not feel like it when you're writing one, A-Level essays are relatively short. But that doesn't make them easier. If anything, writing a shorter essay which is just as persuasive and analytical is more difficult than writing a longer piece where you have lots of words to devote to each idea. The trick at A-Level, then, is to condense your argument down as much as possible, cutting out any 'waffle' or 'filler', and leaving just the most important arguments.
Essay structure is everything
In a short essay, the biggest challenge is to fit in enough analysis. It is your ability to analyse which the examiner wants to see. In practice, what this means is that you can't make lots of separate arguments. Instead, you need to reduce the number of points you make so that you have time and space to give each point sufficient analysis. Have a look at this extract from an essay which has too many points and not enough analysis.
"We would all be better off if every street corner had a CCTV camera to prevent crime." Discuss.
CCTV cameras not only help catch criminals, but they also act as a deterrent to prevent future crimes which might otherwise blight whole communities. But we have lots of CCTV cameras and crime still happens because cameras can't arrest people. In the past, CCTV was something which only wealthy people could afford but now they are widely used in urban areas and have reduced crime rates significantly. On the other hand, one camera outside your house is less invasive than 20,000 cameras in London city centre. The presence of CCTV can save police time and taxpayer's money by eliminating the need for officers to walk the beat so frequently. But this can have a detrimental effect on community relations with the police. The widespread use of cameras can be seen as the beginnings of a police state where 'Big Brother' is always watching you.
Since 1997, the number of CCTV cameras ...
This essay engages with many of the key points but has two major problems. First, it presents too many points with too little analysis, making it difficult to keep up with the author's arguments. Second, the essay keeps switching between stances, for and against, without giving any real clue about which is meant to persuade us.
The above essay would be much better if it made fewer points and clarified its own position within the discussion. This is obviously not a whole essay, just an extract. But even a whole essay of 1,000-2,000 words would really only need three or so main arguments.
Here is an alternative introduction.
CCTV is more widely used in the UK than in any other Western democracy. Although the widespread implementation of video technology has caused concern among civil liberty groups from across the political spectrum, it has also reduced crime rates in some of Britain's most deprived communities and given a better quality of life to many who had given up hope of such an improvement.
Since 1997, the number of CCTV cameras ...
This introduction makes the three-part structure of the essay very clear. Having read this, the examiner can see exactly what points are likely to be made and can devote his/her attention to the analysis itself. The second paragraph uses a 'while' construction to acknowledge and challenge a relevant counterargument.
3-5 main arguments
The good thing about coursework is that you can take your time over it and redraft as necessary. But what if you have to do your coursework under test conditions?
The same processes still apply, but you will need to do your research (i.e. revision) and planning in advance. You should go into the exam hall knowing exactly what you are going to argue, main points and subpoints. Try and memorise your whole 'microplan'.
Admission Essay Help
It's not uncommon for colleges and universities to request an admissions essay before they make you an offer. This could take several forms. In some cases, it could be an unseen topic and the essay could be written in exam conditions.
If this is the case, the same drill still applies. Take five minutes at the start of the test to map out some of the key arguments. Decide whether you are going to argue for or against and stick to that position.
Then choose the most persuasive three points and build a short plan around them. Before you finish the exam, cross out the plan. The examiner will see it and like it, but will know not to mark it.