How to Answer Essay Questions with Excellence

21st March 2018
How to Answer Essay Questions

Have you ever written a good, in your opinion, essay that was criticized by your teacher as he found that the ideas expressed weren’t pertinent to the topic? If yes, don’t get disappointed. You are not alone. This feeling is familiar to many students. You’ve just finished an essay, which you find very good, if not perfect, in terms of the content, structure, language, and grammar. There is a minor drawback though: it is entirely off-topic. You still think, however, that your essay is highly original and gripping.

Strangely enough, you don’t get positive feedback from your teacher. In fact, your essay is marked in red comments: “irrelevant” and “off the topic.” What’s more, instead of the grade showing that your work was highly commendable, you get a rather average grade and a comment that sounds something like, “Interesting ideas, but you haven’t answered the essay questions!”

Let’s imagine that you take a responsible approach to your writing task and carry out a thorough research, effective brainstorming, and multiple re-reading. You occasionally write some notes in the margin, and they eventually develop into full-fledged arguments. As you check your essay for punctuation and spelling mistakes, you become more and more attached to your ideas. That’s why it can be extremely frustrating if after putting so much effort into your essay, it gets an extremely low grade you definitely haven’t deserved. Why? Simply because the teacher hasn’t appreciated your paragraph about Ernest Hemingway, since it isn’t relevant to your essay on Emily Dickinson.

If you recognize yourself in the description above, it is high time you realized that no matter how gripping and convincing your essay is, it’s bound to fail unless it’s centered around the essay topic. Don’t you agree that it’s such a pity to beaver away at your assignment and get a disappointing grade? So accept the challenge and be clever. Remember that all you must do to succeed is to write an essay on the topic you have, considering the amount of time and knowledge you possess. Don’t be afraid to restate the same points as it’ll only increase the coherence of your work.

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Of course it’s always easier said than done, but practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged. Take a look at my best techniques to create a good essay with questions and answers. They are as follows:

  1. Make sure you perfectly understand the question.

    However obvious it may seem, the vast majority of students neglect this step, flick through the assignment, and write the essay they want to instead of taking time to generate relevant ideas. Keep your eyes peeled for some key words that will help you identify the type of the essay you’re going to write.

  2. Be concise.

    Make use of persuasive techniques, brilliant examples, and powerful language to answer the question at hand. But don’t overuse flowery language and irrelevant illustrations.

  3. Carefully think about the points you have to include.

    Don’s squander your time on the ideas that are only tangential to the essay topic. Otherwise, the reader won’t be able to follow your train of thoughts and concentrate on the stronger points.

Step One: Practice It

For example, your essay question is to explain the role of three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. You may already start thinking about how the author describes the witches, how they impact on the development of the play, and probably even the extent to which we must believe they are real (don’t be afraid: you shouldn’t be an expert in Shakespeare’s works to be able to understand this). After such brainstorming, you may already have a number of good arguments in your head, but you’ll still write your essay basing upon the material your fellow students used to answer the essay questions. You may want to find some interesting quotes to support your views. If you are to prepare this assignment at home, you may find an example of essay question and answer to help you in your writing endeavor. Most importantly, the thing that makes your work stand out is how skillfully you manage to phrase and organize your ideas.

Always remember that the essay question already contains some “hooks” that are there to direct you and imply the essay type and its possible structure. So start with it: break down the wording of your writing assignment into the logical parts (I use parentheses for this purpose). Imagine that this is an example of your assignment:

(Discuss) the quote by Stephen Greenblatt and mention to what extent you (agree or disagree) with it basing upon the (examples from the tragedy). “Within (Macbeth’s representation of the witches), there is (profound ambiguity) about the (actual significance and power) of (their malevolent intervention).”

Fear not if you don’t understand the task after your first reading. I actually consider it to be absolutely normal. It’s a well-known fact that some examiners may come up with the most puzzling phrasing they can possibly find. Nevertheless, once you take time to break that down into meaningful units and analyze them, your vision starts to become clear and the task at hand no longer seems so mind-boggling. In fact, this very quote requires that you answer the following:

  • Do you think (agree/disagree) that the witches’ “malevolent intervention” is dubious (ambiguous)?
  • What is its true importance and power?

Step Two: Careful Planning

Once you manage to work out the topic of your essay, formulate a plan that has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a summary. Depending on the type of an exam or test, make sure to include as many details as needed (more in a normal essay but far less in an exam assignment).

For instance, if you are to answer to what degree you believe in the three witches in Macbeth, you may want to develop a strong hypothesis that shows the direction of your thoughts. It might look like this:

  1. The role of the three witches in the tragedy is vague.
  2. The witches’ claim to the reality is uncertain.
  3. They belong to the dubious universe and the illusion of the theatre.

If you have enough time for a draft, you may try underlining the essay parts that answer the essay questions or support your ideas with relevant examples.

Step Three: Paragraph Beginnings and Endings

This penultimate step helps you make sure that you’ll answer the question and show it to your reader. It consists in the fact that you must take your reader through all the essay points like a child, which necessitates writing paragraph beginnings and endings in a logical and coherent manner. Writing every single paragraph, mention what you’re going to say in the first place. Then, explain how exactly you answered the question, support it with pertinent examples, and summarize each paragraph stating how you actually responded to the essay question. That is to say a topic sentence establishes which points you are about to make without giving too many specific details, however, since some data should be kept for the conclusion. And the last sentence should be a clear summary of the presented ideas and show a strong connection to the essay question you’ve attempted to answer.

Step Four: Practice Your Skills

It’s crucial to understand that writing an interesting essay that answers the questions given by the instructor isn’t a rocket science. So after mastering the theoretical part, you must unavoidably get down to the practical one. My recommendation is, however, not to write full essays but to focus on the formulation of the essay hypothesis and a rough plan of each body paragraph instead. Take some time to ponder on the essay questions that interest you and write your results on a separate piece of paper. If you feel that you do need someone to provide you with feedback, ask your teacher, parents, or friends to take a closer look at it.

In summary, provided that you stick to these pieces of advice, you’ll get a better grade for your writing skills, possibly totally devoid of red-inked comments on the irrelevant ideas. No matter how close your perfect essay question seems to be to the assigned one, always strive to complete the task at hand with focus and precision. Good luck with your writing and be sure to ace your writing skills test next time!

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