It’s hard to believe that we have almost hit the middle of the year. With that there’s the looming thought of the end of year exams, menacingly reminding you of all the study you still have to get through. But fear not: there are some great tips and tricks to help ease some of your fear for those pesky exam questions. The more you can throw yourself into studying and revising, the faster you can jump into that summer holiday, you so desperately have been holding out for. Together we can go through the parts of NCEA English essay questions to break them down so that you can be less stressed, gearing up for the exam. By getting your head around the question beforehand, nailing the structure and memorising examples to back up your argument, you’ll be on your way to giving your exam your best shot. If your wanting to look at the coursework for the whole year and get an overview then check out this blog here.
For starters; Why essays? Let’s look at the value that a written essay can provide. If written with impact, an essay provides a clear and cohesive way of communicating key thoughts. Once you’ve tackled and wrangled your sense of structure, you can present your ideas in a meaningful way, so that the examiner has no doubt you have a clear point of view and sound knowledge of the texts. Unlike multiple-choice where you can get away with coasting or guessing, essays leave no room for the hesitant, as it’s essential that you craft your words effectively to get a good result.
The good news is that from NCEA Level One, Two, and Three, all essays will focus on a similar overarching topic. Each will have a Written Text question and a Visual/Oral Text question. There are no surprises here: it just comes down to how well you have grasped the texts and how effective you are at giving examples to back up your ideas. If you are wanting to get your head around past papers, to help your study then check out this blog here to guide you through.
Those essay questions can be daunting. Let’s demystify how you approach them
For starters, the absolute best and first thing that you should do is to dedicate some time focussing on selecting your statement or question. Take time to really think about how you might answer. Ask yourself, is this question going to showcase what you know? Do instant examples spring to mind when you look at it? If your answer was yes, then this is the right question for you to pursue. Most importantly, take your time before you commit fully to a question. After all, you’re going to be spending over an hour unpacking it, so it’s in your interest to fully grasp it.
It can’t be stressed enough how important planning is to your overall essay. By approaching your essay carefully, and with a plan, you’ll be able to write much more cohesively than without any overarching plan. When you first get your essay question a good idea is to circle or highlight keywords that are relevant to the crux of the question. For example, words like ‘critically respond’ or ‘provide evidence’ are extremely important. It’s very helpful to look at past paper questions. There will be reoccurring themes that you notice in most of the exams.
You will know the ‘What’ aspect. For example, a visual text will always be studied and examples of evidence will be needed at all levels. You won’t however be told the details of the question which will be relevant to a specific part. For example, in Level 3, AS91473 you’ll always be asked to discuss the extent to which you agree with the statement that is listed. You can count on this as it has always been this way. Yet at the same time, it’s important to remember the statements they choose will always be different each year. So, it pays to be nimble and flexible with how you approach the question, always linking or circling back to what was asked. Remember students who plan are less likely to drift off on a tangent. They also have a clear awareness for ALL parts of the question and not just half of it.
So what are the components of your essay? How can you concisely communicate when you’re in the exam room sweating away?
Don’t worry; in the same way that prepping and planning will help, so will how you structure your essay. These are the building blocks for how your thoughts and ideas will all fit together. Having a good grasp of structure can be the difference between Merit and Excellence and of course with no structure, it’s hard to even grab that Achieved mark.
So how should you structure your essay?
Let’s get your introduction ready first! After planning, a good way of approaching your introduction is like an upside down triangle. In the same way your intro begins with broad subject matter at the start, and then slowly gets more narrowed down and specific by the time you’ve reached the end. You might want to start your intro with quotations from the author, film director, or the text itself. This might provide some context for what you’ll cover later on. After introducing an idea from the text, you could then include the key elements from the question, again remembering to get more specific as you get to the end of the intro.
Once you have drawn the examiner in with your stimulating introduction, the next step is to delve into the body of your essay. This is the meat of the sandwich and perhaps the most important. Here we get to learn how you view the question and you start to really answer it clearly.
A good way to begin to express your ideas, tried and true, is the ‘SEXY’ Method. This acronym will be your godsent when navigating the essay body. For starters, you will first need to make a 'S.tatement'. For example, if your question is to "analyse how contrasting characters were used to explore different sides of human nature", then what would your statement be? Perhaps It could read something like, “In the text Othello, Shakespeare uses Iago and Desdemona incredibly well to contrast human nature”. This focuses on the exam question and sets up for the next few sentences that follow.
Next, we need to give an ‘E.xample’. In Act 2 Scene 3 Iago states, “So will I turn her virtue into pitch. And out of her goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all”. Here there is evidence that supports the claim made in the explanation and statement. Always remember to attribute where the quote takes place, what scene if it’s a movie, what chapter if it’s a book etc. Right, we have used a statement and example and now the next thing to do is to ‘X.plain’. For example, you could then say something like “ Desdemona is portrayed as an innocent girl who represents both purity and softness, while Iago is written as a master manipulator who is vengeful and wicked. Here we have given some more insight into your statement and unpacked it clearer.
Finally, in the S.E.X.Y. structure, we get to the Y, which is where ‘Y.ou Add’ your own opinion from what you have just said. For example “It, is clear that Iago is only out to gain for himself and at every opportunity, he is exploiting the virtues of others.” In this statement, there is a judgment made as well as an opinion expressed that concludes the other parts of the paragraph. Remember S.E.X.Y for all of your paragraphs and you always will be answering the question and giving clear examples. It’s a catchy acronym for a reason and should help you in navigating the body of your essay. If you are wanting more resources for what to put in your essay check out these resources, both paid and free here.
Once you have progressed through all your points gathered from your planning, you’ll find yourself left with the conclusion. At last! The conclusion is just as important as the other components of your essay and, should be treated with just as much thought. You will leave the examiner with a clear impact, showing all your ideas being tied together. Remember to reiterate how you have answered the question in your essay and conclude on the main points that you have dissected as well. It’s also up to you if you want to add a personal connection or viewpoint to the text or film you have explored. The examiner wants to see that you have engaged with the text or film on some meaningful level, or shown a changed perspective. Make sure that in your last sentence, you really make a strong impact. Maybe go for a punchy statement that will linger in the examiner’s mind.
If your ready for another challenge you could sign up for NCEA English Scholarship. Have a look here for what is required of you.
Want some extra support for those big exams?
As already mentioned, it’s recommended that you practise using other past papers, so you can get your head around what types of questions are asked. Once you have done this a few times, you might be wanting more support, help or resources. You’ll be pleased to know that Superprof is an online tutoring website that has heaps of English tutors. They are all equipped to help you with your NCEA English success. Superprof has tutors just like you, who were once a student also. They can bring great resources and have first-hand knowledge and experience to share. So try a Superprof lesson today, for free! You can get savvy for your future exams.
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