People who grade essays are human beings, and human beings will always have their own biases. Here’s something that works (I know because I tested it out in JC, and I topped my school in GP!) that is almost never taught — if your essay delivers some kind of earth-shattering ‘truth’, the marker feels the urge to ignore your weaker points and just give you a higher grade.
Let us look at the SAT essay marking criteria, for example. (Yes, the SATs may be an American thing, but trust me, the essay marking schemes for the O- and A-levels are quite similar. These essay tests assess very similar abilities. A good writer is going to score well on any English essay test.) In the marking criteria, it states that for an essay to be given a 6 (the highest score), it “Effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support its position” (emphasis mine). Now, how many times have you heard your English teacher talk about the need for an essay to be insightful? (I hope the answer is “many!”)
I like the way dictionary.com defines insight: penetrating mental vision or discernment; faculty of seeing into inner character or underlying truth. When you gain an insight into something important, you get a feeling of WOW or as some might put it, ZOMGWTFLOLBBQ (sry). That should be the feeling your essay gives your marker. The word that occurs most frequently in my head when I think about insight is the word “truth” (more often than not my brain goes TRUTH in big bright letters). When I read an insightful piece of writing, I feel like I know more about the truth of the world. For example, reading about the neuroscience of meditation and the various sociological ways of seeing the world simply blew my mind (ZOMGWTFLOLBBQ).
How do you include genuine truths or insights in your essays? You have to have experienced that ZOMGWTFLOLBBQ feeling, that feeling or wonder that comes with learning something genuinely insightful about the world. Optimally, by the time you sit for your examinations, you would have experienced ZOMGWTFLOLBBQ numerous times. This will allow you to respond to many essay questions with something genuinely worth writing about. You should have the feeling of “wow, that was a brilliant essay with a brilliant message, I need to blog about it when I get home so that more people will know about what I’ve written” when you step out of the examination hall. You get this feeling either by parroting/modifying a truth you have read about, or by spontaneously coming up with a truth of your own.
(Side note: the English language should have a word for “wow, that was a brilliant essay with a brilliant message, I need to blog about it when I get home so that more people will know about what I’ve written”. I propose ZOMGWTFLOLBBQ. Probably won’t catch on, though..)
Where do we find readily available truths and insights? A really popular place to start is the lovely TED website. In fact, you will often find speakers “demonstrat[ing] outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support [their] position[s]” (that’s SAT marking criteria again). Another thing you could do is to look for non-fiction books about a subject you are interested in. I personally enjoy books about psychology or sociology, like this.
As a thoroughly rewarding and useful side effect, you get to learn more about the world while you prepare for your big essay examinations. So go get a dose of truth or insight. Good luck!
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