Why Planning Your Essays In An Exam Is So Important

You’ve got an hour and a half to write a well structured, thought out, top-mark-worthy essay. You open the paper, read the questions, panic and start writing.

Well stop.


Word vomit

Many students end up with a disorganised, incoherent essay after delving in without stopping to think about what they’re going to write. When you’re covering essay preparation in class, you’re always told to spend the first 5-10 minutes thinking about the question and planning your response. It’s surprising how many students do not take note of this.

Writing down everything you know about a specific topic and avoiding the question is easily done. It may seem like a good thing to do at that time; after all, you’re up against the clock. But this can show admissions officers that you’re either someone who simply blows off directions and instructions, or who can’t understand how to follow them. It’s not a good first impression on your marker.

It is through planning that you can prevent this. Spending that time thinking about what ideas you have will ensure that you engage and reflect upon the question properly, and that is what the marker is looking for.

There’s no doubt, if you’ve revised a specific topic too well and see it pop up in the exam, you’ll get excited. You won’t even read the question because you’ve already seen the one thing you’ve been hoping for. Yes, this can be a great thing, but knowing and being able to recite the entire plot to Of Mice and Men doesn’t mean you’ll be able to discuss the shifts in power relations in the novel. A quick mind map will help you realise this and help you to make a better decision.


Do the maths

If it’s a 90 minute exam and marked out of 60, then on average you’ve got 1.5 minutes to get each mark. An hour and a half may sound like a lot of time, but realistically it is not. You must plan time accordingly. You need to watch the clock but not religiously, and you still need to remember the plan is not the exam. Remember what your tutor said: 5-10 minutes. More time spent on this is wasted; it’s there to get your initial thoughts down so that you can end up with a well structured essay.


Plan ahead

Structure is probably the most important element of an essay, alongside the content. However, a lot of the time, it is the structure of your essay that needs work. It’s usually the one thing your tutors are constantly commenting on and it’s the one thing you’re telling yourself you need to improve on. This is because if you don’t structure your sentences correctly, your writing will sound strange and your marker will not be able to make sense of your ideas, leading you towards a bad grade.

Planning your essay allows you to write strategically, and having some basic knowledge means you can come up with your key points before deciding on an order. So, if structure is your weakness, always plan and clarify your ideas before you begin. Fixing problems with your overall structure will fix 80% or more of the problems with your essay. Result!

Another reason you should plan is because brainstorming the topic is almost essential for you to know what you’re going to be talking about. There is nothing worse than getting half way through an essay and realising you’ve got nothing more to say. Having a rough idea of some key points will not only put your mind at ease but also aid your structure. You want to feel as comfortable as you possibly can in an exam, and having this sense of direction, it’ll make writing your essay a lot easier. If you know what you’re talking about, you’re also automatically going to write faster so there is no need to worry about that 5 minutes you’ve spent beforehand.

For the cost of a few minutes and a quick mind map, why wouldn’t you want to write an organised, well structured, essay that could push you up a grade?


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