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Wrapping up the essay plan

Following are some final pointers to help you improve your essay and your score:

- Use simple, short sentences. Your audience, the test grader, has seen a lot of convoluted essays and may well be tired from a long day of grading. Make it easy for her to follow your theme.

- Throw in a big history term, if you know one. Here are some terms beloved to teachers: expansionism, utopia, ratification, peculiar institution (slavery), oligarchy, nativism, mercantilism, jingoism, imperialism, egalitarian, capitalism, and the all-time American favorite, Manifest Destiny. But don't try to force in terms you don't understand; you'll get caught and lose points.

- Take the time to write clearly and neatly. Graders hate chicken-scratch writing and love clear printing. Your grader may be nearly blind from reading others' illegible writing by the time she gets to your essay, so make it easy for her. Compose each whole sentence in your mind before you put it down on paper. If you absolutely have to cross something out, do it neatly. But don't bother crossing out bad spelling; this test isn't English class. If the grader can recognize the word, she won't count off for bad spelling. By making too many corrections, you only call attention to your mistakes. If you really have to insert a line or even a paragraph, do it neatly. Write the words to be inserted clearly away from the main body of the essay; circle them; and draw a neat arrow to where they go in the essay. Don't use carets to crowd text on top of what you have already written. Keep your essay readable by thinking before you write.

- Smooth out the flow of your writing by using transition phrases. Such phrases include "in addition," "furthermore," "also," and "in another example." When you're changing directions, use "however," "yet," and "although."

- Number your points. Numbering lists of arguments makes it look like you have a plan. For example, "First, the New Deal never claimed to solve all the problems. Second, the Great Depression was caused by world as well as national problems. Third, even the best programs often took time to work."

- Use examples to back up your idea. Nothing gets wooly faster than academic papers that are all about concepts without real-life examples. You start with this: "Third, even the best programs sometimes worked slowly." Then you add this: "Two examples of programs that had delayed effects were the WPA and CCC. In these programs, government-supported jobs eventually helped lift the economic fortunes of certain communities, but these examples took time to work."

- Make sure your last paragraph directly addresses the question. This paragraph is the applause section, when you set yourself up for your well-earned high essay score. Tie up the loose ends by answering the original question clearly as you restate your thesis.

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