We’ve all had those days when we just haven’t given one (or more, to be honest) of our essays enough time, whether it be because of a lack of understanding of the question or more truthfully, spending more time on doing other things that have no relation to Uni work. And because of that, the expectation that you won’t get a fantastic grade is pretty understandable. But what about when you’ve genuinely spent time on an essay and have given the effort and dedication it needs, but on the day it’s handed back, the marks are pretty disappointing, to say the least?
Here are some tips that I’ve followed, or have heard from friends and peers for the past two years, that will improve your essay writing and will also teach you how to write an essay better than the one before it, every time.
- Digest the comments.
Read the comments, understand them, digest the information given by the academic who has marked your work. Did you put in irrelevant context? Is your structure messy? The next time you write an essay, these comments will be a reminder of what to do and what not to do.
- Re-read the essay question.
Now that you have read through your essay, along with the comments and markings on it, re-read the question. With fresh eyes, can you now see why your writing didn’t really answer the question?
- Drop-in session with seminar tutor.
After having read your essay and checking the corrections and comments you should hopefully have an idea of where your essay went wrong. But if not, that’s absolutely fine, just schedule in a drop-in hour with your seminar tutor, and use that time to ask any questions and discuss the corrections with them. This will hopefully help you understand how you could’ve made your argument stronger and you can also learn some tips directly from an academic on how to improve your writing.
- Re-write (Optional).
Don’t rewrite the entire essay because you definitely will not have time. By the time you’ve even got this marked essay I’m sure you’re already preparing to write another one for a different module! But, if you feel there is a particular paragraph or section that after having read the comments and understanding where you went wrong, you want to try and fix and see if you can make it better, then do it!
Practice makes perfect, and if you also want it to be checked by your seminar tutor, either schedule in a drop-in hour or send them a very polite email, asking them if they could read it and give you feedback.
- Appreciate the positives.
Make sure you also look at the areas where you wrote well, and make sure you continue to do this the next time you write an essay. Being in university is a learning experience, so appreciate the ticks and the crosses and learn from both of them.
- Compare with other essays.
Did you write an essay that had a higher mark than the one that you’ve got now? Did your friend get a higher mark than you on this current essay? Look at your previous essays and look over the things you had done correctly in terms of structure and argument building, use of ideas, etc., or swap essays with a friend and talk to each other about how each of you can improve in your writing.
- Find an essay-writing approach that works for you.
It may be that the way you handled this essay didn’t help you play to your strengths. For example, did you not spend enough time planning and instead, went straight to writing? Or did you not do enough proof-reading which led to silly mistakes?
Find an approach that makes you feel organised and allows you to use your best abilities. I personally spend double the time planning an essay over actually writing it, and I find that this helps me make sure I’ve used as many ideas as I can when building my argument and making sure I have a good structure too.
As I said before, university is a learning experience. You’re going to write good essays and bad essays, and from each and every one of them you will learn how to perfect your writing skill. Use this new academic year to hone in your essay-writing skills, and once you follow some or all of these steps you will be writing less disappointing essays and attaining those grades you truly deserve.