You’re often told by your teacher to churn out as many practice essays as possible in order to get better at essay writing. While practice does make perfect, churning out a million essays isn’t really going to get you anywhere. You may think I’m messing with you but hear me out: Practice essays are important. But you need to actually use them in order to make the ‘practice makes perfect’ stand true to its words. If you feel super frustrated with practice essays right now and feel like you’re getting nowhere with them, the following tips listed below will probably benefit you a lot.
So how do you really use practice essays?
Break down your essay
In the same way that you would break down a paragraph from a text in class, you need to pretend that your entire essay is a piece of text that you need to analyse and evaluate. This time is incredibly valuable and is often skipped over by many students. It is quite literally the purpose of writing a practice essay. Breaking down your essay will allow you to understand what elements you have included and what is missing. This is essential to know if you have ticked all the required sections of your marking criteria. But enough fluff. How exactly do you break down your essay?
If you have access to sample essays or even essays written by high scoring past students, use them! (And by use I don’t mean copy) In regard to your practice essay, the most effective way to directly know whether you have included the essential components is by laying it next to a copy of the sample essay and comparing. First start by having a pre-annotated copy of your sample essay. This pre-annotated sample must identify each sentence and its role; for example, the linking sentence must be identified (It’s best to annotate the sample essay by yourself so you understand it better. Ask your teacher if you are not sure. They will love you for it!)
Now back to your own essay. Highlight each sentence or section of the essay that directly contributes to the essay structure. Don’t just highlight the intro, body, and conclusion. You need to make sure you identify the topic sentence, the aesthetic feature/stylistic device, the linking sentence etc. You can even use a colour code system. Learning to identify these sentences will make you better at using and identifying them subconsciously in your next essay. This is probably the best technique to truly learn from your essay as you will know what you directly need to improve on for next time. This method is a great way to gain confidence in your writing as well. Although it seems time consuming and does require a bit of patience, I assure you that it is worth your time.
Read and incorporate your feedback
Often, when you’re writing essays as practice for yourself, you don’t always get feedback from teachers and other peers. But when you do receive an opportunity to have your essay marked, use the feedback!
I know this sounds super cliché and repetitive but it’s crazy how much improvement you can see in your next essay when you properly apply your feedback. Quite frequently, students tend to believe that looking at feedback is a waste of time, and it is better spent writing another essay, but doing this is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot before a race. You are more likely to repeat the same mistakes again in your next essay. The best way to actually improve is to ask someone like your english tutor to read over your essay and provide actionable feedback. So yes, essentially one of the best things you can do for yourself to ‘study smart and not hard’ is to use your feedback effectively.
Rewrite the same essay
Another reason why you might not see improvements in your essays could be because you’re not that familiar with certain aspects of essay writing. For instance, you may not be that great at integrating audience positioning in your writing. Acknowledging this is the first step to improvement. So, instead of ignoring this fact and jumping to the next essay, it's best to pause. I highly recommend developing one skill at a time for immediate improvement. In this circumstance, the best approach would be to rewrite the essay again with a focus on directly improving your ability to seamlessly integrate audience positioning. If you’re like me (basically lazy) then you don’t even have to write a whole essay. Skip the intro and conclusion and focus directly on your body paragraph; it requires more attention.
Usually, students like to stay in their comfort zone by only practising the things they’re good at. It’s often stressful to make mistakes and it feels good when you get something right. In this case, you might be the type who tends to use easier themes and concepts repeatedly. Or only exploring one aspect of a text or even just repeating the same thesis idea again. While this may perfect your understanding of a specific area, it’s not an effective method to improve overall. The more exposure you get to different concepts, ideas, and themes, the better your understanding of the overall subject will be. Plus, a wider understanding of different topics is a great confidence booster. In unseen essay exams, any kind of topic can be asked; therefore, it's best to push yourself out of your comfort zone and practise difficult concepts and topics. ‘Knowledge and understanding’ is a highly weighted criteria that can influence your performance in other areas such as organisation or development. So having a firm grip on the content will allow you to see exponential improvement in each of your essays.
Written by KIS Academics Tutor for QCE English, Niranjana Manu Soori Pillai. Niranjana is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Clinical Science at Macquarie University in Sydney and is very experienced with simplifying English and making it a likeable subject for students. You can view Niranjana’s profile here and request her as a tutor