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In this episode, I dive into a major stumbling block for many students: how to actually answer your essay question.

I introduce my innovative Braid Method, designed to help you stay on track and avoid tangents that can cost you valuable marks. 

Then, I break down common reasons why essays go off course and provide practical, actionable steps to ensure your writing remains focused and aligned with the question, guidance, and marking criteria.

Whether you're struggling with understanding the question, maintaining focus while writing, or identifying when you've strayed off-topic, this episode will equip you with the tools to produce structured, coherent essays that meet the highest standards.

Tune in to transform your essay-writing approach and achieve those top marks you’re aiming for.

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 159 of the Chloe Made Me Study podcast. Or, if you’re more of a learn-by-reading student, carry on for the rough-and-ready blog version based on the podcast script.

Ways to listen:

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How to Actually START Your Essay

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No More Tangents: How to Actually Answer Your Essay Question

Welcome to episode three of this six-part series all about how to write better essays. The first part, episode 157, shared the 5 simple, essential requirements of every first class essay. And last week’s episode, episode 158, shared how to use the PEEL method to write powerful paragraphs. So be sure to check these out if you haven’t yet.

In this week’s episode I’m going to share with you my simple method for how to actually answer your essay question – how to go from tangents to top marks.

Why you might struggle to answer your essay question

A common problem I see when students send me essays for review is that they’ve gone off on some tangents. I’ve mentioned this in an earlier episode but it doesn’t matter if you write the most interesting, clear, persuasive essay ever that has your tutor on the edge of their seat – if your essay does not exactly align with the question, guidance and marking criteria then you’re going to lose marks.

This misalignment and failure to answer your essay question can happen for a number of reasons. You might not have understood the question from the get-go meaning you’re only half answering it the whole way through. Or maybe you DO understand the question but it’s hard to hold it in mind the whole time you’re writing and once you get to the editing stage you’ve lost momentum or you struggle to see the wood for the trees so can’t identify where you might have strayed off task.

Well fear not my study pal because I’ve got ya!

How to actually answer your essay question with The Braid Method

Earlier this year, in the middle of a coaching session with a student, I came up with the idea of essay writing being a bit like braiding or plaiting hair.

If you’re braiding your own or someone else’s hair, the end product is only good if the whole thing is neat, with no strands left out along the way. It will look crap if you start off with three strands and then leave the third strand out of a few turns and then try to bring it back in.

Good essay writing is structured. It’s deliberate. It’s not enough to lump together relevant points, you need to braid them together with intention.

If structured writing doesn’t come to you naturally, if you struggle with writing clearly and concisely then you need to do something about it – you need to find a method that is going to MAKE your writing more structured so you can actually answer your essay question. And this is my braid method.

Using The Braid Method to answer an example essay question

Here is an example for a Film Studies essay that you can apply to ANY subject.

Discuss how cinematography contributes to the experimental nature of Pulp Fiction.

Now, if you were breaking down this question you’d likely pull out some of the keywords here: cinematography, experimental nature, Pulp Fiction.

The next step is to identify the number of strands in this essay braid, and what they are.

Discuss how cinematography contributes to the experimental nature of Pulp Fiction.

The three strands in this braid are:

  1. Relevant cinematography techniques
  2. How each technique contributes to experimental film
  3. Relevant example scenes in Pulp Fiction

So the introduction and conclusion will be a bit different, but each paragraph in the main body needs to braid together these three strands if you want to actually answer your essay question and achieve high marks.

To gain marks for each paragraph, all three strands must be included.

To lose marks for each paragraph, one or more will be excluded. This may seem obvious but here are four ways this could happen:

  1. Talk about a cinematography technique (1) and apply it to a Pulp Fiction scene (3)…but forget to connect these ideas to experimental film (2).
  2. Talk about a cinematography technique (1) and share how it contributes to experimental film (2) but don’t evidence your ideas with specific scenes from Pulp Fiction (3) – or mention Pulp Fiction but miss out any specifics which really show you’ve studied the film.
  3. Talk in general about experimental film (2) and provide one or more scene examples from Pulp Fiction (3) but don’t connect it to a specific cinematography technique (1).
  4. Go off on a complete tangent and waste words answering the question on film elements other than cinematography (1) such as narrative or performance.

Can you see how easy it would be to make one of these four mistakes? Especially when your essay is making you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

You don’t want to leave your essay structure to chance. Instead:

  1. Identify the 2/3/4 strands in your essay braid by breaking down the question and guidance. What theories and concepts is this essay designed to test? What knowledge and skills do you think you need to demonstrate? These questions should help you identify the strands in your braid.
  2. Hold these strands in mind as you structure your paragraphs.
  3. Double and triple check each paragraph during the editing stage to make sure all the strands are included and you actually answer your essay question. 

Summary

So there we have it. You don’t have to be an epic natural writer whose words flow onto the page in a structured, clear, coherent way. But if you’re not – you need to do something about it and find techniques that do some of the heavy lifting and set you up for success. This braiding method does that – it will help you get and stay on track so all your points and paragraphs align with the marking criteria, so you answer your essay question perfectly and those high marks you really want can be yours.

~ FREE TRAINING ~

How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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