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In this episode, I am kicking off a six-part series on essay writing with a deep dive into the five essential requirements of a first class essay.

I’ll break down the core elements that make an essay stand out, from constructing a logical argument to staying within the word count.

Then, I’ll share the common problems students face, such as unclear writing and straying from the essay question, and offer practical solutions to overcome these hurdles.

Whether you're balancing work, family, and study, or just looking to boost your grades, this episode provides actionable steps to help you write clearer, more focused essays that impress your tutors. 

Tune in to transform your academic writing and achieve those dream first class grades.

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 157 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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The 5 Simple Requirements of Every First Class Essay

Writing a first class essay can seem daunting, but breaking it down into manageable parts can make the process much more straightforward.

Ultimately, the aim of an essay is to:

…argue a case, clearly, in response to the essay question and the course material within a set word count.

Now you may be thinking, “this doesn’t sound simple, Chloe!”

Well, let’s take apart this aim into our five requirements and I promise it will sound simpler.

First class essay requirement #1: argue a case

First and foremost, your essay needs to argue a case. This means constructing a logical, coherent argument based on the evidence you’ve gathered. For most subjects, 99% of the time, there isn't a single “right” answer to an essay question. There will also be way more points that you could include in your essay than will fit in the word count. So the points you include, the evidence you choose, and how you present your argument will be unique to you.

In arguing your case you need to give your tutor reason to take your ideas seriously. So, instead of worrying about whether your answer is “correct” and includes every relevant point, focus on making your argument logical and well-supported. Don’t be afraid to present your perspective, as long as your arguments are backed up with evidence.

First class essay requirement #2: argue a case CLEARLY

Clarity is key in essay writing. Your tutor will be able to find the good stuff in your arguments even if your writing is a bit muddled, but why make them work harder than they need to? Clear writing can also earn you marks for structure and presentation, which will then make it easier for your tutor to understand and appreciate your points – and award you marks.

A common problem I see when I’m reviewing students’ essays is that some students think using complex sentences and fancy words makes their essays better – that this makes them seem smarter. But this is where clarity can fly out the window. At times, when I’m reviewing essays, I have to reread some sections again and again to work out what’s being said. And sometimes even then I can’t and I have to send it back with a request for them to clarify. Your tutor is not going to do that (unless you’re submitting a formative for feedback before the final summative). If your tutor cannot understand your ideas, because your sentence structure is confusing or because you haven’t explained your ideas fully enough – then they’re just not going to be able to award you marks.

Instead, aim for simplicity and clarity. Use short sentences and straightforward language. Make sure each paragraph has a clear main idea. And read through your work multiple times to pick up areas you might need to review.

First class essay requirement #3: respond to the essay question

No matter how brilliant or persuasive your essay is, it will not score well if it doesn’t answer the set question. It doesn’t matter if your tutor finds your essay interesting, or they can see how hard you’ve worked on it, if it doesn’t exactly align with the marking criteria then they just cannot tick those boxes to give you marks. 

There are two key problems that happen here.

  1. Not understanding the question from the get-go. You want to spend a substantial amount of time, early on in your process, to break down the essay question so you really understand it. I have a free training called Start Your Essay where I show you how to do this. I’ll link to it in the show notes.
  1. Understanding the question but then going off on tangents and not linking back to the question throughout. It may be tempting to include all the interesting information you’ve found, but this can lead you away from the main question. Instead, continuously refer back to the essay question while writing. Include the keywords from the question in every single paragraph. And as you’re writing, ask yourself how each section relates to the question. If you don’t know then either the section is irrelevant or your understanding of the question needs more exploration.

First class essay requirement #4: incorporate the course material

Your entire qualification is based around assessing whether or not you have gained specific knowledge and skills. Therefore all the assessments included in your qualification are designed to test how well you demonstrate this knowledge and these skills. So you need to put this stuff in your essays! You don’t get marks for how much you’ve read and how many notes you’ve taken if this doesn’t translate into your essays.

I have reviewed some students’ essays before and there’s not a lot of course material to go on. Writing off the top of your head or making points without backing them up with course material is not giving your tutor a lot to go on when they’re looking to tick off those boxes with proof that you’ve learned some stuff.  

So, you need to back up your points with references to your readings, lectures, and other course content. Explain your ideas with the help of your course material to strengthen your arguments and ground them in the scholarly material you’ve been studying. And make sure your referencing is accurate.

First class essay requirement #5: stay within the set word count

While it may feel sometimes like the word count for your essay is ridiculous – whether it’s too high or low – there is a point to it. Writing a first class essay requires you to strike a balance between the depth and breadth of your answer. It takes time to learn how much detail to go into in your essays.

If you often struggle to reach the word count, then it’s likely you’re missing some understanding of the set question and your task. If you find yourself going way over the word count then this could be because you’re trying to include too many ideas, or you’re not being concise enough – making a point in 100 words that could actually be made in 50. Another area to work on here is a balance between description and analysis. As you progress through your qualification, you will be expected to engage in deeper analysis which means you want to get your description points over with quickly and devote more of your word count to analysis to get the first class marks.

Summary

So there we have it, the five key requirements of a first class essay. If you’re not sure where to start, look back at the feedback from some of your previous essays. Work out whether you need to work on your clarity, conciseness, understanding of the essay question, answering of the question, the strength of your arguments or the flow of your ideas.

~ 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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