Writing an Exam
Writing an Essay Answer

Structuring your answer

In literature courses, students are required to write essay answers to questions on novels, plays, or other genre. Many students use this question as an opportunity to show the teacher that they have read the prescribed text by telling the story! They ignore the question completely, but they hope that somehow the teacher can apply the content they have written to the question and assign marks accordingly. However, their low grade will reflect the lack of structure in their answers.

Some questions will require paragraph answers while others will require essay answers. The question on the assignment or examination should indicate which is required. This is a sample assignment or examination question, and the essay format you should use to answer it.

Sample question

Lord of the Flies is a frightening parody on man's return (in a few weeks) to that state of darkness from which it took him thousands of years to emerge." Trace the major stages of the boys' regression into savagery.

This is an essay question, so it requires an essay answer. Therefore, the essay must have a brief introductory paragraph, at least three major body paragraphs, and a brief concluding paragraph.

The student should use only the content of the novel that relates to the question. Therefore, he or she should use three examples of regression, such as, appearance, behaviour, and accommodations.

Sample introductory paragraph

Lord of the Flies is a frightening parody on man's return (in a few weeks) to that state of darkness from which it took him thousands of years to emerge." This return to savagery is shown through the deterioration in the boys’ appearance, behaviour, and accommodations during their stay on the island.

By repeating a section of the question, you are clearly showing the examiner which of the novel questions you are answering. In addition, the next sentence clearly states which points you will use to develop your answer.

Sample body paragraph # 1

The deterioration in the appearance of the boys during their stay on the island shows their return to savagery. [Now use all the content showing how their appearance changed while they were on the island to prove your thesis. Do not use material which is not relevant to the regression in their appearance.]

Sample body paragraph # 2
Their return to savagery is also shown by the deterioration in their behaviour during their time on the island. [Now use all the content showing how their behaviour changed while they were on the island to prove your thesis. Do not use material which is not relevant to the regression in their behaviour.]

Sample body paragraph # 3
The deterioration in the boys’ accommodations during their stay on the island shows their return to savagery. [Now use all the content showing how their accommodations changed while they were on the island to prove your thesis. Do not use material which is not relevant to the regression of their accommodations.]

Sample concluding paragraph
The deterioration in the boys’ appearance, behaviour, and accommodations during their stay on the island clearly shows that they were returning to “that state of darkness from which it took [man] thousands of years to emerge."

This same format can be used for any question that requires an essay answer. Using this structure and knowing the content of the course should enable you to produce an excellent answer, which should be reflected in your grade.


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