I mentioned in my last post how I was “obsessed with grid-ding” all my work during my A-Levels. I found that breaking up my work made it so much easier to memorise everything– not only did my workload look smaller, but it was more organised too. My secret weapons in my exams were my grids. Actually, I think this technique worked a little too well, as because the grids helped me memorise all the important points I had to make in my essays, I would finish my exams early- a little too early. I do remember how once, in a one hour History exam, I finished 30 minutes early, which is not as good as it sounds, as I had to spend the next half an hour staring at my paper, not knowing what more I could write!
Nevertheless, this technique has overwhelmingly good consequences, and today I thought I would share it with you all, because it is an extremely helpful way to memorise all the key points you need to write for your essays. Whether you are revising for a GCSE exam, A-Level exam, or even university tests, this is a fantastic way to remember all the important points you need to write 🙂
1. Choose an essay you have already written to use for your plan. If you have written an essay which got, for instance, an ‘A*’, and you have no improvements for it, use the essay as it is. If you have not- don’t worry at all! All you have to do is include the improvements that you need to raise the grade of your essay. For example, if my Politics teacher pointed out an example I had failed to mention in my essay, I would just include it in my plan. This is fine even if you have many improvements for your essay- simply add them all in your plan. The next step teaches you how.
2. Write a Rough Essay plan. Basically, what you do here is, have your essay in front of you, and find a clean sheet of A4 lined paper. On your essay, number the paragraphs. If you are writing a ‘for/against’ kind of essay, label your paragraphs ‘for/against’ based on whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with the main argument. Otherwise, use numbers or titles to indicate the different topics you are covering, or different objectives you are meeting, in each separate paragraph. For example, in my essays, I would sometimes separate my grid based on what points I was making in each paragraph- following the PEE paragraph structure.
If you don’t know what this is, PEE basically stands for ‘Point, Evidence, Explanation’. For example, in an essay asking you “How far did the Pilgrimage of Grace pose a threat to Henry VIII?”, your point on the “yes” side of your essay might be “the rebellion was large and formidable”, your evidence might be, “between 30.000- 40,000 people took part” and in your explanation, you could discuss the significance of this point, whether you think it was the most important point and why, or a critical interpretation. The most important thing here is structure.
Once you’ve numbered/ labelled your paragraphs, get your highlighters out and colour all the important points you make. In History, we had something called “specific detail”, and what this meant was that we were making a point that the examiner would not expect a Student to know. These small details really improve an essay, and it is a good idea to include them in your plan. If you like, colour code your points, like, use one colour for “specific detail” and examples, one colour for main points, one colour for an explanation and another for evaluation. After you’re done, write down your points on your A4 lined paper. Try to do this under headings to make it easier to understand. The more simple your design, the easier it is to remember your points. For some examples, simply flick through some of the photos I’ve attached of my essay plans.
Below is a picture of an essay plan as it would turn out if you simply decided not to separate your plan by arguments for/against. This might be more helpful for longer essays as you have more room to write more points. Also, it is helpful if the distinction between your points for and against is not quite clear.
3. Now, write your Neat Essay plan. This is simply your old essay plan but on a different paper. I like to write my neat essay plan on yellow lined paper. For me, the yellow sort of symbolises “This is important! Remember it!” and so it helps me memorise what is on the paper. Also, it looks pretty and so I have more fun writing the exact same information twice- something that, although it sounds a little pointless (and unsympathetic to trees), is actually a really important part of remembering your essay plan. By now, you will have written the same essay three times: first, when you wrote the actual essay, second, when you wrote up your rough draft, and third, when you wrote up your neat draft. If paper isn’t for you, use Microsoft word, or any other document- even on your phone! It is just as effective. The main point is that you are re-writing your essay- hopefully improving it if you can on the way.
Below: Yellow paper- the ‘Neat Plan’.
Embarrassingly, as you can see above, at the bottom of the page, “Dudley” is labelled because at the time I was writing this plan, I actually forgot the name of the son of the Duke of Northumberland. Which is why next to “Dudley” I wrote “(find son’s name!)”. It is only after I wrote the plan that I remembered it was Guilford! Moving on…
Below is a picture of one of my plans for a Hamlet essay. What I did was use the Orange Sticky notes for my points about The Revenger’s Tragedy, which is a play we had to compare to Hamlet. I used the Pink Sticky notes for discussing why Shakespeare used certain techniques, or for evaluating. The different colours I used for the Sticky Notes made it easier for me to separate the different points I was making, and the different techniques I was using, in this case, comparison and evaluation.
4. Finally- Remember to file your work! Making these plans takes time, and time is precious, so you have to take care of your work. You might even want to hide your work from prying eyes… just kidding- chances are, you probably have so many things to remember that the last thing you need is to add to that list. Filing is great because you keep all your work in one place and it’s less likely you will lose it. An important point for you: don’t throw away your original essay! Sometimes, it helps to see how you structured your essay and the order of your points.
So there you have it! Your step- by-step guide on how to make your very own perfect essay plans. Provided I did these properly, and read them before my tests, these practically guaranteed me an A* in my exams. Hopefully, they will for you too 🙂