Tips For Refining Your Humanities Essay
18 April, 2017
Just as in university assignments, there is always room for improvement in most GAMSAT® exam humanities essays. The list of improvements can sometimes feel endless, especially as essays begin to improve and you want to gain that extra edge to get a higher grade.
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Now, sitting on the other side of the table as a marker, I can understand the difficulty my GAMSAT tutors would have felt when marking essays. Below are some tips for polishing those rough edges of your S2 essay, and perhaps questioning some things you took for granted.
The Rhetorical Question
Use this as sparingly as you would with a future patient.
At one point or the other, most students feel the impulse to use a rhetorical question - sometimes to the detriment of their essays. The GAMSAT® exam essay usually requires a response that is reflective or argumentative. The latter usually engenders the use of the rhetorical question to make an argument persuasive. The rhetorical question usually asks the reader to consider a point, while providing an underlying response to their concern.
As far as persuasion goes, the rhetorical question is quite effective but only when backed up with appropriate argumentation throughout the essay. Your argument itself should be the most effective feature of the essay. If the rhetorical question only distracts from the argument, it is better to use it carefully.
In the case where the rhetorical question fits in an essay, a quick check list should be thought of to ensure it is being used correctly. Students can quickly double check whether it is appropriate by questioning:
It is rarely necessary to use a rhetorical question. There are usually other ways of conveying the point without using a question. If, however, you feel strongly about it, think twice so that you know that the rhetorical question is contributing to your essay effectively.
- Is my argument strong enough to leave out the rhetorical question?
- Do I want to introduce a counter argument?
- What effect will the rhetorical question create?
- Does the question fall flat because the answer is obvious?
Each word in your essay should have a purpose, and there is nothing more problematic than having a question that does to achieve its desired effect. Used appropriately, the rhetorical question is an emotive device which can make reader’s question themselves and their actions.
Examples should be as unique as possible. Hitler, Mother Teresa and climate change all come under the category of generic examples. There are exceptions to this, such as when students explore a unique aspect about these people or concepts. This could be a new discovery or rare facts about them. The example should also contribute to the discussion. If your example only makes up one sentence in the whole paragraph, that usually means the example is not detailed enough.
Examples should directly relate to the theme and your discussion regarding it. Consider reading articles and news sites to gain information on the latest developments in science, history and literature. Furthermore, many students like to use personal examples in their essays. These are usually quite good as people can reflect on their lives and write about them in length. These are great when they are paired with descriptive language about specific incidents and events in the life of a person.
This feature can be divided into:
- Concision: This is about those long wordy sentences which have several ideas packed into a single sentence. This veils the meaning of your sentence and makes your point difficult to decipher. As a rule, it is better to have just one idea within a single sentence. This makes it easier for the reader to understand your point in the sentence.
- Variety: Sentence length should also have variety. Long sentences interspersed with short sentences create a good cadence for the essay. Cadence means rhythm, it is the way the words interact and show meaning. Lengthy sentences all together can make an essay monotonous and the meaning would be blurred. Think about making short and sharp statements before or after a long sentence. Variety in sentence length helps to put out your point in fewer words but with more impact.
Think about an essay in which what the writer describes is so vivid you can visualise everything. Now think about an essay which is difficult to comprehend, words strung together into complex sentences. The difference between these two essays is the language used to describe the scene.
Many students manage to do this particularly well in reflective essays using descriptive language. Descriptive language sets the scene by using appropriate words to describe a scene. By using adjectives, to describe what you observe and reflect on, your writing can improve immensely.
Usually descriptive language works well in a reflective essay, but it can work equally well in an argumentative essay as well. Descriptive language is created using your faculties of observation and reflection. For example, in an essay on childhood I would emphasise on the descriptive language as in the following: ‘As a child I remember incessantly digging through mud and stones
in my best friend's backyard. Dig, dig, dig, one day we dug all day with her mother’s finest cutlery believing we would find sooner or later pieces of gold, right here in her backyard.’
If you can put into words the nature of your surroundings or whatever you are trying to describe, your writing will improve immensely. Try to describe the minute details of the scenario, this will help your essay to ‘come alive’, so to speak, for the marker.
At the end of the day, along with the marking criteria, the purpose of the GAMSAT® exam essay should be to entertain, inform and educate. I think this is an important purpose to fulfil and every essay has the potential to do so.
Together with improved reading habits, your essay can jump a score in no time. All the best!