A guide to a First-Class answer – Part 1 (Essay Questions)
Updated: Mar 11
Before I begin, I would like clarify, that none of these points below are explicitly endorsed by the University of London. These viewpoints are entirely of my own. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to write an essay. However, the below pointers are those of which that I developed over the three years of my study, and which I found to attract the most number of marks from the examiner.
There is no shortcut or secret structure that would enable one to obtain marks from the examiner. It all boils down to how well you answer the question! However… These tips and tricks will help you maximize the marks that you are eligible for in your script.
These pointers are those that I consider a ‘must to follow’.
1. In your introduction and subsequent paragraph
Break the question down into your own words – this would allow the examiner to know that you have understood what is required of the question.
Always give your stance to the examiner. Whether you agree, disagree, or partially agree with the statement does not matter. What matters, is setting your foundation to the examiner, so that he will be able to read the rest of your answer, with some sort of guideline in mind, to know where you are heading.
Give a very rough sketch of your answer to the examiner. It will act as a roadmap to your examiner, on how you intend on going about your essay (and even if you do run out of time midway through: the examiner might be lenient in his marking, by knowing what you were intending on doing – and understanding that time was an issue, instead of believing that you did not possess the knowledge)
Define key terms of the question area concerned – be it Constitution, the Grundnorm, Locus Standi, Feminist Legal Theory, Rule of Recognition, Direct Effect, etc. it is always good practice to give a definition (Bonus points – Try to define it using an author, or case law extract)
2. The rest of your essay
Always ensure that you do not lose track of your essay. Remember, that especially in an open book setting, the examiner is aware of so called ‘model answers’. In order to avoid losing track, and giving the examiner an impression that you are simply throwing your notes at him, always try to link back to the question asked, and use words from the question itself when doing so (ideally do this after every other paragraph).
Color your theory using real world examples. Be it a purely theoretical question or a current affairs question that you are answering, always link your theory to real world scenarios. This would showcase to the examiner your creative thinking with your ability to apply theory into practice, and set you apart from all the other answer scripts.
Make a seamless transition between paragraphs – your paragraphs should flow smoothly from one to the next. Think of your essay as a chapter from a novel and aim for a unified structure. Avoid having paragraphs that don't make sense when read in conjunction (to do this, incorporate connecting words such as "be that as it may," "hence," "thus," "nevertheless," or similar transitional phrases in your writing. These words will aid in the smooth flow of ideas between sentences and paragraphs, enhancing the coherence of your work.)
3. Your conclusion (As this will be the final paragraph that the examiner reads on your essay before he determines your mark, it is important to end on a high note!)
Your conclusion shouldn’t summarize your entire essay. Instead, it should act as a platform to elevate your answer to a higher level. You can do so, by re-affirming your position in the essay. Always link it back to the original question at hand, and don’t just stop after agreeing or disagreeing with the question (as you have already done this in the introduction), but give your recommendation/ opinion to finish strong.
If you have any very recent current affairs that could tie up to the question, this is your moment to do so. Be it case law that took place a year or two before the exam, or real word examples that took place a few months before, or even your pre-exam updates; you can include them here to finish strong (you can of course bring them in at any point of your essay, but bringing it towards the end would show the examiner that you are up to date)
These pointers are those that are ‘nice to follow’. Should only be done when all the other mandatory points are completed, and if you have time left. Ideally these points should be your last priority (and under no circumstances must time be spent on these, until the above are done!).
Start your essay with a quote (relevant to both the topic you and the question you are answering)
When making reference to an author’s book, apart from his name, state the edition and the year.
When mentioning a case name, underline the case and include the year.
When quoting directly from a source, make sure to use both italics and inverted commas (“ ”) to set off the quotation. Additionally, if you are citing only part of a sentence or quote, use ellipses ("...") to indicate where the original text has been shortened or omitted [it is not recommended that you quote too much of a sentence, due to plagiarism issues. Paraphrase wherever possible.]
Use sub headings to break down the question if it is lengthy and involves multiple issues – this doesn’t mean you use sub-headings throughout such as introduction, body, conclusion, etc. Rather it means, that you split your essay clearly so the examiner will be able to identify that you have figured out the components of the question and follow your approach.
Keep your word limit between 1100 – 1300 words (Note that this is entirely subjective and depends on the subject and topic you are answering the question on. I once scored 78 for a question by writing 958 words, and scored 72 for writing 3400+ words. It all drills down to how well you answer the question – but in managing your time, the above word limit range might be ideal. Other factors come into play such as your typing speed)
And finally, a note in general – always answer the required number of questions requested by the examiner! If the examiner requires you to answer 4 questions, answer all 4! Even you write 3 first class answers it would result in an overall lower second mark, if you miss the 4th question (e.g. - 72 + 72 + 72 / 4 = 54). Remember: It is easier to score the first few marks in a question due to the stepped marking approach followed by the examiner, than scoring the last few marks in a question. So, [for example] you are better off spending your final 15 minutes rushing through your 4th answer and obtaining 38 marks, rather than perfecting your 3rd answer and obtaining an extra 10 marks, and neglecting the 4th question entirely.
DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN THE ALLOCATED TIME IN YOUR QUESTION. MOVE ON WHEN YOUR HOUR (or 45 minutes when the exam is 3 hours) IS UP.
Good luck with your exam preparations! See you in part 2, where I will mention as to how you could deal with problem type questions.