History Today subscription

Essay Writing: Pointing your Answers

Peter Clements explains that addressing the question directly is the key to securing good grades.

To achieve one of the higher grades at A level you need to be precise. That means framing your answer so that it answers the question set, instead of merely writing on the general topic. This is true both in essay and source-based questions, although in this article there is only space to deal with the former.

Often candidates demonstrate that they know a lot of relevant information and even write analytically, giving evidence in support of an argument - but still fail to point what they know to the actual demands of the question. As a result valuable marks are lost in otherwise sound answers. No one expects polished and perfectly reasoned answers to be written in examination conditions, although sometimes they do appear. It is, however, my contention here that it is possible for many candidates to point their answers more closely to the questions set. This would elevate their answers onto higher levels and attract more marks. In this article we will consider examples of how, in different types of essay questions, knowledgeable answers can be pointed more directly to the questions set.

The way to do it

Consider the opening extract from an answer to a question on Italian unification ('What factors helped and what factors hindered Italian unification in the period 1815-1848?'):


'Up until 1848, there was no strong dominant power or person to lead the unification process, but there were three main ideas about how it could be achieved...'

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

If you are logged in and still cannot read the article, please email digital@historytoday.com.

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week