So, 3 years into this degree and the thing that still drives me nuts is essay writing. It takes me months to start writing answers that I am halfway happy with. Anyway, I hope this resonates with you all. If it does, keep reading ‘my roadmap to essay writing’, the steps I usually go through to write a Politics/International Relations Essay.
Step number 1: Getting my head around the material.
Before I can even think about an essay, I have to study the material. Usually this involves going through the Study guide and the Essential Reading. Whether I write the essays as I go along or wait till I finish the syllabus, it depends on the module and how well I understand it.
Saying that, before I start studying my module, I usually skim through all the chapters in the subject guide, taking notice of the learning outcomes. I also glance through about 2-3 years worth of past papers.
I know students who prefer to avoid looking at the past papers until they have completed the syllabus but it helps me to focus on the information that is a part of the syllabus. The problem with politics is that it’s such a vast field that it’s easy to get off topic and side-tracked and that wastes valuable time, especially when prepping for the exams.
(For EMFSS students: There’s this really great video on the VLE that discusses the need to read resources with your question in mind to reduce the time wasted. It’s here, under ‘Independent reading’.)
Step number 2: Choose an Essay
This seems like a weird step to dedicate a whole subheading to but it’s quite important for me. That’s because each question tests an aspect of my knowledge, so I need to pick one that I am comfortable with before moving to something trickier. That allows me to get into the ‘zone’ before I challenge myself. If I can’t choose a question, I’ll make mind maps of all the questions that I think I could attempt and then choose the one that I have the most information for.
Step number 3: Return to the material
After I have pinpointed a question, I return to my notes and pick out the material that’ll help me to answer the question. At this point, I’d try to also take note of the important authors so that I can quote them in my essay.
Step number 4: Decide on my 3 points
What I mean here is that once I know what material I can use, I structure it into 3 main points that support my central argument. At this point, I’ll also try to make a note of the examples that I can use to support those points.
Step number 5: Start writing
This point doesn’t require much explanation. But once the essay is done, I try to go back and make notes on where I could expand or adjust my points. If you can get a friend to take a look, even better!
Step number 6: Make a ‘Topic map’
This is a tip that a friend of mine gave me last year. I made ‘topic maps’ just before the exams and it really helped. Basically, you write the main topic in the centre of a blank piece of paper and then organize your points/ arguments around it. It really helped me to remember the information that I wanted to focus on in the exam.
In the end…
It took me a while to hone in on these steps, and I am still adjusting them where needed. If you guys have any advice, I’d love to hear it!
Iman is studying the BSc Politics and international Relations in Pakistan.