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How to achieve a good essay grade?

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There are three topics available for the Gymi exam, one of which must be chosen. The choice of the topic is already decisive. Topics on which the student already has prior knowledge are often easier. Unfortunately, however, a large proportion of essays – no matter how well written they may be – are graded unsatisfactory because they miss the point and/or the assignment is not implemented correctly.

Thus, it is important to study the assignment carefully and take time to plan the essay before the actual writing begins. Even if this planning is not directly evaluated, it is a good sign for the exam expert and creates an impression. What is more crucial, however, is the fact that the essay is guaranteed to gain quality through the resulting structuring, rather than simply being written out in front of you. However, no more than 5 minutes should be taken for choosing and planning the topic itself. A simple mind map, cluster or short table is best suited for this.

The tasks themselves show different patterns that repeat from year to year. For example, the tense preterite or present tense is usually required. The perspective from which the text is to be written is the first-person or first-person perspective. More and more often, students are asked to write from the first person perspective of a stranger or even of an object. This is extremely challenging and should be practiced! Many students are not aware that when they write from the “I” perspective, the reader (i.e. the examiner) has no idea who this “I” actually is. Students must learn to describe and vividly portray the characters in their stories, even if they are themselves.

It is also important to respond to clues (e.g., the essay must be possible in reality).

Although essays basically belong to the category “narrative”, in recent years the assignment has become even more differentiated and thus massively more difficult. Thus, elements of a “report”, i.e. to write factually and neutrally, as well as those of a “statement”, i.e. to present pros and cons and one’s own opinion, are included. Often, students do not recognize these “hidden” assignments and thus are unable to complete the assignment or do so poorly.

The assignment can also consist of continuing a text passage (i.e., at the beginning of the text) or incorporating it into the text (in the middle of the text). If a title is to be adopted, it is crucial to match the content to this topic. For example, in the 2017 Gymi exam, the assignment was to write a story titled “The Old Hat,” which many failed at because they didn’t describe or barely mentioned the old hat, overestimating the importance of the title itself.

A very big problem is also the fact that many students do not know how to structure an essay. Often they write the whole text in one block. It is important that the content, as well as the structure of the essay, shows that it contains an introduction (approx. 1/5), the main part (approx. 2/5), a climax (approx. 1/5), and a conclusion (approx. 1/5). The total length should be between 1 – 1.5 pages (depending on the font size).

Although these structures can be designed individually, the strategy of proceeding according to a certain scheme has proven successful. The individual parts should answer the respective W-questions.

In the introduction, it would be the description of the circumstances (Who? Where? When?), and in the main part the motives of the events (What? Why?) at the climax with as many adjectives and appropriate verbs as possible the peak or resolution of the events (How?) and at the end the summary of all parts, which can also happen in a temporally later context, for example, “three months later” (On what?). Here, however, care must be taken to ensure that the conclusion really is a conclusion and that no cliffhangers or clues to a sequel are provided in the process.

And now, probably the most important thing of all: the ending is not the end! Students must learn to take the last ten minutes for the revision phase. After all, if well practiced and well targeted, this can account for half a grade to a full grade.

First, the entire essay should be read through. After that, three so-called “rehearsals” are applied.

The shifting rehearsal: Can the sentences be shifted and thus the sentence beginnings and the sentence structure be made more exciting? For example, “I walked home whistling” can be changed to “I walked home whistling”.

The extension test: Can text passages be described more concretely? Adjectives or verbs added, nouns made more concrete? “Cheerfully whistling I walked the way home”.

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The omission test: Can unnecessary trivialities or repetitions be deleted? “Cheerfully whistling I walked home” 

Finally, we would like to share a tip for spelling correction. Since normal reading through focuses more on the content than on the spelling, a secret tip is to read through the essay word by word backward. In this way, you will discover many “obvious” careless mistakes, which we are happy to dispense with. And why? By reading backward, one is no longer distracted from the content and can really only concentrate on the individual words. So you don’t “read over” your mistakes.