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This section focuses on helping you become better and more professional learners. The information you are about to read constitutes “table stakes” and we cordially invite you to study it.

Do not expect to perform miracles if you have not been able to get the basics right! Here are some of the founding principles of effective writing:
  • On answering questions: Study the question very well (2-3 times), before you attempt to answer it. This way, you will be able to understand it and then write a response within the context of the question. Re-read the question and your answer in the end to check if they make sense!
    Rationale: In any other case, you will not be able to get all (or any of) the marks allocated for the specific question. Also, your teacher will appreciate the time and effort you have put in while answering the question (the teacher usually knows whether you have spent a few seconds or longer to study the question and write the answer).
  • On paragraph structure: indent each time you start a new one (and double space when typing and printing).
    Rationale: Writing in paragraphs is of paramount significance. This allows the target reader to know when one sub topic begins and when another begins. It helps the reader to read more smoothly and effortlessly which should be one of your goals when writing. As for double spacing, it allows the teacher to write comments in between (unless your instructor has told you otherwise)!
  • On paragraph writing: Usually 4-6 (short) sentences.
    Rationale: A paper/essay/report etc. does not look nice aesthetically if there is an imbalance among your paragraphs. In terms of sentence length, be mindful and write short sentences. Long sentences usually contain errors and may create discomfort to the reader. It is not uncommon to find students’ answers that consist of one sentence and are a paragraph long!!!
  • On paragraph content: Discuss one issue per paragraph.
    Rationale: By doing so, you allow your reader to focus on one idea/concept/notion at any one time. In any other scenario, they might get confused or feel that an idea has not been fully presented/explained/analysed.
  • On the paragraph structure: Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence and use the rest of the paragraph in order to support that claim.
    Rationale: This again is a universally accepted and encouraged technique. Think of each paragraph like a mini essay. For each paragraph you need to introduce a new idea, discuss it and make sure you pave the way for the next paragraph i.e.the next idea.
  • On linking words: Use plenty and appropriate linking words ex. therefore, due to, consequently etc.
    Rationale: Teachers are usually experienced readers (and writers), compared to students so they value the appropriateness of linking words and their usage which leads to a smoother reading of your paper. ‘Also’ is less impactful than ‘in addition’, while ‘therefore’ sounds much more academic than ‘so’.
  • On introductions: Your introduction should include the main points you will discuss in your paper. It should have a thesis statement at its end i.e. what you are going to argue in your paper.
    Rationale: A good introduction is something that troubles most young learners but once you get it right, your essays will immediately attract your reader more which means that they will keep on reading because they are interested. Think about it like selling a valuable commodity. In an essay, you are selling something and that is usually your opinion on a given topic. If you do not create an appealing content, your target reader i.e. the buyer, will not go for it (or will allocate a bad grade, just like it happens on the Internet; and no one likes anything below a 5-star criticism). This is what successful writers have achieved. They have convinced so many readers (and other writers) to actually be interested in what they are selling and thus they buy their ideas. However, even great writers started small; no one became a millionaire overnight. Start your own writing quest with us!
  • On (in)formality: Unless specifically mentioned, you are to write formally. In other words, avoid words such as ‘things’, ‘stuff’, ‘kids’ and use ‘elements’, ‘material’, ‘children’ respectively. Also avoid contracted forms such as ‘won’t’, ‘he’s’, ‘aren’t’ and use ‘will not’, ‘he is’, ‘are not’ instead.
    Rationale: This may seem trivial to some, however, it is important to be consistent in your writing. If, for instance, you are writing an essay (which is always a formal piece of writing), the reader will expect you to use formal discourse throughout. In any other case, the essay will sound less convincing and thus less impactful due to such discrepancies.
  • On word limit: Respect it.
    Rationale: The reason behind this is that the target reader wants to find out if you are able to answer a question within a specific amount of words. In this case, the learner will have to wisely choose what to include and what to omit.
  • On proof-reading: Always reread your paper before you submit it in order to check for possible errors that you can amend.
    Rationale: Our research and experience clearly show that most students never do this, due to various reasons. This may be boring for some but it is a great opportunity to save yourself from a worse grade. When we write something, or correct and provide the student with feedback, we go over it numerous times in order to make sure there are no mistakes, everything is clear and we are certain that the target reader will fully understand the meaning and purpose of the feedback.
  • On coherence i.e. the smooth and logical transition among sentences and paragraphs: Does your writing have a natural flow?
    Rationale: It is very easy to get confused when we read something; it has happened to all of us. Maintaining coherence when writing, helps the reader to keep reading with ease and interest while minimizing confusion.
  • On writing style: Do not generalize. Ex. ‘everyone thinks…’, ‘all people should….’, ‘we all believe that…’ etc. Be specific!
    Rationale: This is a classic mistake. There are very few things in life that are shared by all. Therefore, when writing, the author has to be very careful who they address.
  • On effective vocabulary: Replace weak words such as ‘say’, ‘to be’ and ‘good’ with ‘argue’, ‘constitute’ and ‘competent’.
    Rationale: It is important to take care of the vocabulary one uses. Writing formally and convincingly requires the use of certain words and the non-use of some others.
  • On copy pasting: It is so easy for a teacher nowadays to understand when something has been copy-pasted. In fact, it does not help your learning process; it is actually counter-productive. By the way, in certain universities, one might get expelled in case of plagiarism (copy pasting)!
    Rationale: When a teacher knows their students, he/she can identify whether or not they have used information that has been taken from other sources without acknowledgment. This becomes particularly easy to discover with the use of the Internet. Extend and develop the neuroplasticity of your brain by being original and creating your own content. The next time you need to do it, it will be easier and gradually it will become subconscious and automatic.
  • Effective writing requires persistence, commitment, tolerance and experience and all of the above need time. Make your time count (whatever you do)!
  • High school teachers are usually much more lenient than University professors which may create inconvenience, especially to first-year university students.
  • Your request for a deadline extension may not be granted (and you asked for the extension one day before the deadline!!!).
  • You may not get a second chance to submit a paper.
  • In the event where you fail a course, you will have to do it again. This will cost you more money (especially if you are paying for it) and set you behind schedule.
  • A bad grade you have received may gravely affect your future prospects. Such a grade will decrease your average and subsequently your chances of graduating with a higher mark which in turn may decrease your chances of being accepted in a specific graduate school.
  • The X factor. You might experience unforeseen / additional workload which will limit the amount of time you have for a specific task.
  • We hope you never come across any of the above but experience indicates that you may very well do so and we are here to help you in your difficult but hopefully enjoyable journey. And in case you are wondering, yes, we have encountered and dealt with the above issues in our university careers and employment. At the time however, we couldn’t find the answers!
  • “The reason you got into uni is to graduate having more questions than those you had when enrolling!!!” Quote from my History Professor (super nerdy but wise btw) in Tel Aviv which I comprehended much later in life. (Influence 4)
  • Eat well – Sleep well – Exercise: Make sure you get three meals of quality food per day, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and see that you do some kind of exercising – 3-4 times per week is ideal.
  • Revise regularly, especially those academic aspects which are new and harder to learn.
  • Read a book instead of scrolling on your mobile before you go to sleep. You will sleep much more easily and you will have learned something new during the process.
  • Do not leave your academic duties for the last minute! This is when mistakes are made because you get stressed as you fight against time.
  • When it comes to the Internet and especially if you are below 18, if you see or find something that is wrong, off, fishy or similar, talk to an adult you trust immediately.
  • No matter who you are, in the event you feel uncomfortable or at a loss, talk to someone you trust and seek help before matters get worse! Do not suffer in silence (as they used to say in the UK when I was doing my post-graduate degree. And they were right).
  • Time is money! Make you time worthwhile.
  • Learn kindly from your mistakes.
  • Be proactive; see that you complete your (academic) duties sooner than later.
  • Leave a two-line gap between each part of the essay or, even better, designate them as part a) and part b)
  • Students must recognise that the command word for the first part is Explain (a lower demand) while the command for the second part is Evaluate (a much higher-level demand).
  • Structure is important – as can be seen in the generic mark scheme.
  • Introductions are important but should be brief and to the point, laying the foundation for the arguments that will follow in the body of the essay.
  • The conclusion should not just repeat statements that have already been made. It is an ideal place to emphasise the evaluative part of the answer, making an overall judgement on the issue under discussion. The conclusion is also a place where the ‘big picture’ approach can be demonstrated – but in the best answers the ‘big picture’ approach is shown in the main part of the essay, i.e. in the different paragraphs.
  • Quite clearly, planning an answer is important. Failure to successfully respond to commands words can result in a very low mark because the student is not answering the question (NAQ). The commands that seem to cause the most problems are •‘Evaluate…’,
    • Assess the extent to which…’,
    • How useful are…’
  • These commands are asking for the higher-level cognitive skills and failure to respond to them means that a student cannot be awarded the higher-level marks. through phrases such as:
    • This can lead to X, which is one of the most important aspects of…’
    • X is a bigger problem than Y because X operates for longer/at a larger scale
    • Did X bring change in the way people acted?
    • Did X change people’s ideas or beliefs?
    • Did X force authorities (governments, monarchs, police forces, etc.) to change?
    • Was the impact of X long lasting or short term?
    • Did X have a major impact on people’s lives? How many lives? For how long?
    • If you remove X how far do you think events would have been different?
  • Using examples and developing points: •Relevant examples always gain extra credit and extend the breadth of an answer
    • Points can be developed by phrases such as ‘This means that…’
    • Developing points in this way adds to the depth of an answer

In the History DBQ, the phrase ‘How useful…’ in part a) of the question expects a discussion of the usefulness of the documents and a discussion of the uselessness of the documents. The advice RTPA – ‘read the question, think about the question, plan your answer, before you answer the question’ is worth considering.

  • Read all the questions carefully. Then think about all the questions carefully. Then choose the one(s) you think you can answer more efficiently.
  • Make sure you divide your time in such a way that you have enough time to answer all the questions you need to.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any one question. Answer the questions in full.
  • In ‘how far’ / ‘to what extent’ questions, your point of view should always come second in the main body.
  • If you are running out of time, write in bullet points so the examiner can see what you were planning to write in detail.
  • Try to save a little time in the end to proof read your answers.
  • Start answering those questions you think you know how to answer best.
  • Write as legibly as possible. The examiner will not bother to decipher your writing if you are using hieroglyphics!
  • The more the marks to a question, the longer your answer should be.
  • Have a banana or a power bar before the exams and have plenty of water with you. Use both! Go to the bathroom before the exam.
  • Trust your knowledge!

General comments

  • Select the 3 questions with care (Paper 1).
  • Pay attention to command words especially ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘compare’, ‘identify’, ‘justify’.
  • When defining words or phrases, do not simply repeat the word or words which need to be defined.
  • Avoid writing a (long) introduction to any question unless this is the response to the case study.
  • Identify the correct focus of the question – causes OR impacts, natural environment OR people!
  • Write clearly and avoid writing vague, general statements -eg. ‘it will improve the standard of living’, ‘it will cause pollution’.
  • Do not forget to include the units -eg.degrees if it is about a temperature.
  • When asked to ‘compare’, use the comparative form eg.higher then, lower then, the least expensive…
  • Case studies: develop points and link ideas wherever possible and include place-specific details.
  • Always use geographical terminology!
  • Always shade bar graphs and pie charts appropriately as they are scanned for marking; a light colour pencil may not be visible.
  • Make it clear to the examiner which question you are answering and indicate explicitly if and where you are continuing writing an answer.
  • Answers must be legible so they can be marked.

Specific comments on responses

  • In birth/death rate questions, state your answers ‘per 1000’!
  • Many candidates did not know the process of formation of a flood plain.
  • Several problems occurred with ‘range’ -eg. temperature range. For the diurnal range of temperature, several candidates failed to compare night temperatures and the daily ones. When referring to features of weather, mention precipitation, temperature and sunshine among others.
  • ‘Urban sprawl’ was unfamiliar to many candidates.
  • A lot of confusion was found in responses on river ‘tributaries’ and ‘distributaries’. The former join a main river while the latter separate off in a delta.
  • Marks were awarded to candidates who identified evidence correctly from a map -eg. ‘a road’ did not get credit as opposed to ‘route centre’ or ‘transport junction’ which is what the key states.
  • With regards to coral reefs, few candidates were familiar with factors affecting corals such as light, salinity and oxygenation.
  • Confusion was found in answers about dormant volcanoes.
  • Many candidates were unaware of the difference between ‘epicentre’ and ‘focus’ of an earthquake.
  • Frequent confusion in instructions ‘to describe landforms’ and ‘explain how landforms form’.
  • In photograph description questions, candidates should describe what they can see in the photograph rather than referring to background knowledge of features which cannot be seen.
  • ‘Net migration’ was a problem for many candidates -basically the overall difference of people coming to a country and exiting it. Formula: Immigrants – Emigrants/1000. Make sure you include your calculations if that is required.
  • Nucleated settlements – few candidates understood the fundamental reasons behind their growth.
  • Relief’ is a term usually badly scored. Candidates should learn its features and be able to apply them.
  • If you want / need to work, try to find something that you are skilled at and which will contribute to your CV / Resume.
  • Check out students’ services and use them accordingly.

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