How To Write Gcse English Essays

Writing a Good Essay

Many of my students find writing an essay a daunting task. Getting to grips with a text is one thing, but when you are studying English Language or Literature, you are also required to write about it in a structured and coherent way. Here is a brief, step-by-step guide, on how to approach answering an essay question. I hope you find it helpful.

What is an essay?

  • Answering a question
  • Putting forward a point of view which is focussed, clear and supported
  • Explaining what you think with evidence from the text

Remember, before you begin an essay, you must know your text well.

1.    Introduction

  • Your response to the question
  • How you intend to answer
  • What your essay is going to say/explore/argue
  • State your point of view
  • Your interpretation of the text
  • Are you aware of different levels of meaning?

Consider: the question, the text and the author

AVOID simplistic and irrelevant value judgments (for example, ‘.... is good...’) 

2.    Following paragraphs

 Develop and support your point of view.

 Use your paragraphs to develop your argument using the following method:

Point – make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question

Evidence – use quotations and refer to the text to support your view

Explain – discuss this further 

  • Why is this significant?
  • How is it being done (e.g. the poetic/dramatic methods used)?
  • What can you say about the language, style or structure?
  • Why has the author used those words/expressed an idea in that way?
  • How does it affect the reader/audience?
  • How does it affect the themes/meaning(s) of the text?
  • Complexity – could there be more than one interpretation?
  • Does the style alter or develop across the text?

 When using PEE, you should: 

  • Comment on the method used by the author
  • Look at the effect of the language used
  • Analyse reasons why this might have been done

Always work logically through the text, from beginning to end (this shows that you are also analysing the author’s structure). This will also help give your essay a sense of building up to a conclusion.

 AVOID telling the story!

 Instead, discuss the ideas or messages ‘behind’ the text. Aim to show how these are created, developed and revealed. 

Other things you might want to think about...

  • Consider the genre conventions and how these might shape meaning and interpretation
  • Consider author’s context
  • Consider author’s motivation, intention or purpose

3.    Conclusion – summing up

  • Tell your reader why you’ve said what you’ve said in your essay
  • What are the wider issues raised by your discussion?
  • Leave a final impression – give the reader something to think about

Good luck!

  • 1

    Use sophisticated vocabulary, grammar and punctuation throughout and make sure that you use them properly. Using a range of words is effective because it can help to express your understanding and if you use the same words over and over again it can sound like you're repeating yourself. You may find yourself using a comma or a full stop that could be replaced with a semi-colon (;).

  • 2

    Analyse the language in depth. Make comments and by doing this you can identify techniques (e.g. metaphors, similes, hyperbole, imagery) that the writer uses and discuss the effect that it has: '[..] the sound bite at the start that begins 'perhaps the most generally ....' breaks the smooth, flowing of the prose. This emphasizes the negativity of the comment and startles readers because it is unexpected. Despite this, it is a good technique to keep readers engaged.' This is good because it shows that the student understand how the language and techniques are effective.

  • 3

    P.E.E.L. is something that I personally used in my English essays. This means to makes a point; back up the point with evidence (a quote); explain what this means and then make some further comments on the language/techniques within that quote e.g. 'The use of the hyperbole '[example of hyperbole]' is actually quite interesting; it helps to emphasize the portrayal of the protagonist's experience as [...]'

  • 4

    G.A.P.L.I.S.T refers to genre, audience, purpose, language, information, style and tone. Although it may be good to remember it as a whole, you may only really need to hold on to the thought of the genre, audience, language, style and tone. When it comes to the audience you may want to focus on how certain techniques may appeal to the audience. When it comes to tone, you may want to look at the techniques and language used that helps to determine the way that the author feels towards a certain subject.

  • 5

    Refer to the question after you've finished a point and when you are ready to move on to the next paragraph. It is important to refer back to the original question throughout where ever it may be possible.

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