Writing University English Essays For High School

Is Tess in ‘Tess of the d'Urbervilles' portrayed as being responsible for her own demise? [pdf 40 KB]

Yours is a beautifully clear essay. You write very well, and your prose is delightful to read. You've also done your research and it shows. There is a remarkable lack of vagary about society or feminism in your piece, and you've picked canny quotes from your secondary sources that elucidate and situate your arguments.

You've also located some wonderfully specific quotations from your primary source to support your argument that Hardy's narrator sympathises with Tess. Some of your close readings are wonderfully astute, as when you point out that Tess implores Angel, rather than commanding him. Slightly less persuasive is your assertion that Tess is the victim of Alec's eyes; I suspect you might have found better quotations, descriptions, or incidents denouncing Alec's gaze.

You are clearly very good at pursuing and proving an argument. I encourage you to be a bit more experimental in your next essay; perhaps choose a less straightforward topic and see where it takes you.

Please see penciled notes throughout on shortening sentences and watching for comma splices (please look this term up in a style manual if it is unfamiliar).

When students first enter college in the US, they’re often puzzled by the differences in expectations between college essay writing and high school essay writing.

Essays that were getting perfect grades in high school are often criticized in college. Don’t panic! Your writing hasn’t changed; college essay writing requirements are simply different than those of high school essay writing. Here’s how to make the grade and improve your college essay writing:

Argument

While high school essay writing is focused on illustrating that you’ve understood what you read, usually by rehashing the plot in a “book report” style, college essay writing requires something more: an argument.

Your professors don’t just want to check that you’ve done the required reading, they want to see that you’re able to make a critical judgment of that reading as well. Your argument, or “thesis,” should be clearly stated in the opening paragraph of the essay.

Evidence

Now that the argument has been stated, college essay writing requires that it be supported throughout the rest of your essay by evidence. Evidence can be taken from the source (a quote from the novel you’re discussing), or credible outside sources such as literary articles and books written on the subject.

Here’s a good study tip: get as many sources as you can find and then use the ones that most accurately fit your argument.

Weaving evidence that supports your initial claim into your essay gives your argument ground to stand on, and that is what earns you the “A” on your paper.

Admitting Limitation

When reading your paper, professors look for answers to questions like “But what about . . . ?” and “Have you considered . . . ?” They want to see that you’ve approached the argument from more than one angle, and that you’re able to admit its limitations.

Without question, college essay writing is more demanding than high school essay writing. Bu just like anything else, it’s a skill that you progressively develop with time and practice as you adjust to college life. So keep at it, and you’ll turn your excellent high school essay writing skills to excellent college essay writing skills in no time!

And remember, you can always use your professor’s office hours to your advantage i.e. going over a past paper where you’re not sure where you went wrong.

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