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The 2 minute essay plan

One of the biggest problems students have in writing essays is we get halfway through and don’t know what else to write. This could be easily solved by putting together a rough plan of the essay. When an essay can take a long time to write, planning can seem like one extra unnecessary step. But what the top students realise is that if they put together a solid plan, it’ll actually result in less work down the track, and it makes writing their essay so much easier. If you’re interested in less work that’s easier to do, then keep reading! 

Part One: Getting started

The trickiest part of absolutely anything is actually getting started. A task, however big or small it may be, always seems insurmountable before you begin. You sit there reminding yourself over and over again how much you’ve got to do, how many different plays you need to re-read, how many scholars’ quotes you need to look up, how many different formulas or definitions you need to find. You obsess and obsess, until you look at the clock and half an hour has already passed.

A great place to start is by writing down the whole title on the page and then breaking it down into parts. So, for example:

Describe the conditions in Europe that may have caused the start of WW2.”

The underlined parts are the aspects that will be most crucial to answer in the essay. The most common complaint teachers have about exam answers or essays is that the student didn’t apply their knowledge to answer the question. It’s not enough to know the background to WW2 – you actually need to see how you can apply it to these specific parts of the question. This is where the real marks are. So, start by figuring out what the question is really asking you to do. Remember, every essay is asking you to do something – and very rarely is it to just explain what happened in an event. Find these key terms, underline them and work out what they mean to you. If there are any words which are unfamiliar to you, look them up.

This also helps you to break down the question in your mind, so you don’t feel like you have to answer absolutely everything all at the same time. Consequently, it already makes it feel like less work and will help you get started even more confidently. When we have small little tasks to do, it makes the climb up the mountain that much easier.

Part Two: Laying out your plan

This is actually the simplest part of your essay plan. Use the sections from the question that you have underlined to break down your knowledge of the area. So, in this case, we need to identify what we know about the conditions in Europe, but, specifically, how they may have caused WW2.

It’s not enough to say that: "Germany was still trying to rebuild itself after WW1"

Instead, your notes should look like this:

  • Germany was still trying to rebuild itself after WW1; the German people were looking for political systems that would actually work to rebuild Germany and bring it back into the 20th centuryThe Nazi party promised a lot for the German people, including policies that would expand it into other countries, leading to warfare with these countries

Of course these will be simplified versions of what you’ll go on to write in your essay, but that’s the whole point of a plan. It means that you don’t have to do the complex thinking of figuring out how to answer a question at the same time as trying to find the right words for the essay. Making your brain do both things at once is the equivalent of learning how to play football at the same time as trying to win the Premier League. Though, admittedly, that was Leicester’s season last year.

Take note of the colour coding used in the notes above. By separating the colours, you’re already flagging up for yourself how to structure each paragraph in your essay – the black can represent the opening statement at the start of each paragraph, the red can represent the explanation of the statement and the green can represent how this relates to the essay question. If you look back through this blog post, you’ll see every paragraph is structured in precisely this way. It’s such a small thing to do but will save you so much time and organizing later. 

Part Three: Knowing how to turn this into an essay

Once you know how to answer the question, understand what points you’re going to make and when, have notes and a coherent plan, the ultimate goal is to know how to translate this into an essay. Sadly, you can’t bury it in soil, water it, leave it in sunlight and come back three weeks later to find a beautiful essay tree (as much as that would be amazing), so this is a really important part in the whole process. Everyone works in different ways, but there are few tricks you can use to piece it all together.

One effective way to compile your notes into an essay is to write the conclusion first so you know what you are building up to. Another method is to space out each bullet point from the plans on to the essay sheet, and then fill in the gaps so that it all made sense. By transferring your bullet points across, you ensure that you keep the same structure as you planned and remain disciplined enough to carry it out. Fleshing out the sentences in between requires you to make sure that each bullet point flows to the next.

At the end of the day, it’s crucial that you’ve got a good plan to base your essay on. A skyscraper can be so tall and not fall over because it’s got deep, solid foundations at its base. And just because your plan will only take you a couple of minutes to get written doesn’t mean it should lack any of the integrity that your knowledge has. If you follow these steps, it should take no time at all, but should give you the powerful base to build your essay on. You might… MIGHT… even enjoy it. Please don’t think that this just applies to the question above, either. It works for any essay subject at all, as long as you break down the question properly.

We hope this was helpful and if you have any tips of your own or any questions, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.