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Tips to do well in English (III) – Planning Your Essays

Many students have faced difficulties writing essays during examinations, as they find that there is very little to write given the short time of approximately 1 hour. To be honest, in one short hour, to meet the word count, provide adequate content and to ensure the fluidity of the essay all at once is VERY difficult. Therefore, it is paramount that ample time should be given to planning the essay BEFORE you actually start writing.


Some may ask if time is spent on planning, wouldn’t it leave the students even less time for writing the essay? At first glance it may seem to be true. However, if we do a proper planning in 25 minutes, there should be more than enough time for students to finish writing the essay in the remaining 35 minutes.


The rationale here is to separate your tasks – think about your contents and the organisation of the points in the first 20 minutes. Then in the next 40 minutes, focus solely on the writing: you should be only thinking about how to connect the points in a more fluid way and complete the essay with the points planned in the previous 20 minutes. In this way, students don’t have to multi-task (planning as they write, writing, organising the points in their minds and thinking of new points to fill up the essay). More often than not, students will find their essays drifting away from the question, and in addition, they will have higher stress as they have to fulfil every requirement at the same time. So, how do we go about planning essays? We shall use a narrative essay (Bank Robbery) as an example:


#1 – Spend the first 1-2 minutes forming the framework of the entire essay

You must start forming the framework of the entire essay first. Decide how many paragraphs to write and what are the key plots for each paragraph. For this essay on Bank Robbery, we can use something like this:


Intro:     Jaslyn was going the bank to replace her bank token

Para 1:  She got her queue number and while waiting for her turn, she saw 4 suspicious men walking into the bank

Para 2:  The robbers shot security guards and demanded bank tellers/manager to put as much money into their bags as possible

Para 3:  Jaslyn cowered in a corner, thought of idea to inform police

Para 4:  Robbers tried to flee after getting money, but police arrived and apprehended them.

Para 5:  Conclusion


#2 – Spend the next 20 minutes putting in the details for each paragraph

This is the point where most, if not all, of the details should be done in this time. Jot down the details in point form and do not worry about the grammar at this stage. Just focus on getting the details of the story filled up. Here is an example for Para 2:


Para 2:  – one of the men took out a pistol & shot the 2 guards on duty

  • people in the bank were shocked & started screaming: chaos
  • 2 other men also pointed pistols at other people to get them to crouch down & keep quiet
  • the leader threw a few canvas bags on the counter & demanded cash to be filled up
  • bank manager & teller followed the order and went on to fill up the bags with cash


#3 – Spend the remaining 3-4 minutes organising & review the points

This is the time to check through the points and see if anything need to be added or deleted. Also check the fluidity of the points and change the order of the points if necessary.


#4 – Write the essay by connecting the points and check the grammar

In 35 minutes, there should be ample time to do the actual writing as student do not have to be affected by the storyline anymore as all the planning should be done in the first 25 minutes. What is left to be done is pure writing and checking for grammar.


With these tips, students should be able to use the one hour more efficiently and thus produce essays with better content in less time!

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