How to write excellent A Level essays…

Charlotte Vardy writes…

This year we have been working on strategies to help students of all abilities maximize AO2 marks for the new A Level.  This will be of huge importance, given that 60% of the marks are allocated to AO2 and high AO1 marks demand a focus on the precise question, not the general topic.

We are advising students to take a conclusion-first approach, avoiding the twin traps of just describing different points of view and running out of time before developing a proper conclusion.

In the very limited time available, students are more likely to score higher marks by arguing a case from the outset than they would by waiting until after they have gone through two different points of view. Too many lower and middle-ability students confuse listing points in favour and points against with developing an argument… and in the limited time available, very able students often run out of time before getting to the conclusion otherwise.

I have developed a formula for success to train my students to score the best AO2 marks.  I developed the full rationale for this and worked an example in a recent video that I produced for Candle Conferences’ events.

 

NB: I am well aware of the pitfalls of using formulae and writing frames, but know from experience that it is better to start with a frame and then let the more able ditch it than not to use one and let the weaker students flounder.

 

“Religious Experiences prove that God exists!” Discuss 

Intro TRADE C

  • Intro – What are religious experiences? (Refer to classifications from James and Otto and one or two examples)  What is proof (Note that Religious experiences can only provide an Inductive or Abductive argument, not deductive proof)
  • THESIS – the conclusion of the argument e.g. “Religious experiences do prove that God exists”
  • REASONS – as many reasons in support of this conclusion, each with evidence (i.e. a quote, a scholar, a name etc.) plus explanation.
  • AGREE – mention at least one well-known person or group who would agree with your argument and explain why this would be, preferably with evidence.
  • DISAGREE – a scholar who would argue the other point of view. Their argument must be explained with reference to evidence, e.g. a quote or reference.
  • EVALUATE – explain why this counter-argument fails to convince, giving reasons.  (deal with several counterclaims if time)
  • CONCLUSION – if there is time finish by repeating thesis and main reason(s) and explaining the limitations or implications of the argument.

 

ADVANTAGES

  1. As I see it, the Intro TRADE C approach has the advantage of making sure that they cover and explain different points of view and reach a conclusion quickly.  In my experience, it reduces the marks-penalty for running out of time.
  2. The structure forces them into forming chains of reasoning because they are arguing for their own perspective, supporting it with reasons and evidence, albeit masked behind third person phrasing i.e. “Religious Experiences like St Paul’s prove that God exists” NOT “I think that Religious experiences prove God’s existence“.
  3. Intro TRADE C also pushes more able students to evaluate at least one of the points of view they cover, demonstrating higher-level skills and reasoning for the higher levels.
  4. Putting implications or limitations of the argument into the conclusion forces them to consider the relevance of their work, and will push them towards the level 6 at A Level.

 

DISADVANTAGES

  1. Intro TRADE C is tricky to master, not least because it forces students to make up their mind on the question BEFORE they start writing.  This is no bad thing once they get used to doing it though… avoids those awful answers where it is obvious that the student hasn’t a clue what they think.
  2. Of course, there ARE more sophisticated ways to write an essays at A Level!  However, TRADEC does point students towards a more assertive essay-style, which can mean that they score highly on AO2 at the expense of AO1.  Nevertheless, this can be remedied very successfully later on with more able students.  Given A Level AO2 is 60% to AO1 40% this is a risk I am happy to take to get them started on the right track.

 

I have produced a large number of model essays for A Level, many of which use the Intro TRADE C structure.  For example, this model essay on Irenaeus has the thesis highlighted.

 

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