Chapter 8-1: Jamie’s Tips to Getting Higher Marks on English as a Second Language Essays

Writing > Writing Essays > Higher Marks

There are some things that students can do to improve their grade that are obvious or that they've heard of before. There are other things that students may not be aware of.

Here is list of basic things that students can do to improve their grade:

  1. Write to the minimum word count. Students are taught that the more effort they put into something, the more they will be compensated for that effort. In the case of assignments, tests, and exams that take away points for every grammar mistake made, less is better. When your teacher is grading your writing assignment, they take away points for every mistake made. The more you write, the more mistakes you will make. The trick, therefore, is to write everything that you are required to cover but, at the same time, be as concise as possible.

  2. Use short sentences. If your sentence contains more than 14 words, you’re exponentially increasing the chance that you will make an error for every word you write beyond the 14th word.

  3. Bring a dictionary and check spelling. If you are composing your paper on a computer, paste your document on different brands of word processor; for example, Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc. Each word processor looks for different things in its autocorrect feature. In other words, Microsoft Word will find things that Google Docs cannot find and vice-versa. There are other online tools that you can paste your document into that will verify your grammar. To learn more about these, enter the words “grammar checkers” in the search field at

  4. Follow the instructions--if you are asked to write a question in the past progressive, do it.

  5. Do not leave things until the last moment. It's a simple statistical fact that students that finish their assignments early receive higher grades. There are many explanations as to why this is true; however, they will not be covered here.

  6. If you are doing a writing assignment, do not hand-in a first draft. Proofread your work over and over again until you can no longer find any mistakes. If you need to, proofread 100 times. If you are allowed, have a friend proofread your work after you are done. Allow some time to pass between the time you write your essay and the time you proofread it: this could mean letting 15 minutes go by during an exam or letting 3 days go by for a homework assignment. You will discover more errors by revisiting your paper with a “fresh” pair of eyes. If you are stuck, involve someone else in your revision process. Ask a friend or seek help from your college’s resources (tutors, etc.).

Once you are ready to develop your essay writing skills to a more advanced stage, consider the following:

  1. “Coin” a phrase. Develop a new concept or idea that is unique and unheard of.

  2. Demonstrate knowledge of an opposing opinion. For example, you might write “While some people might argue that __________, I would point out that ___________.” Some instructors refer to this technique as a “counterargument.”

  3. Tackle the difficult side of an argument. In other words, choose the less obvious argument, the one where proof is not so readily available. This will mean more work for an author. In fact, if only a regular amount of effort is expended on such an endeavour, the student may actually end up with a lower mark than they would normally receive. Conversely, successfully arguing the more difficult side of an argument is a good way to achieving a very high grade on a paper.

  4. Go beyond standard research techniques. In other words, in addition to simply citing and quoting articles, texts and other media, perform your own research. Performing your own research won’t guarantee you an “A” paper, but it will improve your grade because of the extra effort that you’ve made. Even though you’ve made this extra effort, your research must still fully support your arguments and demonstrate your understanding of the issues that surround your chosen topic. Here are some examples of non-standard CEGEP and undergraduate research techniques:

    • Add quality photos, taken by you, as an appendix to the end of your paper. Incorporate, discuss, and refer to these photos as part of your essay.

    • Interview a noteworthy person. For example, pick up the phone and ask for an interview with a vice-president of a specific division in a company that is relevant to your argument. Quote salient pieces of the conversation that you had with this noteworthy person in your essay in order to strengthen your argument.

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