How to Pick the Perfect Essay Question

So, it’s that time again. You have to write an essay. What’s the first step (aside from weeks of procrastination)? Picking the question. Picking the perfect essay question can be hard, as even this stage of the game seems like a trick question – is there one that will secretly get me a better grade than the others, like a cult for seemingly smart people? We’ve put together a list of ways to guarantee you find the perfect essay question, regardless of the subject.

essay question

Refer to Your Notes

Basically, now is the time to look over your notes again (you do have notes, right?) and work out what kind of ballpark you want to set your essay in. Look at the topics you have the most previous knowledge about, and try and dovetail them with topics you’re at least vaguely interested in (because it’s nightmarish researching suicidally dull topics). Do this before you even take a look at the question, so you’re not subconsciously leaning towards a topic you think looks easy – this way, you’ll approach the subject knowing what your strongest suit is.

Decode the Questions

I think everyone has been caught out at least once in their academic career by a question that appeared to be one thing and then turned out to be another – a “how” instead of a “why”, the wrong European revolution, referencing only one poem instead of three. While these might seem like thunderously obvious mistakes, it’s worth taking the time to brainstorm exactly what each question means so you know how to approach each and every one if need be. Be clear about what the question is, and keep it near you when you’re writing the essay so you don’t deviate and wind up rambling on about the politics of modern Denmark in an essay about Hamlet (*picks nails nonchalantly*). Speak to your tutor if you’re in any doubt.

How Will You Write This Essay?

However deep your knowledge is or varied your notes are, you just might not be able to write the kind of essay you want – maybe because the question is worded in such a way that your area of interest is omitted, or maybe because you’re nervous about doing the subject area justice. Look at each available question and think about how you’d write an essay on that topic – which one do you think has the most potential for discussion? Do you have some really good points to make about that topic? Does your knowledge mean you could guarantee a well-researched and concise essay answering the question you’ve been given? After all, the end result is what matters, and that’s what you have to bear in mind when you pick your question.

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