As an English major at one of the top universities for the fine subject, I’ve cranked out my fair share of essays. Needless to say, I’ve experienced the entire gamut of essay writing and essay grading, and I am here to tell you that it can be enormously frustrating to put in those hours just to get a less-than-stellar grade on your essay. Especially when it counts for 35% of your grade.
But fear not. The fact that you didn’t get an A on your essay means that there’s always room to improve. Writing is a craft that can only be honed through observation, exposure, and practice, which you will undoubtedly get plenty of when you have to write for your GE classes, your labs, your theses… you get the point.
Your essay didn’t fall short because of your procrastinating, caffeine-fueled habits (although that certainly may factor into the end result). These are the real reasons why your essay didn’t get an A:
The Thesis Has Yet to Be Perfected
While in class, I’ve had many fellow peers comment on how they’ve never really learned how to write a proper thesis statement.
The thesis statement is the crux of your entire essay. It presents your argument and how exactly you’re going to go about proving that. As such, make sure that there is no room for confusion regarding what point you’re trying to make. Your claim should also be one that can be debated, which gives you room in your essay to address any potential counterarguments, thus making for a more sophisticated argument and paper overall.
You Didn’t Read Closely Enough
When I came to college, I was introduced to the concept of “close reading”, something wildly different from the essays of broadly overarching themes that I wrote back in high school. Close reading is essentially paying really close attention to a specific passage and dissecting it for meaning.
Do not underestimate what I mean by really close attention. Sometimes, you have to read so closely that you’re not dissecting sentences but words and syllables. I would’ve scoffed at first too, but that was before I earned an A on essay that spent 6 pages talking about the different permutations of “just” and “justice” and their implications in Paradise Lost.
There Was Way Too Much Fluff
If we were to put an analogy to an essay, I’d compare an essay to a nice t-bone steak. The organizational structure, including the thesis statement and topic sentences, is the bone, and you want to make sure that there’s plenty of meat sticking onto that bone. The meat is your analysis.
Now, what about the fat?
There should be only enough fat to accentuate the meat. Fat is what makes part of a great steak, but you don’t want to go overboard with it. Likewise, you want to focus on making your essay nice and trim while providing enough evidence and expository information to give your analysis the proper context. Each sentence of your essay should serve a purpose, and by no means should you try to fill up page space with words that don’t matter.
Ignored the Audience
This goes hand-in-hand with writing too much fluff. When writing your essay, you need to remember that your intended audience is your grader, most likely the TA leading your section for that specific class. Your TA probably knows everything about the text content-wise, so don’t waste their precious time or your precious space rehashing the plot. In fact, they’ll most likely ding you for including too much “plot summary”.
Instead, spend your time making pointed and unique observations. You don’t have to be super out-of-the-box with your ideas, but prove to your reader that you are capable of making a nuanced and logical argument.
Follow the Directions
When given your prompt, you’ll realize that there’s a small chunk of text at the beginning of the page outlining the assignment. Some of those sentences will include directions on how to format your essay and turn it in. Don’t assume that just because you’re in college, you’re suddenly all grown up and exempt from the rules. Not making sure that your essay is properly formatted and complete with header and footer or that your citations are correct is the easiest way to get points knocked off of what would normally be a compelling essay.
See Also: Why You Received “D” or “F” Grades
Your professor and graders might have over 50 essays per person to grade, so make their lives easier by just following their directions. Just do it. Please.