1) Answer the question
This is probably something you’ve heard many times – because it’s true! Look at the question: identify the key words and see how they can be interpreted. Do you agree with the wording of the question – or disagree? Even better, are there aspects you agree with, and some you don’t?
It is most certainly worth spending a considerable amount of time deciphering the question (in an exam situation at least 5 minutes) – it will save you time in the long run as you won’t have to stop half-way through and reconsider your argument.
Examiners are busy people, and terribly overworked come exam time. By the time they have waded through hundreds of essays to read yours, it’s quite likely that they will be tired and won’t spend too long trying to decipher your argument if you fail to state it clearly. In order to make their job easier (and get a better mark – a win-win situation!), the best thing to do is tell them exactly what your essay will do, and in what order:
3) The last sentence in your paragraph is key
Use the last sentence of each paragraph to summarise your point and refer it back to the question – a great way to make sure that you don’t steer too far from the essay question.