How to Write Essay Answers – Using Brainstorming


Process of Writing an Answer

So you chose to do English Literature for O/Ls. Good. Because the good things you reap out of it are numerous! Anyway, this book is designed to enhance your critical literary appreciation as well as your critical essay writing skills. I will be using model answers I wrote to illustrate certain points and to give you a better idea about how a good answer should be written.

First let’s take a look at the process of writing an answer.

1. To write an answer, first you need to understand the question. This may be obvious enough, but underlining the keywords in the question is crucial as it helps your mind focus on the question better.

The majority of students (at least those I have encountered) do not plan ahead before they begin writing the answer. This is a big mistake. It is quite similar to trying to chop a tree without sharpening the axe. When you take a few minutes to sharpen the axe, the task at hand becomes significantly easier. It is also a bit like trying to build a house without a blueprint!

For example if you forget to build the toilet, you might have to take space from the living room for that. You wouldn’t want your answer to look like a house with the bathroom in the middle of the living room, would you?

2. So, take note that the second thing you need to do is to plan your answer. For that, you start by brainstorming

Brainstorming is basically inking down everything that comes to your mind about the keywords in the question (relevant to the text it is based on of course). It may seem random and ridiculous if you are not used to it, but it is an efficient way to clear your mind, and to visually see all the points available to you on paper; this helps you to plan your essay better.

After you brainstorm, identify the key points that you can make, to support your answer. From the brainstorm you have completed, you can then select three main points and add sub points to those. I will give you an example.

Question: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a strong message against oppression.

Comment with reference to the text.

3. After I complete the above brainstorming, the next step is to make the plan.

For that, we need to first select three main points.

These points have to uphold (justify the statement) the statement that the poem is a message against oppression. To do this, I look at not only the content, but also the devices that the writer has used to emphasize themes. Now, in this poem, the poet uses contrast to shed light on the injustice that one group of people face. So, contrast is a main part of the poem. Therefore, in the answer, I think my first point is going to be on the experience of the free bird. That’s because then I have solid ground to prove how the caged bird is treated not like a bird but like something worthless in comparison to the free bird.

So! In my first point I will illustrate how the free bird enjoys all the privileges, and has strong social security.

The second and third paragraphs will show how the caged bird is treated, in comparison to the free bird.

The second paragraph could be about how the caged bird is not able to enjoy freedom – freedom to live, to fly, to dream, to just be who they are.

The third stanza could be about the result of this dehumanization of the oppressed (how they become blind in their rage and the constant constrictions that they see themselves as inferior and how their ability to dream is taken away, making them a mere shadow).

When I write down the plan on paper, it would look something like this!

 Free bird – privileges/material prosperity (fat worm), social system favours them (float downstream till the current ends). They live a charmed life, and have the freedom to dream (dares to claim the sky). Ownership (name the sky) Naming as a powerful act.

 Caged bird – stalks – no space-opportunity-wings clipped, feet tied: the social system has chained them so that they cannot see progress, they cannot move forward. Grave of dreams – dreams are not allowed, Nightmare scream – dreams have turned into worst experiences.

 Caged bird – they see themselves as inferior – anger – hardly see through – have become a shadow of themselves – potential is concealed. BUT there is hope as they sing of freedom without stopping. Repetition of the poem helps emphasize that they don’t give up, and it is fearful, possibly to the people hearing it, because it is menacing and powerful!

Probably, it would be less than what’s written above, but I have mentioned details more elaborately for your benefit (some of the above points I will write in two or three words if I have the concept in my head. When I see the plan and the words, I know the extension of it that I want to write in my answer. So the plan will be much shorter on paper).

Once I have quickly drafted a plan which contains three main points (which are arranged in such a way that it makes sense), I can start writing! Imagine how decisive and professional your introduction and writing will appear if you follow these few steps!!!

It is easy, you just need to practice it. Also remember that if you are familiar with the concepts and the lines, you will have no trouble coming up with the plan. You might even be able to skip the brainstorming, and just make the plan because you are so familiar with the poem.

But if you are not familiar with the text, you will end up spending too much time on the planning part and would not be able to complete a comprehensive answer.

Point: You need to be familiar with the text!!!

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