Students who are planning to take EFL exams or tests such as FCE, CAE, IELTS and the TOEFL tests will love these essay writing tips and guide to how to avoid typical mistakes.
Checking these useful tips will help you to avoid common mistakes and errors in essay writing.
1. CONFUSING THE TYPES OF ESSAY QUESTIONS
Many students often forget to establish the type of their essay question; as a result they answer the wrong question.
Tip: Identify the essay type before beginning to write the essay; each essay type has a different organizational structure.
The most common EFL exam essay question types are:
5) Problem solving
6) Contrast and compare
7) Imaginary situation
8) Advantages / Disadvantages
2. MISREADING OF THE ESSAY QUESTION
Many students often misread the essay question and so lose marks.
Tip: In order not to confuse the task identify the key vocabulary in the essay question at the very beginning of the writing test.
3. FAILING TO ADDRESS THE ESSAY QUESTION IN THE INTRODUCTION
The absence of a clear answer to the essay question in the introduction is common mistake many students make in their essays.
Tip: Make sure that by the time a reader reaches the beginning of the main body of your essay, your answer to the essay question is clear to them.
4. BADLY-STRUCTURED INTRODUCTION
A short and clear introduction is the strongest beginning of an EFL essay. It is commonly 2-3 sentences long. The introduction may also include the topic statement.
The answer to the essay question should be the key message of the introduction. It commonly includes or is accompanied by the paraphrased essay question.
It is sometimes advisable to foreshadow supporting points in the introduction.
5. FAILING TO CLARIFY OBSCURE VOCABULARY IN THE ESSAY QUESTION
If there are multiple meanings of some key words in the essay question, say at the beginning which interpretation will be used in the essay.
6. CASTING DOUBT ON YOUR EXPERTISE
Avoid statements such as:
-I am not an expert in…
-I have never had this experience but…
-If I am not mistaken…
They will cast doubt on your expertise.
7. DOUBLE ARGUMENT
Avoid a double argument such as “Sometimes I think that travelling is good, and sometimes I think that travelling is bad.”
If you try to develop a double argument, you may not have sufficient time/space to answer the essay question logically and completely at the test.
8. INCLUDING SUPPORTING EXAMPLES IN THE INTRODUCTION
Do not write supporting examples in your introduction!
9. SIDETRACKING IN THE FIRST SENTENCES OF THE INTRODUCTION
Sidetracking or diverting from the topic of the essay question in the introduction is a typical mistake many students make in the first few sentences when they provide general background information or the task statement.
Tip: Do not forget to establish the topic of the essay question and stay within it.
Repeating the same ideas or restating is a typical mistake many students make in their essays. A restated idea may be found in the introduction, main body or conclusion.
Tip: Avoid restating; it fills the space of the essay, but it does not maximize the score.
In the main body develop the arguments instead of restating them by utilizing specific information, consequences and/or supporting examples.
11. MISCONCEPTION ABOUT ATTENTION-GETTERS
Some students are eager to include “hooks” or attention-getters such as statistics, facts or famous quotations in their EFL essays.
On the one hand, “hooks” can maximize scoring because they are typically written in a sophisticated language.
On the other hand, there are no requirements to include them in the essay introduction; also the time for the EFL Writing Test is limited, and it might be better to concentrate on the other aspects of your essay writing.
12. BADLY-STRUCTURED MAIN BODY
The main body of the essay should consist of 3-4 paragraphs which have the same structure: each paragraph introduces one main point and develops it.
The opening sentence of each paragraph should state your main point. Signpost them with the linking words such as:
“One reason is…,”
“Another reason is…”
Double check if the opening sentence of each main paragraph answers the question, e.g.
“Why do you agree/disagree..?”
“Why do you prefer..?”
“Why would you choose..?”.
13. BADLY-STRUCTURED MAIN PARAGRAPHS
Many mistakes in students’ essays occur due to badly-structured main paragraphs and a lack of development of the main points.
To develop the main points candidates should utilize specific information, consequences and/or supporting examples.
Follow a simple pattern – start from a general main point, go to more specific information/consequences; and go to even more specific information or supporting examples.
14. INAPPROPRIATE EXAMPLES
A good supporting example is clear and relevant to the point being made; it should not include any obscure or general information.
Typically, a supporting example should not be too long; it should not dominate the paragraph.
Misplacing the answers to sub-questions and the opposing opinion passage.
To summarize, it is advisable to place the answer to the sub-question in the paragraph preceding the conclusion. Or, in some responses, at the end of the main paragraphs in the Problem-solving essays. These answers to sub-questions should not dominate the essay.
It is not obligatory, but the opposing opinion may be discussed in Agree/Disagree and Preference essays. However, it must not be given too much space in the essay.
It is advisable to place the opposing opinion discussion in the closing paragraph of the main body.
16. SIDETRACKING PROBLEMS IN THE MAIN BODY
Diverting from the topic of the essay question is a common error in EFL essays. It results in undesirable empty sentences and brings lower marks.
Avoid sidetracking; it fills the space in the essay, but it does not maximize the score.
In the main paragraphs stay within your argument topic; develop the arguments, add consequences and supporting examples.
17. OBSCURITY PROBLEMS
Some students tend to overgeneralize their ideas, arguments and main points. It brings undesirable obscurity to the writing.
Avoid or do not leave without clarifying general ideas; do not use vague vocabulary such as something, somewhere, in many other situations, it results in many problems etc.
18. BADLY-STRUCTURED CONCLUSION
A good conclusion restates the main points; it is short and clear; it consists of 1-3 sentences. Longer conclusions often show sidetracking or restating problems.
Your conclusion can be as long as one sentence which paraphrases the answer to the essay question. However, it is advisable to build the conclusion from all the main points – the paraphrased answer to the essay questions and arguments.
Signpost your conclusion with the linking words:
Do not include any new arguments, examples or new ideas in your conclusion. It should be done in the main body.
19. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF RESTATING TECHNIQUE
Restating or repetition is one of the typical mistakes students make in the EFL essay.
However, a consistent and clear essay should include the essay question restated twice – in the introduction and in the conclusion the respond to the essay question restated once – in the conclusion.
It is advisable to restate the supporting points (arguments) in the conclusion.
In some essays it is advisable to foreshadow the supporting points in the introduction.
20. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF GENERAL AND SPECIFIC WRITING
Give general information when:
-foreshadowing the supporting points in the introduction
-restating the supporting points in the conclusion.
Give specific information when
-the essay question is too general
-answering the essay question
-developing and elaborating the arguments
-giving the supporting examples
To restate the essay question and the answer to the essay question paraphrase them by
1. utilizing synonyms
2. utilizing a different grammar structure
3. developing the sentence ( making it longer)
4. mixing the above-mentioned methods;
5. summarizing or making the sentences shorter, changing the vocabulary and structure.