Evaluate the importance of the three witches in bringing about Macbeth’s ruin.
It means looking at the directions the question provides as to what sort of essay you’re going to write.
I call these ‘command phrases’ and will go into more detail about what they mean below.
Let’s imagine you’re writing an English essay about the role and importance of the three witches in Macbeth.
You’re thinking about the different ways in which Shakespeare imagines and presents the witches, how they influence the action of the tragedy, and perhaps the extent to which we’re supposed to believe in them (stay with me – you don’t have to know a single thing about Shakespeare or Macbeth to understand this bit! Now, you’ll probably have a few good ideas on this topic – and whatever essay you write, you’ll most likely use much of the same material.
Treat your reader (whether it’s your class teacher or an external examiner) like a child who can’t do any interpretive work of their own; imagine yourself leading them through your essay by the hand, pointing out that you’ve answered the question here, and here, and here.
Now, this is all very well, I imagine you objecting, and much easier said than done. Structuring an essay that knocks a question on the head is something you can learn to do in a couple of easy steps.However, the detail of the phrasing of the question will significantly affect the way you write your essay.You would draw on similar material to address the following questions: Discuss Shakespeare’s representation of the three witches in Macbeth.It’s not actually that important how original you are, how compelling your writing is, how many ideas you get down, or how beautifully you can express yourself (though of course, all these things do have their rightful place).What you’re doing, essentially, is using a limited amount of time and knowledge to really answer a question.The second part involves identifying key words and phrases.Use forceful, persuasive language to show how the points you’ve made do answer the question.My main focus so far has been on tangential or irrelevant material – but many students lose marks even though they make great points, because they don’t quite impress how relevant those points are. It doesn’t matter how impressive, original or interesting it is.It doesn’t matter if you’re panicking, and you can’t think of any points that do answer the question. It’s a waste of time, and might actually work against you- if you put tangential material in an essay, your reader will struggle to follow the thread of your argument, and lose focus on your really good points.Each time I scroll back through what I’ve written, or planned, so far, I become steadily more convinced of its brilliance.What started off as a scribbled note in the margin, something extra to think about or to pop in if it could be made to fit the argument, sometimes comes to be backbone of a whole essay – so, when a tutor tells me my inspired paragraph about Ted Hughes’s interpretation of mythology isn’t relevant to my essay on Keats, I fail to see why. And an examiner would probably be happy not to read yet another answer that makes exactly the same points.