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How to write a British Politics essay

Mike McCartney

24th March 2021

With many students facing important assessments in the coming weeks, here are some top tips...

  1. Provide an introduction that shows recent awareness and also alludes to both sides of the question. It’s up to you whether you lay out a clear answer in the introduction or not - I prefer not to, and to leave this until the conclusion.
  2. Give a good spread of examples. Be recent, but don’t ignore really significant examples from the past.
  3. If the essay requires balance, try to make sure that you spend an even time on both sides.
  4. Seek to support your answer with evidence from academic theory, or reputable sources.
  5. Refer back to the question at the end of the paragraph - use the key words in the question title. (Some candidates do this at the start of the paragraph, and this works equally well.)
  6. Differentiate between the importance of factors, for example: “A really strong argument in favour of electoral reform according to campaigners is…” Remember the importance of factors on the side of the debate you don’t eventually agree with also matter.
  7. Come to a clear and definite conclusion. I think it helps if you pick out the single most important factor in support of your conclusion, especially if the debate could appear evenly balanced.
  8. The conclusion, of course, should not come as a surprise to the reader, and it should be signposted on the way.


9. (??) "How many sides?" an essay should be is a question I have had asked of me almost more than any other. Well, there is no hard and fast rule. But, having considered performance in public exams for the three main exam boards in terms of grades, candidates at the top end of the mark range tend to write about 80-100 words for each 5 minute block. So if you are advised to spend 40 minutes, I would be surprised if I awarded the equivalent of an A grade for something with less than 650 words or so. For an A* equivalent, responses might be even longer. In fact, I've just marked one that I think merits full marks, and it weighs in at just over 900. Personally, I doubt I could write that much in 40 minutes, but it does illustrate what is possible.

At this stage, whether you are in the first year of the A Level course and are looking at end of year assessments, or towards the end of the course, you should be able to produce work under your own steam and conduct a form of assessment and see how many of the criteria above that you fulfil.

I'll try to put something together as something of an exemplar on an A Level topic for a future posting, and we'll see how I get on!

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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