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In Politics, the most important skill is the ability to define key concepts. By define I don’t just mean provide a dictionary definition but instead explain what a concept means in relation to the specific question. Usually, the more succinct the definition the better!
An important rule for all of your answers is to avoid being too opinionated – basically leave your own political views to one side! Be wary of using words such as ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ as these have quite strong and often misinterpreted connotations. The examiner is looking for a balanced and well thought-out answer - not a political rant!
Politics is taught and understood in the context of the current time. An examiner loves nothing more than a student who demonstrates that they understand how what they learnt applies to the everyday. If there are local elections, recent political developments, big international events happening near to the time of your exams try to pull out a few facts and stats and include them!
For Politics, there is so much information one can use to impress the examiner. Reference to key data, facts or political theory raises an answer from a level 2 to a level 3, a mark from a B to an A*. To find more information, follow key political forums on Twitter. National newspapers, BBC news and political journals such as the Economist, the Spectator and Prospect are a good place to start!
For many of the shorter questions (anything less than 10 marks), an essay plan is not required. In those questions you need to get straight to the point. However, in all longer essays it is important to plan out your answer – there is nothing worse to read than a ‘train of thought’ essay! The easiest way to do this is to identify what are your 4 main lines of argument are (4 is usually enough) before you start writing.
Both AQA and Edexcel Politics questions follow the same 5 mark, 10 mark, 25 mark model. Where many students trip up is they spend far too much time on the first section (only worth 5 marks), meaning they rush their answers for question c (worth 25 marks) and end up losing out on marks.
One of the most useful exercises I found in order to get a feel for a Politics exam was to use the model answer questions provided on exam board websites. Whilst you shouldn’t necessarily use these as a template for all of your answers they do provide you with a good overview of how to write a succinct, top-level answer. Try marking one of the essays provided and compare the mark you give to that of the examiners – the more you think like an examiner, the easier you’ll find the exam!
In a Politics exam you will never get extra marks for saying the same point twice. However, a good point in a 25 mark question is a lot more valuable than a good point in a 5 mark question (do the maths!). With that in mind it is important to read over all the questions in a paper before you start your writing. Save your good points and examples for where they are going to get you more marks!
One of the best tips for essay writing in Politics is to constantly refer back to the question. The best way to do this is to directly quote the question throughout your answer. Before you start making an argument check to make sure it actually answers the question you’ve been set.
Whilst there is no right answer to the question ‘How much should I write?’ remember it is always quality not quantity that counts! A shorter explanation of a concept is often much better, and much harder to come up with, than a longer explanation.