Aug 18 2010

Tips for Getting ‘A’ Grades on School Papers

Published by at 7:46 pm under School Papers

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

This is mainly aimed at high school and college English courses, but you might find this advice helpful in other subjects as well.

1. The first paragraph should introduce what you will be arguing and what sort of evidence you’ll be using to back up your assertion. In an English class, you’re not talking about every aspect of a book, so identify your focus. Do NOT merely provide a fact (“The Great Gatsby is a 20th century American novel set in West Egg, New York”). Focus on what you’ll need to make your argument. For example, “West Egg symbolizes the American dream” and then talk about what happens there and how that demonstrates what the author is suggesting about Gatsby’s attempts to break into the upper class.

2. Summarizing the book is usually besides the point. The teacher has already read the book, so the summary probably isn’t necessary. Do talk about plot events that advance your argument, though.


3.  In most cases, teachers want you to discuss literary effects rather than your personal feelings and preferences. In 99% of cases, teachers don’t care whether you liked the book or not.  So, instead of saying something like “I thought it was annoying how sarcastic the narrator was,” talk about something the sarcasm accomplishes.  PS: The teacher already knows you don’t like the book.  Shakespearean plays didn’t make the assigned reading list because of their youth appeal.

3.1. In most cases, teachers frown upon first-person English papers. Unless you’re specifically writing a paper about yourself, like “What I Did on Summer Vacation,” I’d recommend avoiding words that refer to you, such as “I,” “me,” and “my.”  They’re usually red-flags for the author interjecting personal feelings.  Note: first-person is more acceptable when discussing how you conducted a scientific experiment because you’re not discussing your opinions but rather providing important information about your experiment.

4.  Be specific. Do NOT use all-but-meaningless words like “positive” and “negative.”  For example, instead of saying “The voice is negative,” describe one or more of the “negative” aspects you’re talking about.   For example, perhaps the voice is depressed, resigned, resentful, disappointed, condescending, contemptuous or cynical instead.  “Vivid” is another red flag that suggests the student is writing a meaningless sentence to waste space.

5.  Proofread! Read through your paper for typos at least once before turning it in.  Using a spellchecker alone is not sufficient.  A spellchecker can’t help you pick between”two” (the number), “too” (too much) and “to” (pretty much everything else).    Grammar-check is 90% worthless.

6.  Start each paragraph with a topic sentence saying what the paragraph is about.  For example, in this blog post, each paragraph starts with a tip and then the following sentences provide further details about why it matters or how to pull it off in your work.

7. Umm, read the books. Paper based on SparkNotes or a friend’s notes are frequently hilarious, but not in a good way.

Anything I missed?

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Tips for Getting ‘A’ Grades on School Papers”

  1. B. Macon 18 Aug 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Speaking of English classes, I have to take 20th Century American Fiction to graduate. (My writing courses, sci-fi class and AP English Literature credit didn’t fulfill the literature requirement).

    Good news: I’ve already read 5 out of the 6 assigned books for the class and will probably earn an A.
    Bad news: I could TA this course. Zzz…

  2. Cassandraon 19 Aug 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I have to have classes that challenge me. When they don’t, I tend to go lax on the homework–I abhor busy work!–and then end up getting a lower grade.

    I think I ended up getting an A- in my Western Classes course because I didn’t do all of the work. I didn’t mind the grade except one of my friends/classmates did even less work than me–and received worse grades on the exams and final paper–and somehow managed to get a solid A. This was almost three years ago and it still irritates me.

    Oh, and I just figured out that my dual credit math course I took in high school doesn’t count towards my requirement, so I get to go back to the maths as a senior. The only math I’ve done in the past three years is tutoring high-schoolers who work on an early middle school level. I’m not looking forward to dealing with numbers again.

    Last minute requirements really take the some of the fun out of senior year.

  3. Ragged Boyon 21 Aug 2010 at 9:11 am

    I’m going to have to take a remedial math course in my upcoming first college semester. I don’t see it as such a bad things. Sure it’s slowing me down a little, but at least by the time it’s over I’ll have the concepts down. I know Algebra I, but Algebra II is a bit of a blank spot for me.

    We had a teacher who wanted to leave the school, but couldn’t so he never taught the class. I don’t think you should commit to a teaching job if you don’t want to teach the students. He defeated the purpose of teachers.

    Anyways, Elementary Algebra here I come.

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