Interpreting GP essay questions

Writing a GP essay is always a daunting task if you are not prepared or worse, do not know how to start. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to tackle a GP essay question.

1. Understand the question

A lot of times, students make the fatal mistake of misinterpreting the question and thus end up writing off-topic or hijacking the question i.e. changing the question. A GP essay question becomes very straightforward if you can identify its main components:

  • opinion
  • context
  • task

The opinion gives you the discussion topic. The context tells you the time frame and/or society from which your examples should come from and finally, the task tells you what you need to do.

Example 1

Unlike the Arts, such as writing or music, Mathematics lacks the capacity for creativity. How far do you agree with this statement? (2013)

In the first example, the question is only made up of two components: opinion and task. There is no context, which means that your examples can come from anywhere and any time period.

Looking at the opinion, the question is hinting at us to compare the Arts’ and Mathematics’ ability to foster creativity. You then need to decide whether to agree to a large or small extent if ‘Unlike the Arts, Mathematics lacks the capacity for creativity’. This is your task.

Example 2

How important is it for people in your society to retain a sense of tradition? (2010)

In the second example, we see all three components: opinion, context and task. Looking again at the opinion, the question wants us to discuss the importance of tradition, however the context limits us to using examples from our society only i.e. Singapore. Finally, the task wants you to decide if preserving tradition is very or not so important.

2. Plan your essay

Now that you have understood what the question wants you to do, you can proceed to plan how to write your essay. As the saying goes, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ so planning is VERY important. Planning gives your essay a clear direction. Moreover, you are less likely to deviate from the topic or suddenly get stumped in the middle wondering how on earth to continue.

You should spend a maximum of 10 minutes planning. First, brainstorm quickly for ideas, counter-arguments and relevant examples. And by quickly I mean anything that comes to mind (I usually brainstorm using a mind map but any way is fine as long as it is fast and easy for you to understand).

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Second, select the strongest points which support your stand and the weaker points belonging to your counter-argument. Doing so will help make your argument sound more convincing. Typically, the ratio is 3 strong points : 1-2 counter argument(s).

Finally, plan your paragraphs. A basic GP essay layout includes a/an:

  • Introduction
  • Body: this may consist of 3-4 paragraphs depending on how many points you want to argue
  • Conclusion

For the essay body, order your points and counter-arguments in a way that allows you to present the most convincing argument.

3. Write your essay

Once you have finished planning, start writing your essay and stick to your plan. Do not add or change anything unless it is absolutely necessary because this will eat into your time.

In summary, it only takes three steps to kick-off writing a GP essay. Pull out past year papers and try your hand at planning some of the essay questions. With practice, one should get familiar with the process in no time.

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