I’m supposed to write an essay, but how do I start? With the Q!!

One thing that was often forgotten when teaching in High Schools was the fact that often students when we gave them an essay question, would come back and say “I have no idea how to write an essay!!!!”

It seems that essay writing was a skill that we either didn’t teach very well, or that was on the students “forget immediately” list.

The difference is that when students are in Junior High School (Yr 7-10), essays were very few and far between. Sure we might teaching students in Year 8 how to create an extended response and Year 9 how to create a history essay on a specific dynasty, but by Year 10 it was just EXPECTED that students knew what they were doing.

So let’s start at the beginning.

An essay doesn’t have to be this MASSIVE mountain to climb. It will only become that if you aren’t sure where you are going from the get go.


This is the most important element of your essay. This tells you what you have to answer and gives some clues about how to answer it.

For an example, I have selected the AOS (Area of Study) question on Journey’s from the 2007 HSC paper. Yes! It is old. Realllllyyyyyyyy old. BUT it will give you an idea of how to work with the question.

The challenges faced on journeys cause travellers to learn more about themselves and the world around them.” Discuss this with reference to your prescribed text and at least one other text of your choosing.

Let me tell you something. I LOVE MIND MAPS. Ask any one of my past students. They love to hate em! But really, they are the most effective and efficient way to lay out your ideas on the question, before actually structuring your response.

Back to the question.

You are being asked to DISCUSS – Identify issues and provide points for and/or against.

If you just state the story about your texts, you are not discussing the elements correctly.

If you just place in some quotes in no particular order, you are not discussing.

Although it state you can provide points for and/or against. Pick one or the other. In a HSC essay you will only have 40 minutes to write. So to discuss both will take way too long if you are doing it correctly.

You need to have solid points about the question.

Find a blank bit of paper. Write down what you think the question about is asking you……. try not to re write the question in the same words.

Break it down.

The question is asking you to think about CHALLENGES that your protagonist has experienced in the text you have studied.

BACK TO MIND MAPS. Put your question in the middle. On one side write the challenges that the protagonist experiences in your PRESCRIBED (text studied at school) text. On the other write the challenges that the protagonist experiences in your RELATED (text you have selected) text.

Pick two challenges for each text.

Next to your selected two write down briefly how the challenge caused the traveller/s (persona/ protagonist/ main person) to learn more about themselves and the world around them.

Your page will begin to look REALLY messy soon. Which is good. It means you will have lots to draw upon when you write the essay.

Now you know what your question is essentially asking of you, now you need to add in a few bits and bobs that will become your discussion.


Around your challenges you want to begin to think of how language techniques have been used in the two texts you have selected. These techniques HAVE TO be related to the challenge.

Think about your basic techniques. Does the text use images and photographs? How do these demonstrate the challenge they have faced and helped them to learn more about the world around them? How about the use of dialogue? If you’re studying poetry do your poetic techniques: metaphors, similes, alliteration, repetition, symbolism etc etc etc. What exactly highlights the challenge and how the challenge has helped to 1. learn more about themselves and 2. world around them.

At this stage you are just putting down your ideas. It’s a brain dump. You will use some and discuss some. You won’t use others. This is all ok.

Next to your techniques put your examples and short quotes you have.


As stated above you won’t use ALL of the ideas in the map. But by the end of the exercise you will have “dumped” all your ideas onto the page before the writing your essay. This will help you and remind you of all the ideas you had in the first 5 minutes of seeing the question.

Did this help?? Shoot me an email! Show me your Mind Mapping skills!!

Check in next week for tips on how to write you Thesis and Introduction!!!