Essay Planning – how do I do it?

Hey again! We’ve got our mock exams coming up and I’m sure that a lot of other people do. To prep for our exams, we’ve been told to work on essay plans, and so we thought we could take you on this less than riveting journey with us.

So this is an essay I got set by my teacher. The most common question we get via email is “how do I approach a exam question like this?” The way I’m going to doing it is just one possible route. There are loads and loads more, and I’m sure the other two bloggers would do this completely differently.

Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of virtue in “Othello.” You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors and ideas from your critical anthology.

What is the key word here? Obviously in an exam situation you won’t have a dictionary to hand, but I find that when I’m working at home, it’s useful to write out a definition. Here’s one for virtue. Virtue: behaviour showing high moral standards. 

So now we have a definition, we can think in detail about how this is displayed in the play. I start by asking myself a series of questions: Who displays virtue? What does virtue mean to our characters? What does virtue mean to Shakespeare? 

In an essay, you’ll probably be making three or four points, so I won’t bore you with more than one. Let’s look at Desdemona. Desdemona is seen as virtuous for preserving her virginity. In the 1600s this was a mark of a woman’s worth and purity, and while an entirely patriarchal concept, a measure of her virtue. By reserving her body for Othello alone, she conforms to the moral standards of her era, demonstrating herself as a paragon of subservience and meekness. Later in the play, we know that this image of her is deconstructed by Iago, and her virtuous image is destroyed…

Find your evidence. I’ve chosen this line from Act Four Scene Two. “Oh thou weed who art so lovely fair”. This juxtaposing phrase of Othello’s in act four scene two demonstrates the conflict between the virtuous image of Desdemona, and the corrupt one created by Iago. The imagery of the “weed” is much like the lexical choice of the garden that Shakespeare makes in Iago’s speech (Act One, Scene Three), where he ridicules virtue itself – “virtue, a fig.”

(Now I won’t lie, I spent about twenty minutes just staring at this fig line and wondering what it meant. I figured I couldn’t be writing an essay on virtue, and totally ignoring a line which literally defines it. After typing “fig symbolism” and “figs what do they mean” into google multiple times, I came up with my idea of what I thought it meant. If you have your own interpretation, please email us so I can sleep soundly at night)

In the Bible, figs grow in the garden of Eden, and are used by Adam and Eve to cover themselves when they realise their nakedness. Perhaps Iago perceives virtue as having the same use as figs, an exterior image or “convenient mask” ( EAJ Honigmann) which ultimately is no more than a disguise for sin. Alternatively, the line may be read as ironic: Iago compares virtue to something which is cursed by Jesus in the Bible, suggesting it is essentially worthless and easily destroyed, like the image of Desdemona. 

So we know that Iago doesn’t think highly of virtue. What happens when his language starts to seep into Othello’s speeches? Well, in Othello’s speech to Desdemona, we are effectively listening to Iago. While he may lambast virtue so keenly, he is also aware of its importance to the other characters. By deconstructing the image of the virtuous Desdemona, he essentially devalues her in Othello’s eyes.

So what does this teach us about virtue? It is both highly prized in a woman, and easily manipulated by a man. It is a measure of Desdemona’s worth, but as a concept it is incredibly fickle. Now is the moment to decide your opinion on what Shakespeare is trying to tell us…and that’s your first point complete.

I hope this was at least a bit useful, and that everyone isn’t getting too stressed about their exams. We’d also like to apologise for not replying to all of your comments straight away! If you’ve got a burning question, drop us an email and we’ll always make time 🙂

Maria x



Example Essay – Education and Social Class (Poems of the Decade)

Image © Artistmaterial

Here is another Poems of the Decade essay, this time on the question:

Explore the ways in which poets present the theme of education and social class in ‘Out of the Bag’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Poetry’ by Tom Leonard

Click here to download the file (PDF)

‘Poetry’ was an unseen poem – it isn’t currently available online (that I can find), but you can read other poems by Tom Leonard on his website.


Sample Essay – Nature and Freedom

ESSAY – Nature and freedom


Here is a sample essay I wrote on how the question…

Compare the methods both poets use to explore the universal theme of nature and freedom in The Furthest Distances I’ve travelled and one other poem

I decided to write about the poems ‘The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled’ and ‘History’. Feel free to use as exemplar material.

My only target was to be a little more succinct. “Comprehensive analysis with effective comparisons throughout. Also, interesting choice of 2nd poem”

By Ella

Pearson Example Essays – PROSE

Image © Bigstock

When it comes to writing essays, it can be really hard to know how to structure them because you cannot keep the style from GCSE, it’s just not complex and sophisticated enough. You may also not know how to write a great introduction or conclusion!

You may have noticed that there are a couple of A grade sample essays that we have been set by our teacher and put up on this blog to help you. But we know that not everyone is aiming for or will be able to write at A grade so Edexcel has provided a document with example essays which were awarded various grades/levels, which not enough students know about.

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Essay – The Dire Demise of Blanche Dubois

Image © Joaquim Gaspar

‘Blanche’s demise is caused by her incapability to face the harsh reality of the changing face of America’ – responds to this comment and explore William’s dramatic presentation of Blanche.

A Streetcar Named Desire tells the tale where a woman is caught in a fatal inner contradiction, which suggests that she would function in another society but not this new society of America. William’s makes it evident that the demise of Blanche Dubois was a consequence of several significant events in her life as one discovers as the play progresses; however it is her incapability to come to terms with the harsh reality of the changing face of America, which is more prominent in the pivotal years after World War II. It is this which escalates the whole tragic process and it can be argued that the males of the play, in particular Stanley Kowalski, represent New America.

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Sample Essay – Blanche (A Streetcar Named Desire)

Blanche Essay


Here is a sample essay I wrote on how the question…

‘Blanche’s demise is caused by her incapability to face the harsh reality of the changing face of America’

In light of this comment, explore Williams’ dramatic presentation of Blanche (48 marks)

If there’s anything that you personally would like or feel would benefit you, please just ask and we’ll try to do it, it helps with our revision too!