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How To Write: Religious Studies Essays

Philosophy and Ethics was definitely my hardest A Level and sometimes I just didn’t get why. Other people in my class all got A grades without revision and even though I’d memorised the content, I often got Bs or Cs. I found out the hard way that all that knowledge doesn’t mean much without the correct essay structure.

Until my last exam, I was guessing the structure I should follow; my teachers were insistent that there was no ‘correct’ way to write them. But, when I was comfortable with the clearer structure of English essays, I felt like Religious Studies essays were a different breed. So, while these structures are by no means the only option, they are what got me the highest marks.

A. Questions:

First you’ll need an introduction. Here, I write information on relevant philosophers. You’ll want to include their dates, writings and background information, such as their nationality. I also try to emphasise why the subject is an important issue. Since I’m a slow writer, it’s good to keep this short and just get into the main body of the essay.

Next define the key terms. Introduce the philosopher’s work and summarise it in your first paragraph. Any specific terms used must be defined. Definitions will get you marks. Because of this, I tend to use a hell of a lot of brackets so don’t be afraid to.

Topic sentences should begin your paragraphs. Something clear and unmistakable to introduce what the paragraph is about. In religion and ethics, this can be any point that’s relevant to the question. In philosophy, though, I recommend following the structure of the argument you’re discussing, describing each premise and conclusion.

Try to mirror the wording of the question at the end of each paragraph and link the contents of your paragraph to it. This will remind the examiner that your points are relevant and prevent you from going off topic.

Do not evaluate. This question is testing your knowledge of arguments, and sometimes criticisms if written in the question. As I see it, these questions let you spit out everything you know, without the hard work of balancing critics opinions. Because of this you also don’t need a conclusion besides a summarising sentence at the end of each paragraph.

B. Questions:

Once again, start with an introduction. Same as before, name your thinkers, but this time you’ll also want a sentence answering the question, then a sentence stating the opposing view.

Conclusion. Wait, what? Really? Yep! If you put your conclusion near the start, you won’t run out of time and miss out on marks, and you’ll know what you’re arguing from the start. Use your opinions, supported by 2 or 3 points which you can argue later. Refer also to the counter arguments you’ll use and most importantly use opinion phrases describing them. Are the arguments weak or strong, flexible or inflexible, archaic or modern?

The next section is your thesis. An argument. Once again you’ll want to structure your paragraphs with crystal clear topic sentences, and end them with clean question-answering sentences. I recommend those 2 or 3 points you mentioned in support of your opinion here.

Next is the anti-thesis. The counter argument. It’s a good idea to link the counter argument to the weaknesses of the thesis. So, if a thinker were to praise an argument’s flexibility in your thesis, switch it up in the anti-thesis and use another thinker who called it vague. Again, then, this should be 2 or 3 points, all of thinkers arguments, and close your paragraphs by linking back to the question with an opinion.

Lastly, write an evaluation paragraph. This is like the epic boxing match between your thesis and the anti-thesis. In the previous paragraphs, you found out who the fighters were, placed bets on the fight’s conclusion (although, this is your argument so we know it’s rigged), and then they had training montages and psyched each other out by showing their strengths and picking out weaknesses. Now is the direct confrontation. Bring the paragraphs of arguments together in some short sentences, and explain how the anti-thesis simply can’t compare to the strength of the thesis. Either, the thinker you’ve been asked to evaluate is totally right (maybe with God on their side) or completely wrecked by their weaknesses (after all some of us are just atheists). This will show why your opinion in the conclusion is right, as you pit the philosophers against each other in more detail.

Overall, you’ll see the biggest difference in your marks when you start using opinions in B Questions and spouting all you’ve memorised in A Questions. It took a long time to click with me that just saying ‘X person was disagreed with by Y person’ didn’t actually sound very evaluative. But saying an argument is ‘too weak/inflexible/archaic’ got me a load of marks.

For more information on how to write essays starting with a conclusion, you can check out this YouTube video.

For a means to memorise all my A Level information on Judaism, Philosophy and of Year 12 Ethics, you can also check out this course I made on Memrise.

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