Good Words To Know For Essays About Education

Auspicious. Aesthetic. Eclectic. These words may sound vaguely familiar to the teen in your house. But does he know exactly what they mean?

If he's prepping for the SAT, he should. Vocabulary for the test isn't as random as you might think. While it changes for each test sitting, there are certain stalwarts that tend to show up again and again. And if your kid knows the set, his odds of scoring will improve. A lot.

Much money has been spent on teasing out the candidates. And coaching companies aren't giving it all out for free. The Princeton Review offered us 50 words from their stash of "most frequently tested".  If nothing else, it's a good start. So drop a few of these words into dinnertime conversation and hope your kid's ears are perked:

  1. abstract not concrete
  2. aesthetic having to do with the appreciation of beauty
  3. alleviate to ease a pain or a burden
  4. ambivalent simultaneously feeling opposing feelings; uncertain
  5. apathetic feeling or showing little emotion
  6. auspicious favorable; promising
  7. benevolent well-meaning; generous
  8. candor sincerity; openness
  9. cogent convincing; reasonable
  10. comprehensive broad or complete in scope or content
  11. contemporary current, modern; from the same time
  12. conviction a fixed or strong belief
  13. diligent marked by painstaking effort; hard-working
  14. dubious doubtful; of unlikely authenticity
  15. eclectic made up of a variety of sources or styles
  16. egregious conspicuously bad or offensive
  17. exculpate to free from guilt or blame
  18. florid flowery or elaborate in style
  19. gratuitous given freely; unearned; unwarranted
  20. hackneyed worn out through overuse; trite
  21. idealize to consider perfect
  22. impartial not in favor of one side or the other; unbiased
  23. imperious arrogantly domineering or overbearing
  24. inherent inborn; built-in
  25. innovative introducing something new
  26. inveterate long established; deep-rooted; habitual
  27. laudatory giving praise
  28. maverick one who resists adherence to a group
  29. mollify to calm or soothe
  30. novel strikingly new or unusual
  31. obdurate stubborn; inflexible
  32. objectivity judgment uninfluenced by emotion
  33. obstinate stubbornly adhering to an opinion
  34. ornate elaborately decorated
  35. ostentatious describing a pretentious display
  36. paramount of chief concern or importance
  37. penitent expressing remorse for one's misdeeds
  38. pervasive dispersed throughout
  39. plausible seemingly valid or acceptable; credible
  40. profound having great depth or seriousness
  41. prosaic unimaginative; dull; ordinary
  42. quandary a state of uncertainty or perplexity
  43. rancorous hateful; marked by deep-seated ill will
  44. spurious not genuine; false; counterfeit
  45. stoic indifferent to pleasure or pain; impassive
  46. superfluous extra; unnecessary
  47. tenuous having little substance or strength; unsure; weak
  48. timorous timid; fearful
  49. transitory short-lived; temporary
  50. vindicated freed from blame

As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.

Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.

“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”

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Poke holes

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.

“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”

But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.

“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?

“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”

Critique your own arguments

Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.

“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”

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Fine, use Wikipedia then

The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.

“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”

Focus your reading

Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.

Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.

You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.

“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”

There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.

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Look beyond the reading list

“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”

And finally, the introduction

The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.

“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”

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