How to Score 80+ in TSA Section 2

Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists

Section 2 presents you with the opportunity to show off your excellent writing skills. You have the chance to demonstrate that you can write clearly, coherently and concisely. Remember that you have a completely free choice over which one of the four questions to answer; it does not have to be related to the degree that you are applying for.

Read the question very carefully and make sure you answer it

You have to make sure you answer the question that you have been asked and do not veer from it when writing your essay. Referring to the key words in the question is a helpful way of doing this. Imagine you were answering the following question, for example:

– When, if ever, is forgiveness wrong?

Key words here include: “forgiveness” and more importantly, “wrong”. If you frame your response using the examiner’s own language – in other words by using words from the question – you will be more likely to stay on point throughout the essay. You will need to repeat the central theme several times during the essay so that you remind the reader. It also helps you to maintain focus.

Take a view

Although there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer to the question, it is important not to sit on the fence. You can of course explore both sides of the argument in order to provide some balance, but only do this to strengthen your own position. By showing you can understand what people with the opposite viewpoint might think, but also by showing you can rebut their points, will create a better essay.

Think, plan, write

This is essential if you are going to produce a high quality essay. Oxford tutors themselves state that candidates who carefully plan their essays are more successful. You should spend at least 5 minutes (10 maximum) thinking and planning before starting the writing phase.

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Structure your essay carefully

When you are planning your essay, you need to formulate a logical structure because this will help you plan what you are going to say at the appropriate time in the essay.

Example essay question:

– When, if ever, is forgiveness wrong?

The hook word in the above question is “wrong”. This is the word you will need to keep coming back to in order to make your case.

E.g. Forgiveness is wrong when…

Your whole argument needs to be structured around this word.

Essay structure

Your essay should include an introduction, a series of points and a conclusion. One way of structuring your essay could be:

1  Introduction
2  Define key terms (you can provide your own definitions)
3  Key point 1
4  Key point 2
5  Paragraph acknowledging what critics of your point of view may argue
6  Conclusion – restate major points and position and draw out some implications

Understand the question focus

It is extremely important that you understand exactly what the question is asking you and you need to make sure you stay focussed. Research shows that as many as 70-80% of candidates do not answer the question that they claim to answer. For example, candidates have been known to misinterpret the question, causing them to veer from the focus of the question and consequently write off-topic. This was notable with the following question:

– Should children strike to demand action on a major issue such as climate change?

Many students wrote all about the theme of climate change, not realising that this was just one example given by in the question.

Two other questions that might lead to misinterpretation are as follows:

– In our country, every citizen has one vote. A scheme is proposed which allows anybody to buy additional votes if they want to, with the proceeds being used to pay for good causes. Would this be a good scheme?

It is possible that you might focus on what good causes are and the benefits they bring to society, instead of discussing the proposed scheme which lets people who can afford it to buy extra votes and the implications that this might have.

– Should journalists only be allowed to follow their profession if licensed to do so, like medical doctors?

Here, the example of medical doctors is given and it might be easy to compare journalists with doctors, instead of thinking about the many other professionals in society who are also licensed (such as teachers, architects, engineers etc.).

Quality not quantity

Whilst there is a word limit, research has found that the highest scoring candidates often use around 550 words. Remember that there is an upper word count limit of 850 words (if using a computer) or two side of A4 (if handwriting). The emphasis should always be on quality rather than quantity. Shorter essays that are more clearly structured gain higher marks.

How to Score 80+ in TSA Section 2

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