A level – writing in a critical style

Sumera has asked me to write a quick post about writing essays in a more analytical and precise style. Hopefully, this will help you adopt a more effective and concise essay writing style particularly when under the pressure of timed exam conditions. Here are my tips:

  • Try to analyse and/or evaluate the information that you are discussing. A quick and easy way to do this is by using adjectives such as: comprehensive, exhaustive, perceptive, thoughtful, limited, outdated, deterministic, persuasive, presumptuous, authoritative etc. For example:                                                                                                                    There is much contemporary evidence to support Neo-functionalist, Robert Bellah’s perceptive argument that the United States has “an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion”.
  • The first sentence of every paragraph should often link to the last paragraph using connectives: , such as ‘however’, ‘consequently’, ‘moreover’, ‘a contrary explanation is that’, ‘although’, ‘as a consequence’, ‘as a result’, ‘accordingly’, ‘an equally significant aspect of…’, ‘another, significant factor in…’, ‘by the same token’, ‘but we should also consider’, ‘despite these criticisms’, ‘consequently’, ‘correspondingly’, ‘conversely’, ‘despite these criticisms’, ‘evidently’, ‘importantly’, ‘notably’,  etc…
  • Link the first sentence to the question. This will immediately demonstrate that you are not merely presenting information, you are applying it. For example, if the essay was asking you to evaluate the contribution of Marxism to our understanding of the role of religion in contemporary society, you might write something like:                       It is perhaps easy to dismiss Karl Marx’s analysis of the role of religion as overly deterministic and unable to understand the complexities of a late or postmodern society such as the UK. However, Neo-Marxists offer a more relevant and all encompassing model…

A2: revision thoughts

Hi all,

I have met with Fran, Aman and Owen now and I think that the sessions have been really useful.

Please send me essays to mark and I hope that lots more of you come in and see – email the day before and then I can arrange to be taken off cover.

A few thoughts:

  • Revise fundamentalism – it can be applied to almost every topic in some way
  • Timings: 9 mark (13 mins max); 18 marks (27 mins); 33 (50 mins) – question one should easily take less than 10 minutes because you are only bullet pointing 3 points and explanations, so this will hopefully allow you a few more minutes for the 18 and/or 33 mark question.
  • Revise functionalism and write a practice essay (L1_2_Functionalism_&_Religion_Nov_15)
  • Revise age, ethnicity and participation (L1_L2_L3_groups_beliefs_1) and write a practice essay
  • Remember, for the 9 mark question, if you think that two of your points or explanations are too similar or that one is perhaps incorrect, you can write a fourth and the examiner will score the best three.
  • You should write at least 2 sides for the 18 mark question and 4 sides for the 33 mark question (depending on writing size)
  • Don’t forget to plan – give yourself 2-3 minutes for the 18 mark answer and 5 minutes for the 33 mark answer)
  • Question advice – Writing a 33 mark answerWriting 18 mark answers
  • When writing essays, try to follow this paragraph structure:

A02 Statement – make a clear point that relates directly to the question and try to make a judgement about the information you are going to present. For example:

Whilst functionalism can easily be critiqued by perspectives such as Marxism, postmodernism and feminism, there are many elements of functionalism that can be applied to many societies today.

A01 and A02 Explanation/application– explain what you mean by the statement. For example:

In particular, Malinowski’s contention that religion is particularly pertinent during ‘life crises’  is very much relevant. Many people (not just those who already practise religion) turn to religion during tragedies or challenging times  indeed the cliche, “there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole” seems to often be the case for so many people.

A02 Supporting evidence – try to support this with a few pieces of evidence and/or sociologists:

For example, Voas and Crockett contend that people are much more likely to be religious when they reach an age where they are faced with their own mortality. For Parsons, most people require a sense of meaning and purpose in their life and religion helps us understand our place in the world. Moreover,  Norris and Ingleheart posit that when faced with difficulties religion can provide a sense of security, thus this is why religiosity is much higher among societies with greater conflict and economic problems. 

A02 Contrasting evidence – now contrast this with a few pieces of evidence:

Yet, whilst it appears there is significant evidence to suggest people do turn to religion in times of insecurity, there is still is overwhelming evidence in Western societies such as the UK that religion is being replaced by other methods. For example, humanism one of a number of alternative movements  that provide many of the functions of religion without the belief in God. The first humanist UK hospital chaplain has recently been installed and therefore signals not only a slight shift towards humanism but also a movement towards secularisation. Yet it must be noted that whilst a  significant number of British people are seemingly looking for alternatives to religion (such as NAMs), according to the 2001 and 2011 census, millions seem to be content to class themselves as atheists and therefore seemingly do not ever require the functions of religion.

  • Here is a model exam answer I wrote last year after the mock:

A2 Beliefs in Society Mock Paper Model

  • Here are some marked essays with feedback:


18 mark model_science


Discursive markers

Discursive markers

 Discursive (or discourse) markers are words and phrases which, if used correctly, can add fluency to you writing and help you to link ideas and paragraphs together. They will help your response develop in a logical and structured way. Try some of the following to:

show the order of your ideas:





show the results of the point you have made:




As a result

show a shift in your argument:


Despite this




show you are coming to a conclusion:

To conclude

To summarise

To sum up

In conclusion

introduce examples:

An example of this

For instance

To illustrate this

This can be supported by

introduce a comparison or similarity:



In comparison to this

Just as