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Transkills: supporting transition to University


The essay plays various roles in your learning, developing and testing slightly different skills depending on whether it is a supervision, portfolio or exam essay. This means that you may interpret and answer the same question slightly differently depending on whether you are writing for a supervision or exam.

Supervision essays

The purpose of the supervision essay is perhaps closest to the original meaning of the word essay, related to the French essayer (to try):

  • the action or process of trying or testing
  • a trial specimen, a sample, and example; a rehearsal
  • an attempt, endeavour
  • a first tentative effort in learning or practice.

"A composition of moderate length on any particular subject, or branch of a subject; originally implying want of finish, 'an irregular undigested piece' (J.) , but now said of a composition more or less elaborate in style, though limited in range."

1665 GLANVILL ... No higher title, then that of an essay, or imperfect offer at a Subject.

(Oxford English Dictionary)

The supervision essay is a formative assessment. Its function is to aid your learning by setting you a task to explore so that you can gain more knowledge and understanding, develop your skills and get a sense of how well you are doing. You are being assessed on your ability to find and evaluate appropriate sources to inform your answer and synthesise them to produce your own ideas. To get the most out of learning from supervision essays, it may help to remember that the essay is not expected to be perfect; you will have the opportunity to develop your thinking further in the supervision.

Students' views

"It's your first word on a new subject, not your last."

"Take risks in supervision essays; experiment early on with different/unusual approaches."

"Have confidence in your own ideas and opinions - the supervision room is a safe space to experiment in."

Supervisors' view

"Addressing the question is an important part of the academic discipline, especially in exams. The key thing is to do so in an interested way. Even when dealing with a quite specific question you can still think ‘What am I finding interesting here? What interesting things do I want to say about it?' Sometimes questions will be broad and you'll feel encouraged to pursue your own path."