skip to content

Transkills: supporting transition to University


'One thing that you will come to understand is that in History there are no right answers'

It's true that supervisors often have different views on what constitutes a 'good' essay but usually only articulate them when something isn't working in your writing. If your essay allows you to say what you want to say clearly and effectively, then the technicalities of how the effect was achieved generally become invisible.

Much of the content rests on the fact that the essays you wrote in school/college differ from University essays. One big difference is that an A-level essay is usually your last word on a subject, following teaching; a supervision essay at Cambridge is your initial thoughts on a subject that you may not even have had lectures on. This means your supervision essay is more of a work in progress or a prompt for discussion in supervisions. You will need to learn how to relax if your ideas are challenged - it is not an attack on your intelligence or integrity, but a discussion aimed at furthering your understanding. Disagreement is usually more useful to you than a bland agreement with no further discussion.

Supervisors and examiners spend a lot of energy in devising their essay and exam questions. They are designed to make you engage with a particular issue, and are not an opportunity to 'brain dump' everything you know. Knowledge matters, of course, but it is not the sole object of the exercise. Learn precision of focus now when you write your supervision essays and writing essays in the exam will become an easier task.

Use your essays as an opportunity to:

  • develop an argument (illustrated with well-chosen examples)
  • display your understanding of a subject
  • speak with your own voice, demonstrate your opinion and develop your own style