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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Supervisors often have different views on what constitutes a ‘good’ essay but they 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 question of how you achieved that generally becomes less important.

The essays you wrote in school or 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 Cambridge supervision essay comprises 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 deal with your ideas being challenged – the aim is not to attack your intelligence or integrity, but to have a discussion aimed at furthering your understanding. You’ll find that disagreement is usually more useful to you than a bland agreement with no further discussion.

Supervisors and examiners design essay questions to make you engage with a particular issue; they are not just an invitation to write down everything you know. Knowledge matters, of course, but it is not the sole object of the exercise. If you learn how to focus your ideas and facts now you’ll find it easier when you write your supervision essays and exam answers.

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