May 28, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
There is no hard and fast rule for introductions in essays. The mark schemes don’t actually even mention the word. But mark schemes DO often divide the mark bands into levels, and to get into level 5, which is the area you need to be in or very near to have a chance of an A*, you need to write an essay with a fully justified conclusion, and part of coming to that fully justified conclusion will be setting a strong sense of direction with your intro.
But, more importantly, think about the examiner, and the importance of first impressions. A very good introduction will give that examiner confidence in you. A very good introduction will help them believe they are reading a level 5 essay. Introductions aren’t the be all and end all, but they can make a real difference.
So what makes a good introduction? What follows is what I think, as someone who has taught for 8 years, read thousands of of essays, and marked them for exam boards.
A good introduction will have four elements, two of which can be arrived at with good planning, one of which helps you do that planning, and one of which is just a quick way to get marks.
1 Definition– your intro can start with a good concise definition of an important term in the question or in the answer you are about to give. Don’t make it too long, so for instance if you are defining a monopoly don’t go into a long description of all of use characteristics of the market structure, just list a few. But a good definition gets you knowledge marks and gives the examiner confidence that you know the basics
2 Frame the question – this is just a quick explanation of what you understand that the question is asking. Doing this helps you think about the exact words of eye questions and what the examiner is looking for, which is very important again in terms of giving the examiner confidence in you. Is the question about the case for and against government intervention? Is it about the best policies for a certain situation? Is it about who should pay for something? Framing the question will help both you and the examiner.
3 Evaluation framework– thinking about this is important because it helps you work out the best way to get your evaluation marks. An evaluation framework involves setting out the criteria up you will use to evaluate each policy you are looking at, or each argument in a case for and against you might be looking at. For instance, if it is about policies to combat market failure, you might use effectiveness in reducing the market failure, cost of implementation and equity…fairness in terms of effects. If it is about comparing the effects of market structures you might use static efficiency, dynamic efficiency and economic welfare. If is about policies to deal with poverty you might look at effectiveness at reducing poverty, the cost of implementing it and the effect on incentives. This again helps you and the examiner, as you will think about how you can get evaluation marks but again show the examiner that they can have confidence that you are going to do that evaluation.
4 Signpost your conclusion– this is the element of the intro that is most controversial, as again I must point out that the mark scheme doesn’t ask for it, but I feel very strongly that it makes a real difference to you being able to reach a fully justified conclusion and give the examiner confidence that you will do so. Signposting your conclusion involves saying what your conclusion is going to say. So, the answer you are giving, with the ‘killer argument’ for that conclusion. So that could be, ‘a mixture of policies will be most effective for reducing poverty due to the prospect of government failure from each possible policy’ or ‘the case for government intervention is strongest due to the negative externalities in tenge industry should it be left to the free market’. Again, this helps you as it makes you think about the direction of your essay and the strength of your arguments. Some pupils say that they just can’t think of their conclusion until they have written the essay. If that is so, leave a two or three line space at the end of your intro and come back at the end to write in what your conclusion is, although that for me is a bit of a cop out. If you are typing, you can also add it in the end. But bear in mind a good strong plan will make both of those work arounds unnecessary.
So, that is the perfect intro. I know it seems like a lot, but you should be able to do it within 8 lines or so. It will, should you be looking for the top marks, make a big difference. The discipline of thinking about it makes a big difference too.