Each year, students in the Foundation Year Program (FYP) must get to grips with the unique challenge that is the FYP essay. Submitted every two weeks, FYP essays often take the form of a written response to a quotation. Though the premise is straightforward, developing a response may prove more complex.
Year after year though, students rise to the challenge. In fact, after completing FYP, many students remark that their writing and the level of confidence they brought to each successive assignment improved significantly over the course of the year.
As a new cohort of FYP students puts their minds to the task, we asked some top students from last year’s class to share their tips for writing a better FYP essay.
“My top tip for writing a FYP essay is to try to narrow your focus in the early stages of writing. It’s often easier to come up with a precise and compelling argument when you’re focusing on one specific excerpt, idea, or character rather than brainstorming about the text as a whole. Once you’ve got that specific focus, looking at how that excerpt/idea/character is significant within the whole work often provides a way of looking at the text that is more interesting and far less daunting than trying to analyse the entire work at once.”
“Don’t be afraid to be ambitious with your essays! At the end of the day, the tutors are looking to see that you read and took in the text and are able to thoughtfully reflect upon it. During my time in FYP, I found that making a strong impression with your ideas and arguing them well was more important than stylistic choices or traditional essay structure. You want your essay to stand out from the crowd! It helps a lot to stick to writing on the texts towards which you feel the most passionate and personally interested.”
“My top tip for writing a FYP essay is to try to make your thesis original. Don’t shy away from writing on a topic just because it wasn’t discussed in class, or isn’t one of the main themes of the text. As long as you’re persuaded in your own argument, and believe you have enough evidence to back yourself up, go for it!”
“Have confidence in your writing. The material is daunting but, believe it or not, you DO have ideas (and some of them are really good, too!). Try not to undervalue your ideas just because they’re yours, and write about what actually interests you about the text, not what you think your tutor wants to read. Also, resist the temptation to smother your own voice—keep it formal, sure, but also keep it real. Let yourself be creative and have fun with your writing!”
“Get other people to edit your papers! Family members, professors, upper year students – anyone you trust to give you honest and respectful feedback. It can be completely terrifying to show someone something you wrote and ask them what they think, but that is what helped me more than anything else. By Sunday night I always found I had been thinking about my paper for so long I had no idea whether the point I was arguing made sense; getting a second perspective (even when I thought I didn’t need it) always made my essay better.”
“My only tip is this, that less is more.
“FYP students are enthusiastically handed down texts dense enough to spend lifetimes scholarizing over, but are then reluctantly allotted a measly 1200-1500 words (if I’m remembering correctly) through which to express their ideas about the texts in question—I found the disparity overwhelming, at least at first. I made it a priority not to lost in the sheer amount of information provided, and subsequently I spent the majority of my writing-time writing not much of anything at all, but rather trimming, taking as much fat off my rough sketches as I could, such that I was left with what seemed to me a lone, lean idea to pursue; and from there, the essay flowed relatively easily. Therefore, my advice is to be concise.”