A common sentiment expressed by IMSA’s external visitors is, “If IMSA’s a math and science academy, its humanities departments must be bad.” But any sophomore who’s received feedback on their LE I diagnostic essay will adamantly attest the contrary.
Although seniors have already submitted their college essays, it’s never too late for some advice on surviving English and history classes at IMSA.
IMSA’s English and history classes are unique in that the bulk of your grade depends on your writing ability. You might have memorized every 18th-century poet that ever lived, or you might know the Civil War inside and out, but even if you ace all of your quizzes, the essays can destroy your grade. If you can’t write well, you generally won’t do well in IMSA’s humanities classes.
So, here are some tips on how to write that eight-page analysis of an article that was published in 2016 but sounds like it was written circa 1000 BCE.
- Cater to your audience – and by that, we mean your teacher. Figure out his or her grading style. A paper that would get an unequivocal A from one teacher might get you a C+ from another. (Believe me, I’ve been there).
- Look at commentary from your previous essays. In particular, English teachers’ comments typically have a distinctive trend – “Use more evidence,” or, “Too many quotes,” or, “Not enough argumentation.”
- Ask around. If the teacher is new to you, talk to your upperclassmen or your friends who’ve had the teacher before. Writing Center tutors are a great resource in this scenario as well, as they have tutored many students with many different English and history teachers.
- Avoid a three-point format. Adhering to a given structure and rubric might have worked well at your old school, but not at IMSA. Rather than saying, “Here is what I am going to talk about: A, B, and C,” you need to start with, “Here’s what I’m going to talk about,” and use that as a springboard. Don’t limit yourself by trying to construct a thesis statement at the very beginning of the essay. (Yes, this works well for some people, but more often than not, it just results in your entire essay being constrained).
- Just start writing. Write down everything you can think of about the topic. You might write two or three pages before you find a strong thesis statement that encapsulates everything you’ve been writing about.
- Be adaptive. If writing a thesis statement before starting the body of the essay helps you, then do that – but if you find that what you’ve written would work great for a different thesis, then go for it.
- Remember that you are arguing something. Unless you’re writing a rhetorical analysis, avoid trite statements like, “The author is trying to depict X.” Trace everything back to your main argument. After you introduce each piece of evidence – usually a quotation – the final sentence of your analysis should be, “Thus, this proves my thesis” (in more eloquent terms, of course). Err on the side of referring back to your main argument too much. The reader needs to be reminded what the purpose of the entire paper is, otherwise they will probably get bored and confused.
- Feature your interests in the essay! This helps you avoid repeating everything that was said in class, and it’s fun on top of that. This is my favorite part of the writing process: fitting my hobbies into my essays, which makes it fun to write. Plus, any unique knowledge you introduce will snag your teacher’s attention, as you’re not just repeating everything that was said in class.
- Get help. Some people simply struggle with writing, especially the style and structure that IMSA demands. The Writing Center is a great resource, or you can talk to your teachers outside of class, or even just ask your friends. (Bonus points if your friends happen to also be Writing Center tutors). Talking to someone about your ideas, using them as a sounding board, is super helpful for figuring out exactly what you’re going to write.
- This may seem superfluous, but don’t procrastinate. You don’t have to submit your essays a week in advance, but when you get the assignment, immediately jot down your initial ideas for it, and do some freewriting (writing down everything you can think of regarding the topic).
So, what are you waiting for? Go write that essay that you’ve been ignoring for the past week!