P is for Point
Each paragraph in the main body of your essay needs to have a point. They all need to have different ones, too! Or, a new point should expand on the ones that came before it. You don’t want to repeat yourself too much, after all.
If you make a point well the first time, saying it again isn’t going to raise your grades. In fact, it’s just a waste of time that you could have spent saying something else.
What exactly do I mean by a “point”, though? Well, it’s a small chunk of a bigger argument. All arguments and opinions are made up of these tiny little points. Think about your favourite film or book as an example. It’s rare for you to only have one reason why you love it. Your opinion is probably made up of many little reasons that all link up together to form your main opinion.
For example, I love the Skulduggery Pleasant book series. That’s my main opinion. Inside that opinion, I have plenty of little ones that help me come to that conclusion. Some of them are:
- The main character is a strong but flawed girl/woman.
- It’s action-packed.
- It’s a fantasy.
- The cast is diverse and interesting.
- The storyline is unique.
- It is an interesting blend between dark and humourous.
If I were to write an essay about the quality of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, each of those reasons would be a “point” at the beginning of a paragraph. Then, I would need to give evidence to back up what I’ve said – but we’ll come onto that part in a bit.
The same is true in your English exam. There’s never only one argument you can make about a text. Otherwise, the exam board wouldn’t have set it for you.
Table of contents
How Do You Make a Point?
So a big argument is made up of smaller ones that you should start each paragraph with. But it’s not like your essays are going to be about your opinions on the texts, right? That would be too easy! So how are you supposed to write a point about an exam-style question?
Well, there are a few things that you need to ask yourself in order to get your points:
- What is the writer saying about the theme or character in the question?
- How does the writer want their reader/audience to feel about that theme or character?
- What does the writer want their reader/audience to think of that theme or character?
- What moral message does the writer want their reader/audience to know about the theme or character?
Have you noticed something? All of these questions ask you to think about how the writer wants their reader or audience to respond to the text.
They all help you to think of great point sentences that will communicate a lot of important information to your examiner. It will help you to answer AO2 of the GCSE English language assessment objectives and both AO2 and AO3 of the English literature ones.
There is usually at least one thing to say about each of them. However, you don’t have to answer all of them. Depending on the text and question you get, you’ll have more to say about some of those questions than others. It’s up to you to pick which one to use to make your point sentence.
For example, talking about moral messages might work well for a question on An Inspector Calls. In your language exam, you’ll focus more on how the writer wants their reader to think or feel.
What Does This Look Like?
First of all, you’re going to make some notes based on the questions above. Then, you’re going to use reporting verbs to show that you understand the writer is doing these things on purpose.
If I were writing a point sentence for an essay question about the older vs younger generations of An Inspector Calls, my notes might look something like this:
|What is Priestley saying about the older vs younger generations?||That the older generation is set in their ways, while the younger generation is more willing to change.|
|How does Priestley want his audience to feel about the older vs younger generations?||Anger towards the older generations and hope towards the younger generations.|
|What does Priestley want his audience to think of the older vs younger generations?||The older generation is more superficial and wants to look good even if it does bad things. The younger generation is more willing to own up to its mistakes.|
|Is there a moral message that Priestley thinks his audience needs to know?||The older generation of rich people is the reason why working-class people are treated so badly.|
From here, you have plenty of great point sentences that you can make! Pick one of your answers to these questions and use it to write a great point sentence with reporting verbs.
Priestley suggests that the older generation is out of touch, while the younger generation is much more willing to change.
The next step is to prove it with evidence and analysis.
If you have way too much to say about that topic, you might even want to split it up more! For example, I might want to make one point sentence about how out of touch the older generation is and another about how the younger generation is willing to change.
How is it Different From Your Main Argument?
Well, on the surface, it’s about where they go. You should have one point at the start of every main-body paragraph. For your main argument, though, that should be in your introduction and conclusion. Your main argument is going to be more than one sentence long, too.
But how does your main argument look and sound different? Well, your main argument is much bigger than your point. To get your main argument, you need to add all your points together and find a way to link them all together.
Let’s look at the example from An Inspector Calls again. Here are my points:
- Priestley suggests that the older generation is out of touch, while the younger generation is much more willing to change.
- He makes the audience feel anger and frustration towards the older generation and contrasts that with a feeling of hope towards the younger generation.
- He highlights that the older generation is obsessed with image while the younger generation is willing to own up to its mistakes.
- Priesley implies that the older generation is the source of problems for the working class.
Now, I need to connect all of these points into a bigger argument. It’s like creating a story out of all of the things I’ve said. It would look something like this:
Priestley presents the younger generation as being much better than the older generation. They are more sympathetic, more open to change and less superficial. That is supposed to make the audience feel critical of the actions of people in the past and more hopeful for a better future.
You see how it’s basically putting everything you’ve said in your points together? If you’re clever, you can also make a sentence about why the writer would want to present that theme or character in that particular way. That gives you the chance to talk about historical context, which adds some extra marks.
What is a Bad Point Sentence?
Bad point sentences are the ones that forget to talk about the effect the writer wants to have on their reader/audience.
I see a lot of students starting paragraphs by talking about the devices that the writer has used. Their paragraphs look something like this:
One way that Shakespeare explores Macbeth’s ambition is through his use of adjectives.
Now, that might work for a grade 4 or 5! However, there are some problems with it if you are trying to hit the higher grades in your GCSE:
- If you don’t talk about the message or emotion straight away, you’ll probably forget to mention it at all.
- There are plenty of ways that the writer could choose to present the theme or character. Shakespeare could make ambition seem like either a good or bad thing, for example. If you’re not telling the examiner what the writer is saying about the theme or character, you’re being too vague.
- It limits your whole paragraph to talking about one device. So, there is only one example of that device, your paragraph is going to be very short!
- The writer doesn’t only use that type of device for that purpose. Shakespeare doesn’t reserve adjectives for the specific purpose of exploring Macbeth’s ambition.
- That device also isn’t the only way the writer might choose to show that purpose. Shakespeare has plenty of other ways to explore ambition.
- It can sound repetitive, childish and awkward.
Sure, you can still get high marks if you remember to add the effect on the reader/audience somewhere else. However, it’s clunky and won’t work past your GCSEs. So, don’t get into bad habits. It will make it much harder for you to get good grades.