/ advice please from English teachers?

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gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
Scenario: very bright young person who is capable of writing extremely good-quality 1750 word essay in an hour, has to write essay for English Lit controlled assessment over a period of 4 hours. Said young person has been told essay should only be approx 2000 words. However, young person is contemplating writing essay of around 3000 words. A bit of googling has suggested that this may well mean marks deducted for going over length, but this dedicated (and extremely logical) young person thinks that the marks gained from the good stuff contained within the extra words are likely to exceed the marks deducted in punishment for going over length.

Young person concerned is extremely reluctant to hack good points out of essay just to fit the word limit.

But ... maybe once the 2000 word limit is reached, the teacher assessing the essay ignores the rest?
Elrond - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

It seems like the logical thing to do is to go over. We've done several CA's recently, and have been over the mark scheme and there is nothing which says you can limit the length. Some people write up to 25 pages in a 4 hour one and others only around 4 pages. I'm almost certain that there isn't a limit in the mark scheme and may well be something that the school suggests.
Andy Say - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
Young person should really try to conform to the requirements that they are presented with.
Coel Hellier - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

I'm not an English teacher, but I do mark exams, and I'd say DO WHAT YOU ARE ASKED. If it says approx 2000 words then give approx 2000 words. Students who can't follow simple instructions exasperate examiners.

Also, the student should not think they get extra credit for writing more, since concision and appropriate length is just as much a criterion for good writing as anything else. Tedious waffle way over the word limit doesn't impress. Very many writing tasks in the real world involve writing concisely and to a word limit.

If said student is "very bright" and making "good points" then tell said student to learn the art of making such points pithily.

gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Hazelnuts:
Yes, I'm not sure if it's a limit or just a suggested length.

Also, I've read someone saying that quotes aren't included when assessing word length... not sure if that's true or not. That would make quite a difference.

Advice from exam boards seems to be annoyingly vague.
Coel Hellier - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:

NB My above reply assume that there really is an "approx 2000 words" guidance. If there isn't then there's nothing wrong with 3000 words. Though the point about not waffling tediously for the sake of it does apply.
GeoffG - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:
Couldn't agree more.
I'm no English teacher but I am a teacher of many years! Follow instructions. Simple. Don't make it up to serve your cause. Nobody will be impressed. Least of all examiners.
Geoff.
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:
There's really no waffle. If there were waffle it'd be easy, just edit edit edit. The only way to get it down is to cut out perfectly good and interesting points.
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to GeoffG:
ps As it's a controlled assessment it's marked by the teacher, not an examiner.

There must be a precise rule that English teachers have to follow when the student does more words than suggested, surely? If so, someone must know what that rule is.

gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Hazelnuts:
Are you an English teacher? If so, I'll stop worrying about what everyone else is saying...!
Coel Hellier - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

If it's marked by a teacher can't you ask the teacher who will mark it?
thebrookster on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Like others, I am no English teacher, however I have a parent and a sibling who for reasons beyond my comprehension love the subject.

They both say that the hardest essays they have completed are the low word limits. My view on that is maybe there is a reason! The ability to convey a message in a short concise format is essential for many jobs, hence why they are set!

So if that is partly the case, then I can see that the examiner would simply stop marking at 2000 words. You are answering a question after all, and if you use more words then technically you have failed the question, regardless of content.

Maybe try suggesting to the young person that what is needed is the analytical ability to decide which points best suit his purpose, and therefore which to drop. A good skill to learn!!
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:
Too late, unfortunately.
Coel Hellier - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

I guess you should consult the exact wording of the guidance they've been given. (I'm presuming any such guidance would be written for anything important?)

If there is no written guidance, if it's just an off-hand vocal remark saying "about 2000 words", then I don't see how a student could be penalised for interpreting the "about" fairly liberally.
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:
Aha, apparently there is some printed guidance. Just seen it and it says 'about 2000 words'. (It says it in red, which obviously increases the precision of such guidance greatly).

I'm still no wiser, as what does 'about' mean in this context... are we rounding to the nearest 100? Or the nearest 1000?

But we still want to know, what are the penalties for writing more....? If the penalties for writing more are insignificant, then writing more seems logically a good strategy.

Does anyone know? I'm sort of after knowledge here, rather than opinion, interesting though that is, of course :o)
Coel Hellier - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

> I'm still no wiser, as what does 'about' mean in this context..

I know nothing about English but I do mark and set exams. I'd interpret that "about" as 10% lee-way. So 1800 to 2200 words is fine. I would also not object to 15% leeway (1700 to 2300 words), but would consider anything outside that as outside the rubric.

> But we still want to know, what are the penalties for writing more....?

No idea, but do you really want the marker to be in an exasperated mood and thinking the student to be rather dim as s/he marks it? If it says, clearly and in red, "about 2000 words" then I'd return to my earlier advice and say that any sensible student should obey the instruction.

(If they need practice in keeping to a limit then tell them to practice writing Japanese Haikus).
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to all:

I have finally found the answer. Hazlenuts is correct. The guidance is here:
http://store.aqa.org.uk/qual/newgcse/pdf/AQA-ENG-ALL-W-TRB-CASSI.PDF

If you look at the different units it says 'up to 2000 words' or 'up to 1600 words' etc. But in the document there is also a little paragraph that says there is no penalty for writing more words.

Tall Clare - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Still seems like a risky strategy to me. For my degree we had to write a 12,000 word dissertation. A friend thought what she had to say was all so vital that she wrote 36,000 words and couldn't possibly edit any of it. A team of us helped her to type it, as she also ended up handing it in late. She got massively marked down for it in the end, to the point where her 'guaranteed' first became a 2.1

This isn't the same situation, obviously, but as I say, it seems risky.
gingerkate - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to Tall Clare:
I have passed on your cautionary tale!

stroppygob - on 10 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate: Quantity vs quality?
anonymouse - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
It takes 50% longer to mark an essay of 3000 words than 2000 words. Despite what they might say, teachers don't get a real big kick out of marking. Making more points doesn't always help a formal argument. People often latch onto the weakest and ignore the strongest.
another_mark on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate: Young person should consider the possible down sides.

If examiner stops at 2000 words out of 3000 then the young person is going to be marked on something which is incomplete and will be missing much analysis and conclusion.

That isn't going to score them points.
ledifer on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
word limits are often set to encourage the student to master the art of writing concisely, a valuable skill to have.
Dave Kerr - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to Andy Say:
> (In reply to gingerkate)
> Young person should really try to conform to the requirements that they are presented with.

This^

Word limits are there to assess your ability to convey an idea in a fixed amount of writing.
Yrmenlaf on 11 Nov 2012 - host213-122-235-63.in-addr.btopenworld.com
In reply to gingerkate:

I'm not an English teacher, but I'd be thinking to myself "about 2000 words means around 4 sides of writing"

Who was it that said (Churchill??) "I'm sorry about the long letter: I've not had time to write a short one" I'm thinking your student, who can write nearly 2000 words in an hour has plenty of time to be concise in a 4hour exam.

Y.
Trangia - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to Coel Hellier:
> (In reply to gingerkate)
>
> I'm not an English teacher, but I do mark exams, and I'd say DO WHAT YOU ARE ASKED.
>

Wise words. This applies to any exam. I used to be an exam marker for professional exams and candidates who exceeded the parameters failed to impress.

I was talking about this to a teacher once who told me about an exam she had set as an experiment. The exam had six questions to be answered in detail.

It came with a double sided sheet of instructions. No 1 was "Please read these instructions carefully" The rest of the instructions covered the usual things about putting your name and student number at the top of every page, not starting until told and to stop writing when told, etc etc. The final instruction right at the bottom of the second page said " Having read these instructions you should ignore questions 1 and 4 and concentrate on just answering the remaining questions in the time allowed"

When the students submitted their papers she found that 80% had ignored the final instruction and attempted to answer all 6 questions.

People just don't read instructions properly.
myth - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate: again not a teacher. Bhut Missus is. She would suggest conforming to the rules, it's 2000 words for a reason. Probably to make them be consise and to write a well thought out essay. Spend the extra time planning what s/he will write rather that going over the advised limit.

Good luck
abseil on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
> Said young person has been told essay should only be approx 2000 words.

In my opinion no, "the teacher assessing the essay" cannot "ignore the rest...once the 2000 word limit is reached". That's because a firm word limit was not set, only an 'approx' 'guideline'. That's the fault of whoever set it.

Before doing any ignoring, you have to set firm rules at the start, e.g. "The maximum word length is 2000 words. All words over this limit will be ignored".

The worst [true] case I've ever seen is - a student handed in 80,000 words for an MA assignment where everyone else was writing about 3000 words. The teacher had to mark it, because no rules had been set.

Always set maximum word lengths.
gingerkate - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to myth:
Thanks. Have encouraged young person to be as strategic as possible and have pointed out that if the suggested word count is 2000, it must be possible to get full marks for 2000 well-chosen words.


gingerkate - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to abseil:
Yes, and the exam board guidelines are quite clear that there is no word limit, and no penalties for going over the suggested limit. But others are right in their suggestion that a teacher might get grumpy if given an excessively long essay to mark, and then unwittingly penalise the student.
thebrookster on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Can I suggest a compromise? From your investigations, it would appear that there is no maximum limit set in stone, simply an advisory.

For an advised limit of 2000 words, 3000 to me might be seen as "taking the piss", even though your young person has not broken the rules technically.

But you say they have valid points to make. So why not suggest to them that they need to rein in, but allow a little lee-way, say to 2500 words?

Teaches said youngster about being concise, but also how to use the rules to their own advantage. I could see a tired and grumpy examiner being rather peeved if they are faced with a 3000 word essay to mark, after completing heaven knows how many already, however 2500 is not stretching it as much, and if the student has completely valid and genuine arguments to make in relation to the question, it will not be as noticeable. (Although an extra 500 words of waffle might not go down as well, if you look at the flip side).

If the exam board are stupid enough to not put proper guidelines in place, exploit them, but don't take the piss, IMO!!
seankenny - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Descartes kicked off modern Western philosophy with a five page essay.
Hemmingway wrote a short story in six words.
Shakespeare's sonnets - some of the finest writing in the English language - are, well, sonnet length. Fourteen lines.

What exactly is your student wanting to say in 3,000 words that she can't say in 2,000?
gingerkate - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to thebrookster:
Thanks. 2500 words is as it happens, just where they've ended up, by dint of diligent pruning. That seems reasonable to me, too.

gingerkate - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to seankenny:
It's not creative writing, it's Eng Lit.
seankenny - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Personally I'd have gone for Coel's 10% extra being reasonable, 15% at the outside. If this student is as bright as you claim (and I'm not seeing it myself, from what you've written) then she'll realise that writing to length and chosing which points to include are valuable skills.
seankenny - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

I'm merely pointing out that good writing is often succinct writing, whatever the field.

How about this example:
http://www2.macleans.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/the_economist_trainee.jpg?w=300

gingerkate - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to seankenny:
LOL.

Thanks everyone, this has been very helpful (despite the fact that only about three posts were from people who knew the answer I was after).

Back to reading the Daily Mail now :o)
Dave Kerr - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
> (In reply to seankenny)
> LOL.
> (despite the fact that only about three posts were from people who knew the answer I was after).

In that case, perhaps you need to work on framing your question more accurately? ;-)



Jim Hamilton - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
> (In reply to thebrookster)
> Thanks. 2500 words is as it happens, just where they've ended up, by dint of diligent pruning. That seems reasonable to me, too.

you can lead a horse to water...!

"they've" - are the parents doing this test ?
Tall Clare - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to Dave Kerr:

Lots of replies saying 'it's 2000 words for a reason', three saying 'ignore that', these latter reinforcing the opinion the OP held when starting the thread. Guess which three she agrees with :-)

It's a little, well, arrogant, isn't it, to say 'yeah, they're the instructions, but what I have to say is so important I'm going to ignore them'?

Excessive verbosity is a bane of English life - this is a great opportunity to practice concision.
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johnj on 11 Nov 2012 - 92.41.71.193.threembb.co.uk
In reply to Tall Clare:

Yes you may be right it maybe be arrogant to take such a line, but then education should be more than authority given you a set of conditions and then you must stay within these conditions, to which some may say that isn't education what happened to free speech is learning just a set of programming values, obey authority and don't step outside the boundaries or you will be penalized.

Of course the beautiful 3000 words the young student may type could be a plie of dog doo but mother loves them, and they'll score poorly or a kindred spirit may read them and go what a star and give them a good mark.

It made me somewhat quizzical how the OP wants advice from those in the know but only the select ones, as the way I see it unless she speaks to the person marking the paper it's all interpretation and art dear darlings.....
seankenny - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to johnj:

If she's studying English Literature then the chances are she'll end up working in some kind of non-technical job in which clear, concise communication is really important. Virtually anyone can waffle on for ages. It takes real skill to write short.
johnj on 11 Nov 2012 - 92.41.71.193.threembb.co.uk
In reply to seankenny:
> (In reply to johnj)
>
It takes real skill to write short.

No it doesn't, its quite easy!
Orgsm on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

If it says about 2000 words and said person thinks 3000 is acceptable.....then they are clearly not that bright.
andy - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:
> (In reply to thebrookster)
> Thanks. 2500 words is as it happens, just where they've ended up, by dint of diligent pruning. That seems reasonable to me, too.

So have they already written the essay? And they're going to sit in a room and rewrite it?

Why?
Carolyn - on 11 Nov 2012
In reply to gingerkate:

Oh, the irony of a lengthy and verbose UKC thread entolling the virtues of concise writing......

;-)

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