Here is an essay written by one of my mature students recently as homework. I have not 'doctored' it and present it because it is enjoyable to read, and also has strengths and weaknesses of composition, which perhaps other students can learn from.
"Describe a place which evokes strong memories, either pleasant or unpleasant."
'For me my strongest memories will be secondary school, which were both pleasant and unpleasant.
The school itself was a private school situated in the heart of rural Shropshire, with picturesque surroundings. The school catered for pupils from prep school to sixth form.
The first few years were very pleasant, the headmaster was respected and he was a very good history teacher. History being my favourite subject along with French. All the students respected him.
Of course, as in any school there are always problems with bullying etc. But that is not what bothered me. I hated violence and still do to this day.
There was a change in headmaster. A chap called Michael Symmonds, who, unlike his predecessor, Mr Wilson, did not know how to run a school properly. He tried to make it a military school.
He only wanted the best, second best would not do, according to him. I had a mild learning disability and did OK in certain subjects such as history and French.
This is the time when I did not feel so happy at school and wanted out. Smoking and drinking increased dramatically and this was a boarding school. It catered for boarders, overseas students as well as day pupils like myself; and people such as myself were asked to bring in stuff.
I felt lost at school. I wanted to do well but felt I was getting nowhere. I begged and begged to leave, but the headmaster kept writing letters saying how well I was doing, when I wasn't.
I have learnt more outside school than I ever did in it, but having said that, I think the good times outweighed the bad times, especially when I was being mischievous. And those are the memories that stay with me and the friends I made.'
What grade would it get?
Not an A* - but perhaps an A. I think it is worth more than a B because it has a strong theme and is well -controlled and covers a lot of ground in relatively few words. But this is my break-down:
Above all, a well-structured, complete story, with beginning, middle and end.
Each paragraph has its own topic - and the paragraph sequence unfolds smoothly from one to the next.
The specific details seize the attention and make it convincing - Shropshire, History, Michael Symmonds
Variety in the sentences - some longer, some shorter.
Opportunities for more detailed elaboration are not always followed - picturesque (how?) ... bullying (what?) ... stuff (what?). The reader is left curious to know what the writer might have had in mind.
Abbreviations like etc are best avoided in English exams; and colloquial terms should be used sparingly and deliberately, if at all, to prevent the style appearing 'lazy. Examples are: A chap ... OK ... wanted out ... stuff