First, don't panic! Before you even think about what you want to write or how you want to write it, you have to read the assignment sheet clearly and carefully. The key here is to take your time. If you rush, you are much more likely to skip over a minute detail that actually has a huge impact on the essay so go slow. Secondly, make sure to have a highlighter, pen, pencil or whatever you prefer to use on hand. Mark any details that directly affect your essay. Look for the when, what, and why (chances are that the why is what you will have to figure out!)
Let's look at a quick example: For this assignment, students are required to pick one of the two novels that we read in class. Analyze a theme that we discussed in class from one of the novels. Make sure to include a clear thesis as well as at least three examples to support your argument. The first draft will be due Sept.14 and the final draft will be due Sept.21.
It is important to keep in mind that assignment sheets vary by class. You will most likely receive more background information and perhaps even a few examples of what to write about, but it all depends on the class and the teacher. The brief excerpt above allows us to practice reading the assignment sheet carefully. The when is Sept. 21, but I would strongly urge you to take advantage of drafts! Turning in a draft early shows the teacher that you take his or her class seriously and want to do well. Also, you will get feedback on what to improve, which increases your chances of getting a higher grade on your final draft. Next is what, which refers to a theme from one of the novels discussed in class. This what will be your topic throughout the essay. Lastly, why are you writing this paper. In this case, the assignment asks you to both analyze and make an argument with at least three examples to support your claim. Therefore, you are ultimately writing this paper to analyze a novel and to make a claim about it. You get to figure out all the details as you write.
Keep an eye out for any dates that are listed on the assignment sheet as well as any examples regarding how to write the paper and what to write about. If anything in the assignment sheet is confusing, ask the teacher! Their job is to help you learn and being able to clearly understand what you are asked to do is a very important part of the learning process.
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