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Critical Essays: The ART of the conclusion

Watch this to perfect the art of the conclusion in Higher English (keep your seatbelt fastened until the light comes on)

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After a long and tiring journey on an aeroplane, nothing brings you back down to earth like a bumpy landing. You brace yourself against the seat in front, listen to the sound of the wheels screeching along the tarmac and sneak a glimpse at the flight attendants, just to check they don’t look too worried. Confidence in the pilot drops after a landing like that.

Compare that to a smooth landing – you barely notice the wheels touching down, you sit comfortably, and perhaps the pilot even gets a round of applause. Confidence in that pilot is pretty high. I certainly know which plane I would rather be on!

A smooth landing, that leaves a positive final impression, is exactly what you are aiming for when you are writing the conclusion to an English Critical Essay.

So, seatbelts on and doors to manual.

This is thinkfour.

Conclusions are the final thing you think about in your critical essay and for those students aiming for a top A grade, a sophisticated and thoughtful conclusion is a must.

I think that there are three main things you need to do in a conclusion and you can use ART, A-R-T to remember them:

A - Address the question
R - Restate your argument
T – Think about theme

Just like you did in your introduction, you need to make sure you clearly address the question, using the key words.
Next, you need to briefly restate your argument. What have you been arguing in your essay? What conclusions have you come to? No need to make this more than a sentence or two, and you should not be adding any new ideas to your argument at this point.

Most importantly, now is the time to think about the theme of your chosen text. This is when you can reflect on the role of the theme in relation to the question and you have the opportunity to make far-reaching comments about what you think the writer is really trying to say to us. This is how you create a personal response.
40sec -1min section

Let’s have a look at this in more detail. Here is an essay question for prose fiction:

Choose a novel or short story in which there is a complex character for whom the reader has some sympathy.

With reference to appropriate techniques, explain the nature of the complexity and discuss how your response to this character adds to your appreciation of the text as a whole.

The novel I am going to use is “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald.

When you write a conclusion, you will have already unpicked that question and come up with your argument so you have done a lot of the hard work already.

Just like in our introduction, we need to use the keys words of the question to show the examiner that we are addressing it. So I need to make sure I use the key words:
“complex character”
“some sympathy”

Next, I need to restate my argument.

So, we have some sympathy for Gatsby because he is motivated by love, he doesn’t win Daisy back and ultimately dies to protect her. But
his naivety and obsessive drive also make him an unappealing and unlikeable character, at times. This is what makes him a complex character.

Finally, we want to think about and reflect on the theme.
What role has the theme played in relation to the question?

I could talk about how the reader feels some sympathy for Gatsby because he fails to achieve his dream and then link this to theme – the American Dream.

That’s a reflection on the role of the theme within the novel. Can we take that even further?

Now, I could talk about the role of the theme more generally and would say that if Gatsby is actually a symbol of the American Dream, Fitzgerald is perhaps commenting on the failure or corruption or even death of this concept. I could then go on make a comment about the American Dream as we see it today. Looking at the theme in a wider context is a great way to end.

The next challenge is leaving enough time to write a thoughtful conclusion, along with everything else you have to think about. You need at least five minutes so make sure you leave enough time.
Writing a far-reaching conclusion requires skill and perfect-timing, just like that pilot trying to achieve the smoothest of landings.

You want your examiner to feel like the passengers. They should walk away feeling like that they have been in safe hands, with a pilot who was skilled and knowledgeable, and who created an enjoyable journey, all rounded off with a perfect touch down.

Who knows, you might even get a round of applause! Good luck.

This was thinkfour, thanks for watching.

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