How to Write an ‘A’ Paper
The following discussion provides practical advice on how to raise your grade. The steps described give you the framework of a focused plan that you can develop by filling in the details relevant to your course and your own writing. These steps have helped many students not only to raise the quality of their writing but to improve their efficiency in getting that writing done.
In our discussion of what makes for an A paper, we give the following list of the baseline requirements for attaining the highest grade:
- Clear, concise writing
- Very, very few grammatical and typographical errors.
- Absolutely correct citation of other peoples’ ideas and quotes.
- An argumentative, original thesis.
- Original evidence (not just what was discussed in class) that is analyzed to support the thesis.
- Competent writing style and organization.
It follows from this list that if you’re receiving B grades on your previous papers, you’re generally doing a good job, but you’re falling short in one or more of these areas.
The Difference between A and B
One Small Step in the Alphabet, One Giant Leap for Your GPA
If you want to really go after that big A, it’s good to remember what those grades of A and B mean. Students sometimes assume (mistakenly) that A should be a default grade, or that if they routinely received A’s in high school they’re entitled to receive them in college too. But “A” is supposed to mean excellent, while “B” means good. In both cases, consider what “good” and “excellent” mean according to the standards of the school you’re attending.
Accept a couple of key facts. If you want to receive an A on your next assignment, you’ll probably need to write a much better paper than most students in the class. And if you’ve been earning mostly B’s, then you’ll need to work harder, maybe significantly harder, than you did on those earlier papers. But go for it—the payoff could be big in terms of scholarships, job offers, graduate school admissions, etc.
It helps to be methodical in pursuing a goal like this—that way you’re less likely to waste effort going down blind alleys. The steps below summarize a very efficient method for jacking up the quality of your work and the grades you receive.
- Start by revisiting the feedback your current teacher or past teachers gave you on those B papers—these comments should provide the most specific information about what you’re doing well and which areas of your writing need improvement. Look at these comments not only before you start writing the new assignment, but again as you’re revising. Compare the new to the old. Your teacher will be impressed if your current paper shows that you’ve really been attentive to her feedback and have used it to correct problems and enhance strengths. On the other hand, if you don’t show improvement, your teacher may suspect that the feedback she gave you is being ignored—and there goes your “A.”
- Next, read through the new assignment very carefully. Circle or underline the most important requirements of the new assignment, especially parts of it that your teacher’s feedback said you needed to improve in that B paper. One chief quality of an A paper is that it fulfills ALL the requirements of the assignment. Inattention to such requirements is one reason that otherwise excellent papers can receive grades of B, C, or even lower.
- If your teacher’s comments on past papers are detailed and the requirements of the new assignment are clear, then following steps 1 and 2 should give you specific ideas about how to bring that A within reach. Put some thought into how you can apply the old feedback to the new assignment.
- Sketch out an action plan or checklist based on what you learned by following the first three steps. This should take you only a few minutes, and it can really pay off in terms of both efficiency and quality. List specific goals you’re aiming to meet in order to get an A.
- Let your teacher know that you’re not satisfied with the B grades you’ve been getting, and that you’re willing to work hard to snag that elusive A. Send a copy of your checklist, and ask your teacher to suggest other ways you could develop a paper that will rise to the level of excellence. Ask questions that show your attention to feedback on previous assignments AND to all the requirements of the present assignment.
- Implement your teacher’s advice as you write the first draft and later drafts. Keep looking at the B paper feedback and compare it to your present efforts, then revise again based on what you see. Follow through on all the goals you sketched out.
- Revise, revise, revise. If you did two or three drafts of your previous papers and earned B’s, it will likely take you four or five drafts to write an A paper. Yeah, that’s a lot of work. But the process of writing that A-level paper will give you a lot of valuable knowledge about how it’s done, and this could save you time on future assignments.