Writing AS Level essays (IGCSE students can pay attention too)

A general pattern with answers to (what should be treated as) essay and long answer questions is that AS Level students try to ‘compress’ their answers and provide just enough information. This usually ends up looking like one lengthy, messy paragraph that shows little skill of being able to organise thoughts in a logical way. Please avoid this – here’s how:

Essay questions generally require that you discuss (even analyse) the content of the question and whatever concepts are relevant to it. If you know your work well enough, a number of thoughts will probably come to mind quite quickly after reading the question. This is definitely a good thing, but it also means that you need to make sense of it all.

That’s why I recommend starting with a list of the main points you want to discuss in your answer. Writing up a quick list with very brief notes in point form means that you now at least have something to refer to throughout the rest of the essay. It also means your mind doesn’t have to constantly try and keep track of what you have said and haven’t said – very distracting half way through an essay!

Next, like all good essays, you need to start with an introduction in which you describe the problem or the question and how you will approach it. There are some variations here which will depend on the exact nature of your essay, but the main point is to bring the examiner to focus on what it is you will be discussing. I also highly recommend defining key points and concepts. For example, if your essay question is based on objectives, then you should explain what is meant by that term. If you need to discuss leadership styles, then consider a brief outline of them, from democratic to autocratic leaders.

Now we get to the substance of the discussion: this is where you should provide a body of paragraphs, each dealing with the main content of your essay. If you were to discuss the challenges and opportunities when switching from one method of production to another, for instance, then you would allow each challenge and each opportunity in its own paragraph; the only rule against this is where one is related to the other, in which case you may discuss them together in a single paragraph. Another example: if a question has to do with the pros and cons of market research, each pro and each con should be explored separately unless one could offset/arise with the other. Basically, each paragraph of the body should have its own topic which you discuss.

This part of your essay is, of course, the lengthiest. The number of paragraphs can vary, but as a general rule you should have at least 3 paragraphs. The total number might be more if you are dealing with quite a number of reasons/advantage/disadvantages. As for the length of each paragraph: normally, 3-5 sentences will be sufficient. This will all depend on how well you can get to the ‘heart’ of the matter – check whether what you are saying really does deal with what has been asked.

Examples are very helpful in showing the examiners that you have understood the question and the theory related to it. If you can provide a suitable, relevant example (hypothetical ones are often useful), the chances are that the he or she will be able to easily identify your abilities at this level.

Throughout the essay, please try to use business-related terminology (wording) as much as possible. Instead of saying, “they will make a lot of money”, consider “the firm could potentially earn greater profit”. Another example: “the owners could get rich” should be “shareholders might receive an increase in dividends”, and “treating the people badly” could read “unethical treatment of employees may have long-term consequences”.

Lastly, all good Business Studies essays end with a conclusion in which the main points are summed up or an evaluative comment is offered. This does not mean you have to repeat everything you have discussed, but rather that you briefly review the question and how you addressed it. Alternatively, an evaluative comment means that, for example, you briefly discuss other relevant points that need to considered before expansion. You could also evaluate by judging the usefulness of something, such as the market research a certain business uses.

An essay consisting of an introduction, paragraphs (body) and a conclusion shows the examiner your ability to order your thoughts and pay attention the important information. This is a chance to demonstrate sound logic and reasoning.

Here is a list of the questions you need to treat as essays in the assignments:

  • Assignment 1: Question 4 
  • Assignment 2: all questions. Note that questions 1 & 2 and questions 3 & 4 complement each other, i.e. question 1 relates to question 2 (they are part-questions). Offer more depth for the questions worth 12 marks
  • Assignment 3: Question 5
  • Assignment 4: all questions (as with assignment 2).
  • Assignment 5: Questions 1, 2 and 6.

AS Level Assignment 2 guidelines

Hello AS students!

Please download the attached guidelines for your 2nd Business Studies assignment. These are fairly extensive and should offer a good idea of what is expected in your answers in terms of what needs to be addressed and in what depth.

NB: the uploading of these guidelines to the blog does not mean that the second assignment is due – I understand that you may have different schedules to other students. I would recommend that you print out these guidelines and keep them at hand when you begin working on the second assignment.

Here is the link to the guidelines: AS Level Assignment 2 guidelines

All the best, and if you are on holiday at the moment – enjoy the time off!

The social enterprise – a further explanation

This post is for AS Level students only and based on some questions I received from a CL student. Please read through this in conjunction with the section on social enterprises (page 12 of your textbook).

Let’s get started: what you should try and associate with social enterprises is the ‘triple bottom line‘ – this will probably make it easier for you to remember what they are all about.

First, the triple bottom line deals with the objectives of a social enterprise:

1. Economic – yes, a social enterprise is a business and thus it must make some profit to invest in the business and reward the owners to some extent (the extent will vary depending on the particular social enterprise in question). A social enterprise is not a charity. Thus at least some profit will always be necessary and an objective.

2. Social objective – remember stakeholders? The community is an important stakeholder of businesses, and even more so for social enterprises.  Social enterprises place a high value on helping the community by providing employment  often in disadvantaged areas, e.g. townships or rural areas in SA. In short: the social enterprise should benefit those around it.

There’s also 3. the environmental objectives of the social enterprise. The environment is a part of the community (a stakeholder) and thus a social enterprise should not harm the environment. In fact, social enterprises might even have a strong focus on helping the environment, e.g. planting trees for every ‘x’ amount of products sold. You could then also describe a social enterprise as a sort of community initiative, but be careful to remember that they are indeed businesses…they must make a profit.
So what is the difference between a business doing there part for humanity and PR and a social enterprise?

PR (Public Relations) is field of study and practice on its own. Businesses often have their own PR/Corporate Communication departments, or else they outsource this function to a PR agency. The PR professional essentially deals with all the communication of the business, for example, it would deal with press releases, product launches, communication with employees etc. It is quite a broad field, but it works to promote a good image of the business/brand.

A business doing its part for humanity might make good use of PR and always be conscious of its activities and how it affects other stakeholders around it, but this does not make it an actual social enterprise. For example: Investec is a financial institution – a business. However, it does quite a bit for stakeholders. For instance, it provides bursaries to university students and sponsors sports teams. However, its day-to-day operation are very much business-oriented, i.e. profit-oriented. In making decisions, Investec considers stakeholders, but this is not the primary focus.

Social enterprises, on the other hand, go that extra mile beyond just being responsible and considering other stakeholders. They have social goals on the same level (same priority, if not more so) as their economic goals…that takes us back to the triple bottom line. The social side must be funded – that is why the economic side (profit) is necessary. In other words, you need profit, as a social enterprise, to support your social objectives. Your textbook sums it up quite well: “Social enterprises use business principles to achieve social objectives” (Stimpson & Farquharson 2010:12).

Those who start social enterprises wouldn’t be motivated by profit and say, “Wow, look at this lucrative venture I should start…I could make so much money!”. Rather, they would say, “This community could be uplifted through this business idea. We need to make some profit though to keep it running, and this is how we could do it…”

Question: Using the Internet, can you identify a social enterprise? Find one, then comment about it on this post. What makes it a social enterprise? If you can browse the website of the enterprise, mention what features indicate that it is a social enterprise.

Source:  Farquharson, A & Stimpson, P. 2010. Cambridge International AS and A Level Business Studies.  2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.