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.

Some encouragement and useful tips

Hi everyone

I know that for many of you starting out with Cambridge IGCSE or AS studies for the first time can be a bit of a daunting experience. I shared some tips and motivation with one of your fellow-students a while ago who was experiencing some difficulty adjusting to CIE studies, so I think you all might benefit the discussion too:


I completely understand where you are coming from regards Business Studies, the workload and wanting to really understand the subject and ultimately earn a good mark. Cambridge is, in general, quite a step up for any student in terms of the amount of work to be covered, the depth and the overall standard required. There is a great deal of writing, learning and preparation required for every subject.



Speaking from experience though, it is a standard you can achieve! Yes, it takes hard work and perseverance, as well as a lot of dedication – but again, judging from my communication with many of you, I believe you are capable of making it and really performing to your best!



Some of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves; sometimes it’s really unnecessary, and other times it keeps us on our toes. What you must avoid, however, is letting your own expectations overwhelm you. This is when things become much more difficult than they seem, and your perception (a very powerful thing!) doesn’t work in your favour. To give you an example from my own CIE studies: I never enjoyed Maths (to say the least). In my final year, I remember writing the first paper and thought it went ok…I still doubted though, and thought that I would really have to try excel in the second paper if I was to earn at least a C. That second paper started pretty badly…the first two pages seemed like such a blur and so foreign to what I had learnt! Without exaggeration, I really thought I was going to either fail or receive a mark that meant I couldn’t pass with matric exemption. I though I would repeat the subject. I mentally prepared myself for this outcome.



As it turned out, I earned a B for Maths – a pleasant surprise, needless to say! Here’s my point: yes, set the bar high and expect a lot from yourself, but don’t be too hard on yourself. My problem – and something I still work on – is not getting too ahead of myself. Planning and preparation is important, just don’t let it be in control of you and don’t get ahead of yourself. Being nervous can be a good thing and work to your advantage, but it must not affect your every day life and your enjoyment of what you do.



Now to answer some questions and concerns:



– Not to worry if you experience a lack of time for revising your notes. This is not a rule that is set in stone. It’s good if you are making use of my tips and advice, but please remember to adapt them to suit your needs – no two students are completely alike. If you can only revise a certain amount of notes, that’s fine. If on occasion you can’t manage to revise your notes, that’s also fine – if you make use of our blog and/or do activities and assignments, you are still interacting with the work.



– You won’t get all the work entirely ‘in your head’ at an early stage or in ‘one go’. Rather focus on understanding what you read and being able to answer questions about it. For the moment, you need to be able to work through each unit with understanding; you will soon see how they fit together.



– If you’re following a study schedule, you will have sufficient time to revise for the exams. That is the time period you will use to get it all ‘in your head’ and ‘cement’ your understanding in preparation for the final exams. Right now, you should be exploring all this new information you are learning about.



– There will always be some areas that students don’t enjoy. You can do some extra research on your side to make things more interesting and fun. For instance, read the newspapers (even online) or check out The Economist magazine – it’s not really as difficult to follow as you might initially think. This way, you should start seeing how the theory works in reality.



– You need to consider every unit as important…I can’t say that some are more important than others, or that some sections can be left out. What you can do, though, is use the syllabus I uploaded to the blog as a checklist. This helps to make sure you are covering everything as necessary. It’s also kind of rewarding when you can ‘tick’ off a section. It means you’re one step closer!



– Again, speaking from experience, you should expect to make mistakes. Later on, you might find yourself say, “I should’ve been doing this from the start!”. Allow yourself to make those mistakes and – most importantly – to learn from them. That’s all part of life 🙂




– Don’t be scared about misunderstanding certain concepts or parts of the work. If there’s absolutely anything you have even just a bit of doubt about, contact me as soon as you can. Make a note of it to remind yourself, and then let me know.


Keep moving on and looking forward!

How do I know if I’m covering everything that could be asked in the exams?

Hi everyone

To make sure you’re studying everything that could be asked in the exams, it’s a good idea to work with the syllabus for the exam session relevant to you.

Download the syllabus below (PDF file) and scroll to ‘curriculum content’. A list is provided of all the sections you need to cover. You can use the syllabus as a checklist – each time you learn a section, check it off on the list.


AS Level:

General tips

Since the new year brings a new start, I thought you might benefit from some points and tips on studying Business Studies this year. The following applies to both IGCSE and AS Level and is based on my experience as a Business Studies tutor and as a CIE student:
  • It is best to submit assignments regularly – as indicated in the course or according to a timetable. The sooner you submit assignments, the sooner you will receive feedback and commentary on your work. Although the assignments are ‘open-book’, you will still have to apply what you have learnt to the questions – this is an important skill to develop.
  • Please take note of the commentary and feedback provided in the marked assignments. Each assignment receives feedback applicable to the work students submit. You should then be able to apply what you have learnt from the marked assignments and be able to rectify mistakes in future assignments. The commentary will also help you in preparation for the exams.
  • Feel free to contact me as soon as you do not understand anything or need clarity on a concept or topic. Try not to wait too long before you ask for assistance – the sooner the better, as the work will be more fresh in your mind.
  • Please complete your answers to assignment questions in your own words. If you use the exact wording of your textbook or another source, your assignment will not be completely marked and you will need to redo the plagiarised sections. Although you must consult the textbook when completing assignments (you are also welcome to use other resources too), the final assignment needs to be in your own words.
  • As I mention in the introduction letters, no question is too simple or complex. As soon as you feel uncertain about anything to do with Business Studies, you are more than welcome to email me your concerns. As above, contact me sooner rather than later because time becomes more restricted the closer you approach exams and as the year proceeds.
  • If you aren’t one already, I recommend that you become a note-maker this year. Take note of all the definitions, concepts and principles as you cover them in Business Studies. Keep your notes in a separate folder or file so that you can easily refer to them at a later stage. This will also save you time during your final exam preparation, as you can revise the notes you have already compiled. Writing notes as you study is also a good way to interact with your work; only reading your textbook can lead to your mind becoming idle and “drifting” off. If you write notes, you are more likely to process what you are reading and begin to make sense of the information.
  • One quick way to check if you have understood a particular concept or topic is to try explain it in your own words. Try to simply explain something in your own words to a friend or parent – if you are able to do this without much difficulty, the chances are that you have understood what you have learnt (I personally find this works quite well).
  • To the students writing exams in May/June 2013: I recommend that you complete past papers. Although this is not compulsory at all, it may well be to your benefit to do so. The advantage of past papers is that it gives you an idea of what you can expect in the exams in terms of the format of the paper and the standard of questions you can expect, and thus what is required of you. The past papers can be marked and extensive commentary provided – please contact Bronwyn directly about this.
  • There are always opportunities around to apply what you have learnt in the “real world”. Read magazines, newspapers and online articles dealing with business matters and news. Magazines such as The Economist and Time offer interesting articles that often relate (in one way or another) to Business Studies. Also, try to watch TV and news programmes that deal with business and current affairs – many of these are not too “technical” and provide an interesting outlet for you to understand how what you are studying can be applied in reality.
  • Try to revise regularly. If you write notes (as above), I highly recommend revising them at regular intervals. For example, once a week I revised a certain amount of Business Studies notes – this does not have to be a very time-consuming activity, but it should help to keep the work “fresh” in your mind so that you can remember the basics by the time you begin final exam revision.
  • Complete the activities provided for Business Studies. These activities should also benefit in testing if you have understand the theory and if you can provide answers to relevant questions. Please email me if you need help with any of the activities or if you would like to check that you are on the right track.
  • Lastly, remember to take time out to relax and allow your mind to rest. A high standard is required at Cambridge IGCSE and AS Level; this means that hard work and dedication is important, as well as a well-rested mind that can absorb new ideas and information. Personally, I have found that setting a certain amount of time aside each day for some enjoyable activity is a great help.
I hope these tips will help you in your studies!