How to ace XAT Essay Writing

Well, once you were done with school you would have never imagined having to write an essay ever again. But here you are a few weeks away from the XAT and not exactly looking forward to writing essays on topics that vary from the political, social, ecological to the outright esoteric.

So it makes sense to start with a classification of the topics that have appeared over the years.

  • 2015: Listening is a dying art. We hardly listen. We listen only to refute or reply – SOCIAL
  • 2014: The most beautiful thing can neither be seen nor be touched not can only be felt – ESOTERIC
  • 2013: Corruption is the root cause of economic slowdown in India – POLITICAL/ECONOMIC
  • 2012: Select one of the statements and then justify the same and substantiate it with the help of relevant examples 
    • Poverty is a big menace in India. Due to its complexity and magnitude, most of the government initiatives fail
    • Poverty is a consequence of failure of government policies due to the governments not targeting the root cause – POLITICAL/ECONOMIC
  • 2011: Analyse the following argument:The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not load himself with the most unnecessary attention but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council or senate whatever and which would nowhere be so dangerous in hands of man who had folly and presumptions enough to fancy himself to exercise it POLITICAL/ECONOMIC
  • 2010: Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed — SOCIAL/ECOLOGICAL
  • 2009: Gender imbalance would lead to third world war — SOCIAL
  • 2008: The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing or riches and the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries — ECONOMIC
  • 2007: Economic growth without environmental damage – a mirage or reality — ECONOMY/ECOLOGY
  • 2006: India has one of the largest pools of talented manpower, but few innovations and patented products — ECONOMY
  • 2005: More than one billion Indians: A gigantic problem or a sea of opportunities — SOCIAL/ECONOMIC
  • 2004: Asked at the age of 83, as to which of his project he would choose as his master piece, Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect answered “The next one” — LATERAL
  • 2003: To give real service, one needs to add something cannot be bought or measured like sincerity and integrity — SOCIAL

A run through the topics will reveal that topics have broadly tended towards politics-economics-society-ecology matrix.

But the last two years have sort of broken this pattern, something possibly stemming from not wanting to repeat topics and not get to too specific as well. This year has already thrown up enough general issues such as the intolerance debate and climate change summit. We need not be surprised if one of the two turn up. A topic on social media might not also be totally ruled out.

In this post we will look at the way one should go about writing an essay irrespective of the topic at hand.

Why are they asking for an essay?

It always makes sense to try to tease out the underlying causes/motives/motivations behind things since it will help us approach them with the right attitude.

As you know the test is common for both HR as well BM. With this being the case it is imperative that they test both your communication skills both written & oral . The former is tested through the Essay Writing while the latter through the GD & PI.

Most importantly they want to select candidates who know and have in them something beyond  VA,RC, QA, DI & LR.

The structure of an essay

It goes without saying that the XAT Essay or the WAT is not about piling your thoughts on to the blank sheet in front of you.

You are required to  organise, present and cogently articulate your views.

So every essay needs to have a structure, one that you are very familiar with — Introduction, Argument 1, Argument 2, Conclusion.

Opening Overtures rather than an Introduction

Let get the word introduction out of the way since it results in 2 or 3 sentences that just blindly restate the topic and perform a purely ornamental function.

Most topics that you will encounter will be based on or will be a reflection on specific events that have transpired  in the past year or large scale trends in society.

Your first paragraph should be 2-3 sentences long and should offer your opening remarks on the topic.

Do not waste time your time and that of the evaluator’s by

  • restating the topic — they gave it you, so they would know it
  • writing stock phrases such as — in this essay I will argue that etc.
  • trying to come up with a quote

 

Let us take a few topics from the list above and try to understand what I mean by Opening Overtures

Listening is a dying art. We hardly listen. We listen only to refute or reply.

Nothing could describe our times now better — noise has replaced debate, name-calling has replaced understanding and going by the ratings of news channels, the biggest bully wins.

 

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed.

The topic is particularly relevant in light of the two movements that have captured a lot of our attention — sustainable development and colonising Mars.

The most beautiful thing can neither be seen nor be touched but can only be felt.

If sublime beauty cannot be perceived through the senses or rather if what is perceived through the senses is not the most beautiful then what we discussing is the very nature of beauty — is it something that moves our senses or is it something that moves our spirit?

As you can see from the snippets above, you can

  • agree with the topic, as in the first one
  • connect it to the current events or trends
  • examine the statement

 

Unless you have a very strong opinion about a topic and can substantiate it do not take sides in the introduction.

It is similar to making opening remarks in a debate (the proper formal ones not the Times Now ones). Even if you have strong views you are not supposed to front load them, just provide the context for expressing them later.

Build an argument using examples

One of the reasons essay writing becomes a tough proposition is because aspirants try to focus too much on the topic in isolation alone without evaluating it in a real-life context.

You cannot write an essay without using the right examples to substantiate your arguments.

You do not need to litter it with facts but you have to draw on the world around you to make your point. Otherwise you will find yourself repeating the same points.

Separate arguments into paragraphs

Given the time constraints you cannot make more than 2-3 main arguments in your essay, even two well-argued positions will suffice. This portion will form the crux of your essay so you have to

  • present each argument in a separate paragraph or paragraphs; the people evaluating your essays can read longish paragraphs so you do not really split an argument into multiple paragraphs but if you feel the need to, you can do it.
  • add minor but related arguments in the same paragraph if necessary or move it into a different paragraph; whatever makes for better organization.

Let us take one of the topics above and see how arguments should be constructed.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed.

The topic is particularly relevant in light of the two movements that have captured a lot of our attention — sustainable development and colonising Mars.

While few decades ago, development in itself was a goal worth pursuing, today the word is usually prefaced with the word sustainable. This in itself is an explicit recognition that the bounty of the Earth is not infinite and that our actions are excessive enough to endanger the planet. A new mining project might add to the GDP and provide jobs for a few but it also removes the forest cover, adding to adverse consequences of climate change.

Development brings about rising incomes and rising incomes make people move from needs to wants and wants to greed. From Roti, Kapda & Makaan we move to making choices that deplete the planet such as  choosing electrical appliances that consume more power (fans to ACs) to polluting vehicles.

The responses to the realisation that our way of life is endangering the planet have taken two paths. One is the move towards putting the environment in the forefront of policy-making. Recent examples include, the Delhi government’s curb on diesel vehicles, the climate-change summit and the usage carbon credits. Other related but niche movements include the embracing of a more minimal lifestyle, growing and eating seasonal and organic food and rejection of GM seeds which focus on greater yields than normally possible. Some firms such as Tesla Motors are trying to change the face of the automobile industry by making electric cars a viable alternative to regular cars.

The second movement is towards exploring life on other planets, most notably Mars. Firms like Space X and Mars One are trying to be the first ones to profit from colonising Mars. The significance of this movement is also reflected in popular culture such as the movie Interstellar that raises pertinent questions about our role on this planet — are we supposed to be caretakers of the planet for the generations that will succeed us or are we explorers? While the explorer theme casts the whole endeavour in a positive light, it side-steps the fact that our greed might not spare the new planet as well. It is interesting to note though that Elon Musk is pioneering efforts in both directions — electric cars and colonising Mars.

 

Closing remarks not conclusion

One of the things about Essay Writing is that you can look at it as a way to explore a topic. It is about looking at the topic form all sides.There need not be correct answer to a topic.

So you need not make your conclusion emphatic and take a position. You can conclude by

  • presenting a direction that to be taken
  • spelling out the key issues that need to be tackled going ahead or
  • stating your position

Let us continue the previous topic to look at one of the ways of concluding.

Perhaps this is where the views of Mahatma Gandhi about the futility of model based on purely on excessive consumption becomes most relevant. We don’t need more man-made natural disasters to alert us about the impact of our choices. We will be better off trying to first move from greed to wants and from wants to needs.

 

Use the rough sheet to map out your essay

One of the things that you should without fail is to map out your essay on a rough paper before you start.

Do not start writing straight away. You will end up starting one essay and ending with another.

Think about it, can you write a full-fledged essay after thinking about it for a 1 minute?

In the first 30-60 seconds you will only come up with one or two of the most obvious points that everyone else would have come up with.

So this is what you should do for the first 5 minutes

  • roughly compose the introduction in your head
  • jot down the main arguments on a the question paper or rough sheet
  • start composing the body of each paragraph in your head, look for examples; jot them down on the rough paper next to the arguments

Start writing only after this exercise. It is not different from what we used to discuss during our CAT sessions do not jump to put pen on paper!

Write at least 3 essays before the XAT

Writing an essay is one thing but writing in a straight line is an entirely different thing! Especially for working professionals who would have swapped the writing pad for the keyboard.

So before the 4-Jan ensure that you write at least three essays using the process outlined in this post.

The importance of reading

By now you would have realised that Essay Writing on XAT like the WAT & GD  tests how well-read you are and how aware you are about the world around you.

There is no other shortcut to becoming well-read except reading! The previous post on WAT-GD-PI  gives you a list of websites that you should follow.

In the sample essay I had mentioned a firm called Mars One — it intends to send a team of explorers to Mars who will never return, those who have applied to be part of the team are going in fully aware that they are not going to come back and guess what, a young Indian is part of that team.

Read this article about him and the endeavours around finding life on Mars — Home of the brave

Remember, the more you read the greater the probability that something you have read turns up!

 

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