When the day of judgement comes, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done.
Thomas à Kempis
The above quotation is rather melodramatic, however seriously you take your study! Nevertheless, all proportion being kept, its doom-laden message corresponds to the feeling many students experience when they come to write an essay. It's a moment they dread: they are about to put their work and knowledge on the line, and such exposure cannot be put off any longer.
I am very sympathetic to this feeling-the more so since, to our shame, teachers rarely offer any systematic and fear-allaying advice on the matter. In trying to provide some such help, I'd like to stress one important point at once:
Just as there are different stages in and kinds of note-taking, there are various types of essay, each with their own purpose and value.
In any course you will write a good many essays. (Scientists, it is true, do fewer than other disciplines; but even their essay requirements is not negligible.) It should be self-evident that they will not all be of the same kind. It would be absurd to expect to produce the same kind of essay at the beginning of a course as those which you do at the end-including the exam. I'm not just talking about a difference in quality, but of type. Obviously, if your later essays aren't better, more assured, tighter and more knowledgeable than your efforts at the beginning, then something is wrong! No: I have in mind the need to tailor your essay to what you most need it to do at that particular stage of your study-a 'horses for courses' approach if you like.
Let's specify an example and look at it in detail. Imagine you've been set your first essay of the year. You've covered the work in class and in private; you've read a good deal of material; you've made various notes; and you've allowed time for the ideas to filter through and become tolerably familiar. Now you've got to write about it.
The essential first question to ask yourself is, 'Why?', or more precisely, 'What am I doing this essay for?'