Check out the full essay by Donttouchmypad on the following question below:

QUESTION 51 - A train journey

You are about to embark on a train journey. Write about an event that happens while on the journey.

Use the image below as stimulus material.


Train by Donttouchmypad

It was 1945, and the war in Europe was finally coming to an end. Joe was a Jew who was clutching his papers as he boarded a train out of the ghetto in Auschwitz. It was one of the many supply trains for the Nazis that had been turned against them into trains to transport Jews out of ghettos. Joe had managed to survive alongside many others—POWs and Jews alike. The image of his father's shop being ransacked played in his head yet again.

The Star of David was a crime that Joe had been subjected to since birth, but now he was proud of being a Jew. The führer, who had shot himself, had sent his hounds to shackle every Jew but now he was liberated. The ashes of his vestigial hope had been ignited. He looked out at the countryside that had been reduced to rubble. However, happiness lingered in the air as Joe could see people celebrating the end of the war.

A weight that had laden Joe was finally lifted off him; Joe felt as if he could die then and there. He didn't feel like a clichéd loser when he had laid in the command of the Nazis. He thanked the train as it had liberated him, leaving him on a happy note. The dark clouds—a foreboding omen—were gone now.

The Nazi's iron grip had been loosened, and Joe didn't have to be in imminent danger of having their boot-heel brought down on him. Their foursquare frames and massive bodies did not lie in the worst of his nightmares. The train had saved Joe's life and saved many others as well. Joe loved the train.

Word count: 281

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submitted about 1 month ago by Exam Success Team - Lucia

Hi! Good effort with your piece – you have taken the time to do your essay and it’s a step towards improving your writing.

You did a good job at mentioning historical details that helped create the setting and made your piece sound more realistic. Also, your story setting was a thoughtful way to relate to the prompt!

Here’s feedback that focuses on around 3 areas in Expert Writing Insights to help you improve your piece:

  1. Storyline selection - main event

Story should have a main event that sticks out. There should only be 1 main event in a story, not 2 or more that compete for attention. It’s important to come up with a storyline (in planning) as your expression should support your storyline, not the other way around. The main event should be something of interest - like some kind of conflict. A piece without this would likely score low marks.

In your piece:

You’ve established a really nice historical setting in relation to the prompt - however, your piece lacked a clear main event, as we can see in an outline of the plot:

P1: The war has come to an end. Joe, a Jew, gets on a train out of Auschwitz. He remembers his father’s shop being ransacked. P2: Historical background is provided - Hitler has shot himself, and now Joe is free. Joe looks out the window at ashes and people celebrating. P3: A weight has been lifted. Joe thanks the train. P4: Joe is free from the iron grip of the Nazis. The train has saved his life, and the lives of countless others.

As you can see, there’s no main conflict or event in your piece. Two or three paragraphs are dedicated to historical background, or Joe reflecting on his life and thanking the train. We need a true event to center the story around!

Proposed changes:

If the most exciting thing that happens in this piece is Joe getting on the train out of Auschwitz, why not make it the main event, instead of the intro? Include an exciting scene where Joe is running to jump on the train, and you’ve got the makings of a strong main event:

P1: Joe, a Jew, makes his way through the crowded streets. The war is over and people are celebrating, but he wants to take the train out of Auschwitz before it leaves. P2: Spotting the train, Joe runs through the crowded station. P3: (MAIN EVENT) Joe realizes he is late, as the train starts to pull away. He makes a mad jump for it, hoping against all odds to make it. P4: Joe makes it on the train at the last second. He rejoices, happy to be going home.

By isolating a clear main event, we’ve made the piece simpler and stronger (and easier to grade!)

  1. Tone creation and balance

A piece that is comprised of sentences that “tell” the story generally lack of atmosphere or “feeling”. Too much description can slow down a story while too little keeps the reader from feeling like a part of the action. Story should evoke a feeling from the reader but be balance with a good mix of “showing” and “telling” sentences consistent across all paragraphs. Select from all five senses to write more vivid descriptions. Be selective in your use of description and don’t describe parts that are not important to the story e.g. don’t describe how hot or delicious your coffee is if coffee isn’t the main plot of your story. To “show” your story, select sentences that “tell” and “show” instead. For example, “we arrived at the ice cream shop and i ate the ice-cream” could be better “shown” as: “Finally, I had it in my hands. I licked my lips and then devoured each scoop.” A key giveaway is that “showing” sentences are generally longer while “telling” sentences are generally shorter.

In your piece:

Your story was almost entirely comprised of “telling,” or narration. We can see this issue in the first few paragraphs:

“It was 1945, and the war in Europe was finally coming to an end. Joe was a Jew who was clutching his papers as he boarded a train out of the ghetto in Auschwitz. It was one of the many supply trains for the Nazis that had been turned against them into trains to transport Jews out of ghettos. Joe had managed to survive alongside many others—POWs and Jews alike. The image of his father’s shop being ransacked played in his head yet again.”

“The Star of David was a crime that Joe had been subjected to since birth, but now he was proud of being a Jew. The führer, who had shot himself, had sent his hounds to shackle every Jew but now he was liberated. The ashes of his vestigial hope had been ignited. He looked out at the countryside that had been reduced to rubble. However, happiness lingered in the air as Joe could see people celebrating the end of the war.”

It read like a well-written chapter in a history book, but as a narrative essay, it’s supposed to read more like a story with individual scenes. Here, we get plenty of background information, but nothing really happens! The only action in these paragraphs is him actually getting on the train - everything else is exposition, or telling.

Proposed changes:

Now that you’ve done a good job with detail and research, make sure to divide the story into different scenes, with corresponding actions. For example, the first paragraph could be “Getting on the train.” The second could be “Riding on the train.” Divide these into scenes, cut down on the “telling,” and include more “showing” language to improve the tone:

“It was 1945, and the war in Europe was finally coming to an end. Joe smiled a bit nervously as he hurried up the steps to the station platform. Clutching the papers that revealed his identity as a Jew, as he hopped up onto the train. With a great mechanical shudder, the train began to rumble out of the ghetto in Auschwitz. As the engine chugged away, Joe reflected on all that he’d lost. The image of his father’s shop being ransacked played in his head yet again. He smiled again, but his eyes were shaded with grief as he took his seat.”

“He sat down and fingered the emblem on his coat, his eyes glistening. The Star of David was a crime that Joe had been subjected to since birth, but now he was proud of being a Jew. The führer had sent his hounds to shackle every Jew, but now Joe was liberated. Free, he reminded himself, straightening his shoulders. He looked out at the countryside that had been reduced to rubble. How could everything return to normal? He wasn’t sure it could. However, happiness lingered in the air. As the town flashed by, Joe could see people celebrating the end of the war, hugging each other and laughing. They disappeared into the distance as the train rumbled on.”

  1. Passive voice

Passive voice’ isn’t technically incorrect, and it can be used well in some places, but it is more commonly used in scientific or business writing. In storytelling it can be more engaging for the reader if you use ‘active’ voice, and it also helps with ‘showing’. For example, you have written, ‘Throughout the class, the biting of nails could be seen as each student frantically tried to finish their test in time’. The phrase ‘the biting of nails could be seen’ is passive. Instead you could say, ‘I could hear the crunching sounds of twenty students biting their nails behind me as we all worked frantically to finish our tests in time’.

In your piece:

There was a lot of passive voice in your piece, and as a result, it took away from the tone:

“It was one of the many supply trains for the Nazis that had been turned against them into trains to transport Jews out of ghettos.”

“The image of his father’s shop being ransacked played in his head yet again.”

“The Star of David was a crime that Joe had been subjected to since birth, but now he was proud of being a Jew.”

“A weight that had laden Joe was finally lifted off him; Joe felt as if he could die then and there.”

“The Nazi’s iron grip had been loosened, and Joe didn’t have to be in imminent danger of having their boot-heel brought down on him.”

Proposed changes:

Rewriting these in active voice can go a long way towards making your piece sound more dynamic (it even helps increase showing and tone creation/balance, as mentioned earlier):

“It was one of the many supply trains for the Nazis, but the soldiers had turned them into trains to transport Jews out of ghettos.”

“The image of the Nazis ransacking his father’s shop played in his head yet again.”

“Joe had borne the Star of David since birth, but now he was proud of being a Jew.”

“The weight on his shoulders lifted; Joe felt as if he could die then and there.”

“The Nazis had loosened their iron grip, and Joe didn’t have to be in imminent danger of having their boot-heel brought down on him.”

Setting these in active voice gives us strong subjects of each sentence (the soldiers-turned, the Nazis-ransacked, Joe-bore, weight-lifted, Nazis-loosened) and strengthens your piece considerably.

Now that you’ve done your essay and gotten feedback, what’s next?

Take this feedback on board and do another essay. Take about 30 minutes writing it, then about 1-2 hours to edit (editing means checking through it, changing sentences around, rewording things to make it clearer and better) it over a number of days. Remember, to make sure you’re checking your newest essay against the feedback given so that mistakes aren’t repeated.

Well done and keep on writing!

submitted about 1 month ago

Rank

Total score: 6.0 / 10

Based on this score, we consider this essay to be not competitive for the exam.

Major Weak Points


Thought Quality

Storyline selection - main event - 1.0 / 10

Story does not have one clear main event. Reader CANNOT answer the question easily "what is this story about?"

Expression

Tone creation and balance - 1.0 / 10

Piece solely tells or is solely descriptive.

Passive voice - 1.0 / 10

Passive voice is used more than 4 times.

Specific details - 2.0 / 10

Description is in specific detail 16-39% of the length of the piece.

Structure

Main event (2nd or 3rd) paragraph ordering & storyline progression - 1.0 / 10

Does not flow from previous paragraph OR flow to next paragraph well. Includes more than 1 point. OR does not include main event.




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