The role of underpreparedness in the difficulties experienced by second-language students with academic essay writing.
Using first-year, Psychology I examination essays, the role of underpreparedness in the difficulties experienced by English second-language students in academic essay writing was investigated. Essays were selected from each of four performance categories; over 70%, between 650/0 and 50%. between 45% and 35%, and below 30%. A representative sample of English first-language essays were also selected to provide important comparative analyses, in order to clearly delineate the nature of linguistic and cognitive contributions to the phenomenon of underpreparedness. The essays were subjected to three kinds of linguistic analysis. The micro-level analysis consisted of a basic error analysis, which combined a surface strategy taxonomy with a linguistic classification of errors. Second, the essays were analysed using a five-way classification model for difficulties with cohesion. The results for these micro-level analyses indicated that surface-level errors made little difference to the substance of the text (essay) and that markers were tolerant of such errors in their assessment of the essays. Consequently, these taxonomies only pointed to more fundamental linguistic or cognitive problems to explain the mark discrepancies between the different performance groups. A macro-level analysis was conducted to examine the global inter-relationships within the essays. Using a modified form of discourse analysis and a coherence scale analysis, the degree to which students initiated, developed and resolved the central themes/topics of the essay was assessed. The results of the present study suggest that second-language students present with four key features of difficulty in academic essay writing. In particular, the fonn and structure of essay writing, the development of conceptual principles, metacognitive control, and the norms of distanced writing. This study further points to three main areas where mediation and assistance could take place to facilitate underprepared, second-language students, namely developing linguistic competence, explicating the implicit set of conventions particular to academic writing, as well as developing the appropriate epistemic assumptions for university-level textual engagement.