With my examiner hat on (it's a bit like a wizard's hat, but less fashionable), I'd say that some of the things that examiners really want to see are as follows:
- People who answer the question . This may seem blindingly obvious, but lots of students seem to write very generic answers which don't really address the question that's been set. So, avoid this by actually addressing and deconstructing the question right from the start. By this, I mean try to define what you think the question is really asking about and how you are going to deal with it. So, if the question says "Discuss the ways in which children develop their grammatical skills" you need to define what's meant by "grammatical skills" (i.e. syntax and morphology).
- Examples. Give examples. It's all very well knowing plenty of the bigger picture, but you also need to bring in examples of what children (and sometimes adults) actually say. Have examples of your own ready. Failing that, use some from the data question.
- Evaluation. Many questions are phrased with "How far..." or "To what extent...", so you should be able to see that it's not just a question of raising a flag for Chomsky, Piaget or Skinner, but to really evaluate how different theories might explain how children acquire language. And remember, just because conditioning seems to work in a way with politeness features, doesn't mean it works for everything else. Think about different elements of language and how - for example - social interaction theories are very good at explaining children's pragmatic development, but pretty poor at explaining the overgeneralisation of grammar rules.
- A clear structure. You've got to write clearly and offer a logical and developed argument. Think through your answer, use a plan and paragraph it!