Currently training this batch of kids to be less topic conscious so that if they encounter a list of essay questions that ask about unfamiliar subject matter, they won't panic, talk nonsense and die. I believe that the question provides its own answer, so any question is equally do-able, given a reasonable amount of general (not topical) knowledge.
The strategy is to remove the pressure on the kid to cook up an arbitrary answer to the least scary-looking question, but instead simply work on expanding any question of choice to essay-length, thereby allowing the question to answer itself. I mean, since the question already provides its own energy, it's much more efficient to leverage an answer using that energy rather than having to generate a whole new energy from scratch to come up with an answer by ourselves. And, it's far better for the question to drive the content rather than have the content force itself upon the question -- the latter being the mindset that I'm actively battling since it's the usual way of approaching essays around here.
Have I had any success with this approach? I've had a cursory look at the latest set of essays my tutorial groups have turned in for grading. There doesn't seem to be any particular question that is a common favourite, which usually happens when the kids home in on one or two topically "safe" questions. Instead, I'm looking at a broad range of questions with different topic foci, different question types.
The randomness of distribution tells me the kids are more comfortable in choosing questions. Maybe they're taking greater risks than they have before, but the fact that they are now branching out and no longer bunching up is a sign -- they are taking their first steps towards intellectual freedom.