An essay exam is designed to see if a student can discuss the important
concepts covered in class.
This exam differs from an essay in that you don't have to come up with
a topic to write about; you only have to present the instructor with an
orderly essay that shows you realy know the topic you were taught, that you
understand what you read.
Preparation for an essay exam is important.
Read your text assignments when they are given.
Highlight or underline important parts of the text material.
Make marginal comments to connect material.
Studying is the best preparation.
Be a good note taker in class. Write down what the instructor and the other
class members say
Study those notes by reading through the notes entirely once.
The second time you read through the notes, underline or highlight key
Make marginal comments to link the highlighted material together.
Deal with text material in a similar manner. Study the underlined or
more marginal comments to link the text material to your notes.
These exercises with notes and text will be very important if you have an open
book test as
since you need to have your information organized and be able to use it
Get together with others to brainstorm on possible questions and answers.
Thinking of possible questions the instructor might ask will help you organize
of the material.
Think in terms of relationships of these ideas. Study your notes.
Even if the real questions are nothing like what you've considered, the
discipline of asking and
relevant questions will help carry you through the exam.
Try to give yourself an hour before the exam to review the notes, the text,
and the hypothetical questions. If
time, at least read quickly through your notes and material before the test.
Taking the test.
Read all the questions before answering any one question.
By finding out what questions you will be writing on later, you encourage your
mind to start
and remembering material that is relevant to the later
questions‑‑all fairly effortlessly.
While you are writing about one question, having looked at the others, your
is thinking ahead to the next question. Therefore, if you get stuck on one
question, you can
ahead to another; and while you are on the next question, you may think of
answers to the
Organize the questions in the order in which you want to answer them.
If you can answer most of them equally well, do the largest point value question
If one question appears easier to answer than another, do the easier ones first
you say then may help you answer the more difficult questions.
Outline your answer on scratch paper before writing the answer.
The best method is to make a list on scratch paper of the main points you can
think of at once
the question. However, since tests don't give you unlimited time, you must be
writing—in this case to know what you think on a subject or to find out
know you knew. Your purpose is to draw out/remember what you have recently put
head and make applications from this material.
If listing doesn't help, you can always brainstorm while jotting down anything that might be
after scanning your notes to select what is most relevant.
The next step is to shape the answer to meet these objectives.
To prove immediately that you know the material.
To be very clear.
To be as organized as possible.
To be as specific as possible.
Writing the answer down is the most important step.
Begin immediately with a sentence that tells the instructor what you are going to discuss. This sentence is the answer
to the question.
Next give the information.
a. Put it in a series of three to five points, stated clearly.
b. For each point give an example or two.
c. Give as many facts, examples, and quotes as you can in the time
Your instructor wants to know whether you know the material and whether
you understand it; therefore, be specific.
E. The form of your answer will depend on the question.
1. If you are
asked to "compare and contrast A and B," you would first describe A in
terms of characteristics 1, 2, and 3, and then describe B in terms of the same
2. If you are
asked to "trace the development of x," you would use a time order:
first this happened, then that happened, then the next thing happened, all the
way to the conclusion or the present.
3. If you are
asked to "show how x resulted in y,11 you would use a cause and effect
order: this cause led to that effect or the effect was due to these causes.
F. Answer the
question and only the question; don't attempt to give information other than
what the question asks for in an attempt to cover up the fact that you can't
answer the actual question.
G. If you
happen to think of a new point in the midst of developing another point, finish
the old point first.
1. You can
add afterthoughts by inserting them above the lines using a caret (^) to
indicate where the information goes.
way to add the new material at the end of your answer, draw a neat box around
it, and make a note at the appropriate place in the essay to tell the instructor
to turn to the boxed information.
Editing and finishing
A. If you
have time after you have finished the entire test, look your essay over and ask
1. Have I
stuck to my thesis? Wandering off the answer is confusing to both writer and
reader. It's better to present a shorter, more coherent essay than a longer,
more aimless one.
2. Are my
answers complete enough? Have I presented enough evidence to let the reader
agree with my thesis and to meet the point value of the question?
3. Have I
used topic sentences and topic sentence paragraphs? When you write an essay
exam, you need to emphasize the topic sentences; like the thesis, they tell the
reader what you are writing about.
4. Have I
made sensible transitions from one paragraph to the next? One way is to use
signal words that direct the traffic of your reader's attention, as however,
although, consequently, similarly, and so on. Another way
is to use parallelism where appropriate. For example: "The initial
step is "The second step is . . .," "The final step is . . . The
more easily your reader can follow your train of thought, the better off you
(and your test) are.
5. Have I
included enough examples and illustrations to make my thesis come alive for the
reader? Use the facts and figures you have studied to develop your thesis and to
show that you know the material.
Are the examples and illustrations I've chosen relevant? Be selective
about illustrations and examples. If the question causes 5 examples to spring to
mind, use the 2 or 3 that are most likely to back up your thesis. Go for
quality, not quantity.
leave a question blank.
1. Even if
you don't know specifics for an answer, write something.
sources can serve as material for an answer: 1) previous material from other
answers, and 2) remembering anything that you have heard on a topic.
C. Watch the
clock so you won't run out of time. Divide the number of questions into the
number of minutes. D. If you run out of time, pursue one of these options.
1. Pick the
question you know most about and can give the best answer to in the shortest
amount of time. 2. Write 1 or 2 sentences on all the questions that you have
your answers to the questions left over, but be sure you give the thesis or
one‑sentence answer to the question.
the instructor on your test that you have run out of time.
IV. Take-home tests.
A. Follow the
same procedure as above, but devote at least three hours to a one-hour take-home
Because you have more time, your instructor will expect more answer.
Have about three times the amount that you would have for an in-class
B. Always type
the answers to a take-home test.
Proofread your answers.
2. Take-home tests must be far more accurate in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
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