How to Deal with Essay Questions on Exams


Essay questions on exams

Exams are already a huge source of anxiety….but essays, too? This means that you actually have to think; you can’t just circle “B” for each answer and hope for the best.

The thing is, although you may have to sound a little bit more formal for school, writing an essay for an exam is the same as writing for any other reason:  You want to persuade your readers of your ideas clearly and simply You want every sentence to make your reader want to read the next one. This means that although it’s not as hard as we make out it to be, clear and concise writing is still hard in practice.

Plan It out

As soon as you open your test booklet or get the question sheet, resist the urge to start writing right away. Put down your pen, pick up the sheet, then read each prompt carefully. If the prompt is detailed, you might even want to highlight or underline points.

Depending on how many points a question has and how difficult it is for you to answer it, decide on how long you’ll take on each question. You can write out those minutes on your sheet to remind you. Try to leave 10 minutes at the very end to tie up any loose ends and look over your answers.

After you’ve decided how to tackle the test as a whole, pick up your pen and list out 2-3 bullet points for each prompt. These don’t have to be fully-fleshed out ideas, just a few points you want to hit for each essay. As you start writing and you remember answers for other prompts, feel free to add to each prompt’s list.

Get to the Point Quickly

You’ve probably read an essay where the arguments ran in circles and the same handful of ideas were repeated over and over again, except with different words. Heck, maybe you’ve written one like this yourself!

The thing is, on a timed test that’s marked by a TA who has to grade a hundred more, this method doesn’t go over well.

Instead, write clearly and simply with the Argument-Evidence method (or, as I like to call it, the Sandwich Method). In this method, you sandwich the evidence between the arguments, like so:

  • State your argument or your point
  • Explain what you mean, preferably with concrete examples, quotes, or course material
  • Tie your evidence back to your initial point

Sandwiching your examples between the point makes it easier for your readers to form a picture of the message you’re trying to convey.

Do an “Out-Loud” Check

After I finish writing an essay and checking the order of the arguments, I like to quietly read the piece, mouthing every word. This helps with identifying grammatical errors and awkward wording that I couldn’t have picked up otherwise.

Good luck on your next essay exam and happy writing!

Breeze through your next exam!

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