TAKING ESSAY EXAMS
The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
FOR ESSAY TESTS
Begin your preparation by
reading your instructorís course description and syllabus and
then writing down whatever assumptions,
biases, and teaching objectives are stated or implied in these materials. Determine how the various
course topics relate to one another
and note any repeated themes. Think about any potential essay
questions you can generate from
this information and then write them down.
assignments and listen to lectures and discussions with the purpose of
determining how the course
content supports the major themes and answers the major questions you
have generated from the course
description and syllabus. Modify and refine these themes and questions throughout the course as you
gain additional information.
some point prior to the test - preferably a week or two before -
quickly look over your notes and
the chapter headings from your readings. From this overview, generate
a list of major topics for the
course material covered. For each major topic, create a summary
sheet of all the relevant factual data
that relates to that topic. (See the "Taking Tests - General Tips" for more information about
addition to learning the factual material, determine any logical
relationships among topics. These
relationships are often predictive of essay test questions. For
example, if in a history course,
you find that two political movements are noticeably similar, then
your instructor may very well ask you to
compare and contrast the two movements. Generate a list of possible essay questions and consider
setting up and answering as many
of these questions as time permits.
BEFORE YOU WRITE
all essay questions before you start to write. As ideas and examples
come to you, jot them down on scratch paper or on the back of the test
so that you wonít clutter your mind trying to remember everything.
your time according to the point value of each question, allowing time
for proof-reading and any unexpected emergencies (such as taking
longer than you expected on a question or going blank for a while).
you read the questions, underline key words (e.g., compare, explain,
justify, define) and make sure you understand what you are being
with the questions that seem easiest to you. This procedure reduces
anxiety and facilitates clear thinking.
actually writing, determine the relationship implied by the question,
even if the key word or words do not express a specific relationship.
For example, if you were given the following question, "The
Progressive Movement was a direct response to the problems of
industrialization. Discuss.", you might narrow your response to a
more specific cause/effect relationship like the following: "What
were the problems of industrialization that caused a response that we
label the Progressive Movement?"
determining the relationship implied by the question, picture the
relationship by creating a chart or matrix of the related elements. Be
sure to separate general issues you wish to bring up from supporting
details and examples. Once this framework for your ideas has been
created, generate as many ideas as you can within the allotted time to
fill in the categories you have established.
sure your answer has a definite thesis that directly answers the
question. State this thesis within the first few sentences of your
specific as well as general information in your response by including
examples, substantiating facts,
and relevant details from your pre-writing matrix.
the technical vocabulary of the course.
space for additions to your answer by writing on every other line and
on only one side of each page.
your mind goes blank or you donít know much about a question, relax
and brainstorm for a few moments
about the topic. Recall pages from your texts, particularly lectures,
class discussions to trigger your
memory about ideas relevant to the questions. Write these ideas down as coherently as you can.
When you reach the end of your allotted time
period for a given question, move on to the next item. Partially answering all questions
is better than fully answering some but not others. The instructor canít give you any
credit for a question you havenít attempted.
you find yourself out of time on a question but with more to say,
quickly write down in outline
form what you would write if you had time.
AFTER YOU WRITE
your answers and make any additions that are necessary for clarity
your response for errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
RETURNED ESSAY TESTS
all comments and suggestions.
for the origins of the questions. Did most of the information your
instructor expected on your essay come from the lectures? From the
texts? From outside reading?
the source of your errors. Was there any course content tested for
which you failed to prepare or were inadequately prepared? Did you
misread or misunderstand any of the questions? Did you do poorly
because you ran out of time? Were you too anxious to focus on the
questions and your responses? Did the instructor criticize your
writing skills--grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure,
style, or organization--or how you developed or argued your points?
the level of difficulty or the level of detail of the test questions.
Were most of the questions asking for precise details or main ideas
and principles? Did most of the questions come straight from the
material covered, or did the instructor expect you to be able to
analyze and/or evaluate the information? Did you have any problems
with anxiety or blocking during the test?