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Essay Exams are Challenging

The main challenge in sitting down to write an essay exam is to figure out how to invest your time. You don't want to get so consumed with one or two questions that you run out of time before you finish the exam. The best plan is to take the initial part of the test period to read through all of the questions on the exam in order to see what you are facing. You may be required to write an answer for every question. In some cases, the instructions will tell you to pick four of the six questions on the hour long exam and write a short essay on those. Whatever the case, make sure that you have read the instructions carefully and then prioritize the questions in the order you prefer to answer them. For instance, if you want to start by answering question number four first, make sure you place that number first on your blank paper. If the exam has left space to write after each question you won't have that problem.

Some students find it helpful to start the test period by taking a blank piece of paper and quickly jotting down all the dates, names and other facts that they have committed to memory. They "empty" their brain of all of that stuff they had stuffed in there to remember and get it on paper. This way, when they read through the exam questions they won't get distracted and forget to mention something important. After getting things quickly down on paper, they read through the exam questions, and get started writing. They have their paper to refer to as they write.

Additional Essay Exam Tips (PDF)

Strategies for Taking Exams

Once you have read through the exam questions, pick the one that you feel you have the most information on and start there. Knock this one out and go on to the next one that you feel most comfortable in answering. Before starting to write you may want to grab another sheet of blank paper and scrawl a quick outline of your answer before you begin so you don't leave anything out. If you emptied your brain before you started, you will want to check that paper and make sure there isn't something on that paper you want to include with your answer.

Be as conscious as possible about correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Clear handwriting is another important goal. Bad grammar, words spelled incorrectly and sloppy writing have a subliminal effect that makes your responses seem less intelligent that they actually may be to the instructor.

Be a good student. Be careful and concise. Don't skirt any issues. Essay questions are best answered directly. Instructors can tell when you are dancing around an answer in hopes of faking your way through it.


Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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