for Essay Exams
- 1. Think differently about the material.
- Students are conditioned from an early
age to think in terms of discrete facts and 'correct' answers
rather than looking for the relationships which are characteristic
of essay answers. One of the first steps toward improved essay
answers is to adopt a different perspective on the nature of
what is to be learned from the material presented and read.
- a. Integrate material from class to class and unit to
unit. Each time you begin a new topic, ask yourself questions
- How does this topic compare with/relate to what
has gone before?
- How is it different? How is it similar?
- Why is it included in the course? Why at this point?
- What are its main points, its strengths, its weaknesses?
- How does it apply to the overall goal of the course?
- b. Write your own sample essay questions for each lecture
or reading assignment.
- c. Rather than focusing on the conclusions alone, focus
on the process so that you begin to understand how conclusions
2. Study the material differently. Studying
for essay exams is much different from studying for objectively
- a. Create outlines of readings and lecture notes which
emphasize the relationships among the ideas.
- b. Draw concept maps &endash;
visual diagrams of how terms, principles, and ideas interconnect.
- c. Paraphrase or create an executive summary for each reading
3. Write structurally sound answers.
- a. Preview a list of key words used in essay questions
and what they imply in terms of answer content and structure.
- b. Give yourself opportunities to practice writing essay
answers. Examine the structure of the answers.
- c. Learn how to use algorithms for
answering typical question types. For example, a prototype
answer for a "compare
and contrast" item might always include two points of
similarity between the two concepts and two points of difference.
Develop generic outlines or concept maps for common types
of questions into which you can plug the specifics of the
- d. Learn time-management techniques
for essay writing, for example, scanning all the items
and parceling out an appropriate amount of time to spend
on each according to weight or importance; spending a few
minutes outlining an answer before writing, or having a
checklist for quickly evaluating answers before completing
the exam (such as "did
you answer the question?" "are the transitions
clear?" "is evidence provided for each assertion?" and