» The Essay Exam

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Preparing for an Essay Examination

Review the syllabus or course outline.  Be able to list all the major points to be covered and all first level detail points under each major point FROM MEMORY.  This will help insure that you remember all the major points to be discussed in any essay question.  If you write a great amount of detail about one major pint and leave out two major points, your grade will only be 33%.  You must remember to touch on all the major points.


Review the following:

  • Major topics
  • Sub-topics under each major topic
  • Technical vocabulary
  • Concepts and issues
  • Relationships
  • Cause and effects
  • Principles and rules


Test yourself before the exam by placing yourself in the professor’s place.  Write out questions you think the instructor will ask to test a student’s understanding.  Then answer the questions yourself.  Check to see if you are correct.

Taking the Essay Examination

  • Read all the questions BEFORE you begin to work in any one of them.  If you have options or choices, choose those you know best.
  • Check the numbers of points for each question and allot your time accordingly.  If you spend 20 minutes on a 5-point question and have only 10 minutes for a 50-point question, you may not be allotting your time effectively.
  • READ the question CAREFULLY.

a)      Identify what is being asked.

b)      Identify the aspects of the topic asked for.

c)       Identify the type of activity required to answer (i.e. comparison, contrast, evaluation, etc)

  • Make a quick tentative outline before you begin to write.  Include a statement that introduces your answer and major/minor support topic sentences.
  • When you begin to write your answer, begin with a sentence that directly answers the questions.  For example:


Question: What were the major effects of the Santa Barbara oil spill on the wildlife and legislation?

Answer: The Santa Barbara oil spill resulted in the death of various forms of wildlife and stimulated both the local and national groups to seek preventative legislation.


This is only your beginning sentence.  Now, you go into detail about each aspect of the question.  Re-writing the question in your answer’s opening sentence helps you remember the major ideas to be included and it lessens the tendency to ramble.

  • If you have time, re-read your answers and make corrections.