Preparing for Essay Exams

TimeLine (Part 3):
  • By November 9th I will finish the plan (Part 3)
  • On November 13th I will work on part 1
  • By November 23rd I will finish the first draft of Part 1
  • By November 30th I will finish Part 2
  • By December 7th I will finish Part 1
  • By December 14th I go through and check everthing

Part 1 - How to Prepare for Essay Exams:

Essay exams are the hardest to face even if they are open-book or open-notes because you can't just read through your book and remember answers; you have to actually understand the topic. If it is open-book or open-notes you still have to know the book/notes so you must know where everything is, such as understand and know where the quotes are, or know and understand the certain section you're supposed to write about.
Here are some specific ways to prepare for an essay exam:
  • Make sure you understand everything that your teacher has told you to study. If it's a story or poem read through it again and understand everything and know where the quotes are.
  • Read through the texts and develop as many theses as you can. Then write a timed essay on each of the theses because there might be a chance this thesis will be on the test, and time it because you need to be able to write the right amount in the amount of time given.
  • Read the text and reduce it to outlines and keywords then memorise these keywords and outlines. It's easier and more efficeint to learn the key points about the text than to learn everything.
  • Quickly read over all the materials you should cover. Mark the topics you need to study more intensively
  • Create a bank of information for each topic. Ask yourself questions about the materials you study. Use question words like "who," "what," "where," "when," "how," Ask yourself about the key characteristics of the information, what are some causes and effects? Create some examples for each topic to help you cover the most important information.

Essay exams are very different to research questions exams or a general knowledge exam beacuse instead of just answering questions you have to actually have a lot of knowledge on the topic you are wrting about, and show understanding and demonstrate your knowledge. You are not only conveying information but also proving that you have mastered the information and can work with it.

Strategies for taking an essay test
  • Read the exam questions very carefully!
  • Read every question before beginning the essay! Select the questions that you are good at and begin with the easy ones.
  • Make notes beside each question when you are reading (5 min max).
  • Budget time carefully for each question - questions worth more points should be given more time.
  • Work on the easy ones first - this helps create confidence and can minimize test anxiety.
  • Do not hesitate too long on a the hard questions - even if your answer is unsatisfactory. Forcing yourself to write increases your chances of recalling the answer. You may earn partial credit for at least demonstrating that you have a partial understanding.
Spend a few minutes gathering up ideas and thoughts you will need to include in your essay. Then consider the most effective way to present that material to your reader. Remember that essay exam responses are usually read very quickly: the more quickly the reader can move through your writing, the less time he or she will have to consider its deficiencies. Many students find it useful to create a short topic outline or to draw a key diagram at this point, as a way to organize their thoughts.
The focus of your writing depends on the TASK stated in the question. In a question that asks you to explain, for example, your focus should be on presenting information as clearly as possible so that the reader understands the TOPIC. At other times you may be asked to take a position on a TOPIC; in these cases, you need to state that position clearly and then prove to your reader, through the careful use of illustration and examples, the validity of the statement with which you started. But in either case, the reader needs a clear statement of your purpose at the beginning of your essay.
Sometimes it's difficult to know, at first, exactly what the focus of the piece of writing should be. That's why it's especially important to pay attention to any HINTS in the exam question. These tell you the particular perspective that your instructor considers important --- the one from which your response will be graded.
Before you take the exam make a schedule for planning, writing and revising.
eg. if the test is 1 hour
20 minutes planning
30 minutes writing
10 minutes revising