Taking an essay test
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Taking an essay test:. How to do well on fewer than 10 cups of coffee. In this workshop, we’ll talk about how to succeed at essay tests. What is an essay test?. Unlike multiple-choice or true-or-false exams, an essay test looks for more than mere correctness.

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Taking an essay test:

How to do well on fewer than 10 cups of coffee

In this workshop, we’ll talk about how to succeed at essay tests.

What is an essay test?

Unlike multiple-choice or true-or-false exams, an essay test looks for more than mere correctness.

Instead, an essay test looks for depth, critical thinking skills, and an ability to synthesize ideas.

So what do you need to do?

Pay careful attention to the “direction” words your prof uses in each essay question. He/she is using these terms to tell you HOW to answer the question.

Know your terms!

  • Analyze: Break something down into its parts and show how the parts connect to each other.

  • Compare: Show how two or more things are similar and different.

  • Contrast: Show how two or more things are different.

Know your terms (contd.):

  • Define: Explain the meaning of something.

  • Describe: Give a full, detailed picture of something in words to show its key aspects and traits.

  • Diagram: Draw a picture of something and label its components.

Know your terms (contd.):

  • Evaluate: Present both the positive and negative features of something.

  • Explain: Give reasons and facts to clarify your points.

  • Justify: Support something with facts and reasons.

Know your terms (contd.):

  • List: Present information as a series of brief, numbered items.

  • Outline: Provide information in a clearly organized way.

Know your terms (contd.):

  • Summarize: Briefly recap your main points.

  • Trace: Describe the order in which something occurred.

Follow directions!

If you’re not responding to the question you’re asked, you won’t get the grade you’re hoping for.

An “A” essay test is:

  • well-focused,

  • well-organized,

  • well-supported, and

  • well-packaged.


Stick to the point and avoid “rambling.”


Plan ahead, and include a clear introduction and conclusion.


Use facts, figures, examples, research studies, etc. to bolster

your points.

Well-packagedGive yourself time to check grammar, punctuation, and other surface-level concerns.


Neglecting grammar and punctuation is like showing up for a job interview in jeans and a dirty T-shirt. You may be the best candidate for the job, but no one is going to take you seriously.

So how do you start?

Budget your time. If you have an hour and a half, give yourself 15 minutes to plan, one hour to write, and 15 minutes to review.

Read all the questions before you start. Jot down important words, ideas, etc. while they’re fresh in your mind.

Before writing,

look at the direction words. Make sure you understand what your teacher expects.

Jot down a rough outline

This will add clarity, organization, and conciseness to your response.

Review what you’ve written

Your answers should be direct and clearly respond to the question.

When in doubt, generalize

If you can’t remember that Romeo and Juliet was first performed in 1595, just put “late 16th century.”

Also: While taking an essay test, ask yourself the right questions.

  • Do I truly understand the question?

  • Have I jotted down a rough outline of my major points?

  • Does the first sentence of my answer tell the reader what the question is and how I will develop my response?

  • Have I highlighted my key points?

  • Am I backing up these points with facts and examples?

  • Are the key points linked with clear transitions?

  • Would someone who has not taken this course understand my responses?

  • Have I included all the important points?

  • Did I stay on track?

  • Did I proofread for misspellings, subject/pronoun and subject/verb agreement errors, comma splices, fused sentences, and sentence fragments?

Is my handwriting legible, and have I double-spaced?

What about text anxiety?

Many of us get very nervous before an exam.

It’s not all bad

A little bit of “stage fright” can pump out the adrenaline we need to perform.


Too much anxiety can erode our focus and sap our confidence.

Control your anxiety!

  • Replace negative thoughts by rehearsing your test-taking strategies.

  • Use a favorite pen if you have one.

Control (contd.)

  • Tense and release different muscle groups, one group at a time.

Control (contd.)

  • Breathe slowly and deeply. Oxygen feeds your brain!

Control (contd.)

  • Focus on a soothing word or image.


The best way to succeed at essay tests is to be prepared!

Give yourself time to study without cramming.

Make sure you understand all the questions.

Plan your answers before you start writing.

Take a deep breath…

…and watch yourself succeed!

Remember: Come to the Writing Center at ANY stage of the writing process: ● brain-storming, ● planning, ● developing, or ● finishing. Our professionally trained tutors will be happy to help!

WorkshopsMadonna’s Writing Center offers the following workshops:● APA● MLA● CMS● Using Sources Correctly● Introductions and Conclusions● Getting Started● Developing Ideas● Revision● Evaluation● Test-taking● Writing Concisely

Works Cited

  • www.how-to-study.com/EssayPrint.htm

  • owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_essay.html

  • owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_anxiety.html

  • www.csbsju.edu/academicadvising/help/essayexm.htm

  • www.mtsu.edu/studskl/essay.html

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