Guidelines for Taking Essay Examinations

1. Organize around a clear focus; one that is limited enough to cover in the time allotted yet includes all the material your professor will expect to find. This focus should be expressed in a thesis statement.
2. Answer the question asked, DO NOT the question you wish had been asked. Outline your answer. Know the three or four points that develop, explain, or prove your thesis statement.
3. Come to the point quickly, beginning with your thesis statement.
4. Stick to the subject. Blurting out everything you do know on the subject is a bad strategy (See Rule 1.) Do not to throw all you know against the wall and hope that something sticks. Select, organize, and analyze.
5. Be thorough. Do not leave out anything important to the defense of your thesis statement.
6. Support generalities with specific and relevant evidence.
7. Spelling, syntax, word choice, structure, puncuation and capitalization matter. Use college-level writing! You are not texting your friend here.

Strategies for Answering Essay Examination Questions

1. Do not start writing immediately.
2. Analyze the question that you answer by underlining the cue words and key words.
3. Use a writing process as much as possible within the constraints of the time limit. Try to allot time to plan and revise. For a one-hour test of one question, take about 10 minutes to jot down preliminary ideas about content and organization, and save about 10 minutes to reread, revise and edit your answer. If you feel blocked, try free writing to get your hand and your thoughts moving.
4. Support any generalizations with specifics.
5. Beware of "going off the topic". Respond to the cue words and key words in the question, and do not try to reshape the question to conform to what you might prefer to write about. Remember, your reader expects a clear line of presentation and reasoning that answers the given question.

Cue Words Found in Questions for Essay Tests

Analyze: means to separate something into parts and then discuss the parts and their meanings.
Clarify: means to make clear, often by giving a definition of a key term and by using examples to illustrate it.
Classify: means to arrange in groups on the basis of shared characteristics.
Compare and Contrast: means to show similarities and differences.
Criticize: means to give your opinion concerning the good points and the bad points of something.
Define: means to give the definition of something and thereby to separate it from similar things.
Describe: means to explain certain features to make clear an object, procedure, or event.
Discuss: means to consider as many elements as possible concerning an issue or event.
Evaluate: means to give your opinion about the value of something.
Explain: means to make clear or intelligible something that needs to be understood or interpreted.
Illustrate: means to give examples of something.
Interpret: means to explain the meaning of something.
Justify: means to show or prove that something is valid or correct.
Prove: means to present evidence that cannot be refuted logically or without other evidence.
Relate: means to show the connections between two or more things.
Review: means to reexamine, summarize, or to reprise something.
Show: means to point out or demonstrate something.
Summarize: means to repeat briefly the major points of something.
Support: means to argue in favor of something.

Last Updated: February 28, 2018