THE PROCESS OF RESPONDING TO ESSAY EXAMINATION QUESTIONS
Irene Klosko, Professional Tutor
Often, especially in the social sciences and the humanities, your professor will ask you to write essay answers as a means of testing the depth, detail, and scope of your knowledge within a specific subject area. Requiring students to write an essay as a part or all of their examination is a powerful assessment tool since not only does it show the professor how well you know the subject matter, but also it enables you to synthesize and express your knowledge of the subject as well. This process has been called Writing to Learn in academic circles.
To maximize your chances of getting the best possible
grade on an essay exam, there are certain steps to follow. First
of all, be sure to read all the directions carefully.
It is surprising how even an experienced reader or writer can
occasionally misread or be mistaken in what s/he is being asked
to do. After making certain of what is being required, read at
least two times the questions you will be answering. Underline
key words that will assist you to formulate an effective
answer. For example, to answer the question about The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn shown below, you would underline
the following words:
Indicate the way conscience is revealed through Huck and two other characters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Consider the time that has been allotted to each of your answers. Exact timing is important. If one question is worth 50% and two other questions are worth 25% each, spend half of the exam time on the first question and a quarter of the time on each of the other two questions.
Before beginning to answer the question, write a brief outline. This will help you to focus your thoughts, organize the information, and remember all the key points you want to include.
Be sure to follow the directions in answering the questions. You may be asked to analyze, critique, explain, discuss, and/or illustrate, a point. In these cases, be sure to give examples, state facts, use statistics. Make your answers as specific as possible. Professors tend to take off points for unsubstantiated generalizations and vague non-specific answers. Show what you know. Sometimes you will be asked to take a position and argue a point. In this case decide or choose a side, state your thesis clearly, and then present that side as clearly, logically, and assertively as you can. Appeal to arguments of fact and reason, as well as emotion and compassion when applicable.
Finally, when you have answered the questions to the best of
your ability, be sure to spend the last few minutes of exam time
proofreading your answers. Check for any spelling, grammar, and
punctuation errors. Correct these before you hand in your exam