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Preparing for an Essay Exam
Get a sense for the type of essay exam the professor generally gives; e.g.,
short vs. long thought questions.
Try to get some idea of the general area that will be covered; i.e., concepts,
issues, theories, etc.
Carefully review lecture notes to ascertain which broad areas have constituted
central discussion topics.
Carefully review text(s). Link and/or supplement major areas here with those
in your notes.
Mentally test yourself: What major concepts and relationships were covered?
Now, what details support these?
Be able to write a concise outline, covering the material.
Remember: Present a sound generalization then prove it with appropriate
Be familiar with the terminology used in the course. Be able to understand
concepts and use appropriate terms.
Taking the Exam
Listen for any oral directions, if any.
Read the questions carefully. What are they asking?
Be sure you understand the question. What is the controlling idea?
What are the key words? Underline them.
How is the answer to be given? Is the question asking for fact? Opinion?
If the question seems ambiguous:
a. Seek clarification from the professor;
b. if still not clear, state your interpretation of the question before
attempting to answer it. Remember, essay questions are aimed at
concepts and the emphasis in the course; so you must be able to
conceptualize, succinctly respond, and support your generalization with
Define any vague terms; for example, some terms may have ambiguous implications
if not clearly defined.
Think through your answer. Then go back and reread the question to
make sure that you are answering what is asked.
Writing the Answers
Remember to take time to think, make notes, and prepare a rough outline before
you begin to write the essay:
a. Develop the summary statement.
b. Support the statement with details.
Once you have your summary in outline form, expand upon it and write it in
written form, tactfully and clearly.
Budget your time so that you are not forced to rush through your final essay
because you spend too much time on the earlier one(s).
Allow a little time to proofread for grammar, spelling errors, omissions,
George Washington University
Since December 1999 - last modified: February 22, 2012