Writing In-Class Essay Exams

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1. Begin by thoroughly reading the question. Determine what specifically you’re being asked to answer. Look for key words such as compare and contrast, why, or what.

2. After reading the question, conduct some quick brainstorming to prepare a response. If it helps, jot notes on scratch paper or the margins of the test.

3. If overwhelmed, relax for a second. Review your ideas and determine which ones most effectively answer the question. Eliminate irrelevant response ideas.

4. Develop a brief outline with the following:

    a. Prepare a simple thesis with supporting points to present your answer. After you’ve developed it, re-examine it to ensure it adequately addresses the question. Organize your response around the thesis.

    b. Jot down a list of points to support your answer. Disregard irrelevant ones. Every point you make should relate back to the thesis statement. In fact, each argument listed in the thesis should be restated in the topic sentences of each supporting paragraph.

    c. Organize your response. Begin by stating the most important point and follow it with arguments that build upon it. Remember, every point must relate to the thesis.

    5. Once you’ve organized your thoughts, write a response. Begin with a 1-2 sentence introduction to present the topic followed by the thesis statement. Use the remainder of the time to support your thesis.

    6. When supporting the thesis, provide specific examples. You’ll receive a lower test score if you do not provide specific reasons for your answer. Instructors are interested to see how well you understand the material. For example, if you claimed that D-Day was the turning point in Europe during World War II, you must provide examples of why that was the case.

    7. Pace yourself. It’s important to have enough time to review your answers and check for errors. Your instructor will not expect a perfect essay, but responses must be legible and logical.


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