Writing Essay Exams


Proper preparation is the ticket to cruising through essay exams

  • Identify the format of the essay exam. What kind of writing are you being asked to do? How long are the essays expected to be?
  • Identify main points in your reading or course notes that could potentially become essay exam topics.

When preparing for your exam, it may be helpful to practice writing essay drafts within the time limits of the essay test. How much will you reasonably be able to cover in your essay?

Preparing for the exam

  • Review and organize the main points and supporting evidence for your potential essay(s). This may be done through outlining, practice drafts, or other prewriting strategies.

Once the test is in your hand

  • Read the question thoroughly and completely to make sure that you understand it.
  • Take time to think through and organize your ideas. What will you include?
  • It may be helpful to actually make an outline of the points that you wish to address before beginning the essay. This will help ensure focus, clarity, and organization.

Why preparation for essay exams is so important

  • Taking essay exams can cause anxiety, so preparation can help to ease concern.
  • Preparing for the exam keeps you focused and organized, which helps you to write a clear and coherent essay.

Essay exams differ from traditional essays

  • Essay exams usually do not allow as much freedom of choice in topic selection as the traditional essay does.
  • Essay exams are more concise than traditional essays. Development of ideas must be tight and “economical.”
  • Essay exams require a similar degree of clarity and organization, but it must be produced in less time.
  • Essay exams do not rely as heavily on direct quotations and other citations from research.
  • Essay exams do not allow time for revision, so advance planning is vital.