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How to Prepare for the Dreaded Essay Exam

EF_Team  [Moderator] 41 / 222 15  
Apr 18, 2006   #1
Are you in a panic over your essay exam? Does the thought of writing under pressure make you squirm? Don't panic, for there are advantages to the essay exam that you probably don't realize.

In a written essay, a teacher can give you partial credit if you know some of the material, whereas with a multiple-choice or objective test the answer is either right or wrong. There is usually no possible way to receive partial credit in answering the question. The same can be said for science tests, in which long calculations and explanations are part of the question. If the question can only be answered by choosing from answer choices, the student can't get partial credit for answering some of it correctly.

You needn't dread the essay exam, but you do need to prepare for it. The key to the essay exam is to include enough pertinent details about the topic in order to receive the most credit possible for the question, without rambling or going off topic. The following are steps you can take in your preparation for the essay exam.


1. Keep up on your reading and coursework. Though most college students will try it, few succeed at cramming for tests. It simply isn't possible to learn so much information in such a short period of time. Preparing for the test is much easier if you have been learning it over time.

2. Answer review questions. These might be found at the end of each chapter of your text or in a study guide. Find out if there is a study guide available for your textbook. Professors often receive them free from the publisher with their copy of the text and are more than willing to put them on reserve for you in the library. When you're writing the review questions, think about how you would structure a response to these questions under a test situation. Write out an outline, like you would write a paper, and then follow it through to answer the question.

3. Analyze major themes and ideas. Ask yourself: What are the main ideas or themes to this section of the course? Many professors organize their courses logically, dividing the semester into sections for teaching and testing purposes. Reviewing your course syllabus and noting this type of organization might help you to understand just what the professor is trying to get you to learn during this portion of the course.

4. Practice writing. Make up some questions about the themes and concepts and practice answering them. Try to duplicate the exam situation as much as possible by setting aside time when you will not be interrupted or distracted. Do not allow yourself any notes or information, and try to write like you will on the test. If you get stuck, simply write yourself a note to go back and review that section. Practicing writing is probably the best preparation you can give yourself, after learning the material.

5. Finally, it never hurts to ask your professor for sample questions, examples that are similar to how he/she might test you. Most professors understand that each teacher is different and will appreciate your concern and desire to do well in his/her class. Tell your professor what you have been doing to prepare and ask for suggestions. Just don't expect them to hand you the actual questions or tell you what is on the test.

6. Get enough rest, relax, and be confident in your preparation! A positive attitude can go a long way.

Good luck!


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