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Exam Strategies for Essay Exams

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1 Exam Strategies for Essay Exams
Office of Learning Resources University of Pennsylvania

2 Preparing for the Exam Know what is expected of you. What content will be covered? How many questions will be on the exam? Ask yourself: What do I know about this material? What do I need to know?

3 Preparing for the Exam Write out answers to possible exam questions. Practice organizing your ideas and writing a complete response. If your professor doesn’t provide sample questions, create a few for yourself and practice writing out your answers.

4 Preparing for the Exam Practice answering sample questions under conditions similar to those you will encounter in the actual exam. Find a quiet place. Set a time for the allotted time. Be mentally and physically prepared for the exam. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat healthy food.

5 Taking the Exam: Preview
Skim over the entire exam to get a sense of everything you have to do Estimate how much time you have to spend on each question For example, if you have 4 questions and a 2 hour time period, plan for 30 minutes to organize, write, and review each question.

6 Taking the Exam: Preview
Identify which essay question you want to answer first Read the question carefully Many students do poorly on essay exams because they misread the question. Underline key words or phrases Determine whether the question is asking you to respond to more than one thing

7 Taking the Exam: Planning
Write out a brief outline of your ideas in the margin or on scrap paper Be careful not to write down everything you know about a topic Remember that your goal is to answer a specific question in as much detail as possible. Think of specific examples you can use to support your argument Refer back to the question to make sure you have covered everything in your outline

8 Taking the Exam: Writing
Answer the question directly in the first few sentences of your response Make sure each paragraph begins with a clear topic sentence Use headings, numbering, or spacing to make skimming the essay easy Included sufficient explanation Don’t leave anything to inference Define terms, explain statements, support ideas with facts and logic If you’re not specific enough your professor may assume you did not understand the material.

9 Taking the Exam: Review
Use your time efficiently, but don’t rush! When you are finished writing, read through your essay to check for errors before moving on to the next question If you run out of time, try to write at least a partial response or detailed outline rather than leave the question blank

10 Essay Question “Action” Words
Discuss Consider important characteristics and main points. Enumerate List or discuss one by one. Illustrate Explain, using examples that demonstrate or clarify a point or idea. Compare Show how items are similar or different; include details or examples. Contrast Show how items are different; include details or examples. Define Give an accurate meaning of the term with enough detail to show that you really understand it.

11 Essay Question “Action” Words
Explain Give facts and details that make the idea or concept clear and understandable Trace Describe the development or progress of a particular trend, event, or process in chronological order. Evaluate React to the topic in a logical way. Discuss the merits, strengths, weaknesses, advantages, or limitations of the topic Summarize Cover the major points in brief form; use a sentence and paragraph form.

12 Essay Question “Action” Words
Describe Tell how something looks or happened, including how, who, where, and why. Justify Give reasons that support an action, event, or policy. Criticize Make judgments about quality or worth; including both positive and negative aspects. Prove Demonstrate or establish that a concept or theory is correct, logical, or valid.

13 Meet with a Learning Instructor to learn more about taking
Do You Want to Know More? Meet with a Learning Instructor to learn more about taking Essay Exams Call to make an appointment, M-F, 9-5pm. Come to walk-in hours, M-F, 12-3pm. Visit our website and download self-helps and learning tools,

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