How to Prepare for and Take Essay Exams

HOW TO STUDY--Study the material as you get it, of course, and take notes, and look at other people's notes. (It's OK to form study groups.) Then, three days before the test, review all the material.  Study with the questions in mind.

HOW TO PLAN--Once you have the possible questions, begin planning each essay as though you had a week to write it.  Make an outline, even if you usually don't bother.  Don't bother with an introduction.  Just outline how you would set down that information in the BEST POSSIBLE ORDER.  Do this for all the questions. If you find that you can't generate an essay for each question, you need to get information from someone else's notes--find a friend, quickly. ---Some tests, like long history exams, require two things:  that you write a coherent essay and that you include facts like dates and places. Practice writing sentences that work this vital information into
your planned paragraphs, so when the time comes you'll be ready
to do this.

HOW TO STUDY AGAIN--The day before the test, get all your material together and review again.  This reinforces everything you've done so far.  Look over those outlines you made.  Try to compare notes with someone.  The day of the test, DON'T STUDY, especially if you usually get nervous and have "test anxiety." Do something else; go out to lunch or watch television to get your mind off it.  This keeps you from overstudying and really twisting the information around, making yourself scared in the process.  If you must study, just look over your outlines and review any hard facts, but don't put yourself through another review again.

HOW TO TAKE THE EXAM--Essay exams almost always have several questions from which to choose.  Read through the whole list first, and decide which questions you feel most comfortable with. Mark the ones you're going to use.  Start working on the easy ones first, because you want to get as much information down as you can--don't waste precious minutes sweating over something you don't know.  Read each question carefully and MAKE AN OUTLINE in the margin or (if you're allowed) on scratch paper.  Work from the outline.  If you have to BS, BS from the outline so at least the writing will be good and coherent.  Ignore grammar etc. until later.  Go through each question methodically, but keep track of time.  You may find it helpful to decide ahead of time how many minutes you can devote to each question.

WHEN YOU'VE ANSWERED THEM ALL--Now go back and proofread, check your punctuation etc.  This is probably not a good time to change facts (dates or places) unless you know *for sure* that you wrote
the wrong thing down.  If you're not sure, leave your first answer.

IF YOU RUN OUT OF TIME--Make sure you look up at least four minutes before the exam is over--bring a beeper watch or something to let you know time is nearly up.  When you get down to less than four minutes and you have more than 2 or 3 sentences to write, make the following notation:  "Short of time; please accept outline."  Then copy your outline from the scratch one you made, making sure to include any relevant facts.  Often it is better to show you know the facts and you have a logical plan for
writing than to just stop abruptly.

(Thanks to Dianne M. Cooke)