True/False. Multiple Choice.
Short Answer. Essay. Those are the typical options on a
test. Essay tests can be difficult for those students who have
a hard time articulating, explaining, and/or analyzing a
sequence of events, a broad topic, and even their own
arguments. With appropriate preparation and a few tips,
students should be able to sharpen their analytical skills and
their ability to craft an informative, well-written essay.
Read the directions
carefully; pay close attention to whether you are supposed to
answer all the essays or only a specified amount (i.e. "Answer 2
out of the 3 questions).
If you don’t understand
what the question is asking you, make sure to ask your
instructor for clarification.
Make sure to fully answer
the question. Write down everything and more (time permitting)!
The more details and facts that you write down the more likely
you will receive a higher grade.
Budget your time. Don’t
spend the entire time on one essay if the test requires more.
Likewise, if you have an hour to write 3 essays, spend no more
than 20 minutes on each essay, and then if you have time left
over at the end go back and finish any incomplete essays.
Before you start writing,
make an outline of the topics for each paragraph including the
introduction and closing. This will help you organize your
points and make your writing more fluid and lucid. It will also
help you budget your time.
Focus on one main idea per
If the question is asking
for facts, don't give your personal opinion on the topic.
Write legibly. Try to be
as neat as possible when writing your essay. Neater papers
usually receive higher scores. Leave space between essay
questions so you can go back and add more or correct mistakes.
Likewise, if you make a mistake, simply draw a line through it.
It is much neater and quicker than erasing it.
Don't write long
introductions and conclusions, the bulk of your time should be
spent on answering the question(s) asked.
If you have time left at
the end proofread your work and correct any errors.
If you aren't sure about an
exact date or number, then use approximations. For example,
“approximately 3,000 people voted on the new rule” or “in the
late 16th century/ 1680s”.
By all means, review your
essay before you turn it in if you have the time.
following words are commonly found in essay test questions.
Understanding them is essential to success on these kinds of
ANALYZE: Break into separate parts and discuss, critically
examine, or interpret each part.
COMPARE: Examine two or more things. Identify similarities and
differences. Generally, comparisons ask for similarities more
than differences (because contrast looks for differences).
CONTRAST: Show differences. Set in opposition.
CRITICIZE: Make judgments. Evaluate comparative worth. Criticism
often involves analysis and critique.
DEFINE: Give the meaning; usually a meaning specific to the
course of subject. Determine the precise limits of the term to
be defined. Explain the exact meaning. Definitions are usually
DESCRIBE: Give a detailed account. Make a picture with words.
List characteristics, qualities and parts.
DISCUSS: Consider and debate or argue the pros and cons of an
issue. Write about any conflict. Compare and contrast. Explore
ENUMERATE: Write a list, series and/or tabulation of several
ideas, aspects, events, things, qualities, reasons, etc.
EVALUATE: Give your opinion or cite the opinion of an expert.
Include evidence to support the evaluation.
ILLUSTRATE: Give concrete examples. Explain clearly by using
comparisons, analogies or examples. Make a topic clear and
INTERPRET: Comment upon, give examples, describe relationships.
Explain the meaning. Describe and then evaluate. (Ex. Bring out
the meaning of a specific topic such as the messaged convey from
a short story).
OUTLINE: Describe main ideas, characteristics, or events.
Present the most important ideas about a topic in a carefully
organized fashion. Does not mean write an actual Roman numeral,
PROVE: Support with facts
from lectures, textbooks and research. Defend or justify with
factual evidence and logical reasons.
STATE: Explain precisely.
SUMMARIZE: Give a brief, condensed account. Include conclusions.
Avoid unnecessary details. Brief examples will help make your
TRACE: Show the order of events or progress of a subject or
event. This type of essay may require probing or deductions.