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University Writing Center



 Preparing for an Essay Exam

Learn as much about the test as possible beforehand. Though you may not be provided with the essay question ahead of time, you can ask other relevant questions.

  What material will be on the exam?

  Are you being tested on your ability to remember specific facts, or are you being tested on your ability to analyze?

  Is the exam cumulative?

Reread textbooks, notes and study guides. Go over any previous essay exams you have taken for the class.

  Rewrite important points from your books, notes and study guides.

  What type of questions has your teacher asked previously on essay exams?

  What were your weaknesses on previous essay exams? How do you think you could address these?

Remember that your audience is your teacher. Think about what he/she has emphasized in class.

  Are there any key points your teacher has mentioned repeatedly?

  What did you spend the most time on in class?

Make sure you know the basic information for the course.

  Which specific names, authors and titles are you expected to know? (e.g.: historic figure, poem title, etc.)

In a group with classmates, create your own essay questions based on what you found in your notes.

  Answer your own questions as a timed writing exercise.

  Check to make sure your responses make sense and answer the original question.

 Read the question/directions thoroughly.

  Take time to understand what is being asked of you.

  Look out for specific words such as compare, contrast, analyze, argue, describe, summarize, apply, cause, relate, evaluate and prove.


If you are given several options for your essay, take brief notes on each.

  Decide which essay to write based upon the content you have for each option. Do you have more information for one essay than another? Is the content strong?  

  Once you have decided which essay you are writing, brainstorm to make an informal outline or a list of main ideas.

Construct a clear thesis statement.

  Your thesis statement is the most important sentence in your essay.

  It is an argument that directly answers the question asked of you.

  Use direct and concise language in your thesis statement.

  Think about the rest of your essay as you write the thesis statement. Will the content in your paper be able to back up your thesis statement? Do you have enough examples to support your thesis statement? Will you be able to explain your point of view?

Be aware of your content. Almost all disciplines require an analysis.

  Make sure that your content is not just a list of facts.

  Show how and why facts are relevant and what they mean on a larger scale. (e.g.: For a History exam, dates, names and casualties may be important facts to include in an essay about a specific battle, but explaining how that battle was significant in a larger context is more important.)

Manage your time. Factor in planning, writing and revising.

  Spend less time on your organization than you generally would. In essay exams, due to time restrictions, your organization can be more straightforward.

  Leave time to revise your writing at the end. If you fail to read over your work, you may skip over areas where you were unclear, leave out key points or make mistakes.

Visit the University Writing Center soon to become a more flexible and expert writer!

For more information, call 410-543-6332 or visit us in GUC 206.