Essay Exam Tips
Anne Reith, Ph.D.
Learning Disabilities Specialist
Budget Your Time
- Look at the weighting and budget time accordingly
Really Look At The Question
- underline the verbs
- don't describe when asked to compare & contrast
- don't explain when asked to argue
Think Before You Write
- Write down all the facts, ideas, concepts, etc., that you feel need to be included
- Organize them in order (number them, outline)
- Compose your first paragraph (should summarize and introduce key points). This is where superior papers and essay answers are make or unmade
- Write essay has legibly as possible
- End with paragraph that offers more than just a summation
- Re-read your essay and proof, edit, add, delete as appropriate
- Few teachers will be impressed by length
Well-organized, well-constructed, specific answers will always get a better grade than "shotgunning"
- Be smart about space
Leave room in margins or use every other line
Don't write so small itís difficult to read
- Don't write and run
Sit with the essay for a few minutes and just think to make sure you've included everything; make absolutely sure you canít add anything more to your essay
- If you run out of time:
Quickly do Steps #1 & #2 above and most teachers will give you partial credit
- If the question is very broad:
The teacher is testing your ability to "edit yourself, to organize, and summarize the important points"
Common Instructional Verbs on Essay Tests
|Compare||Examine two or more objects, ideas, people, etc., and not similarities and differences.|
|Contrast||Compare to highlight differences.
Synonyms: Differentiate, distinguish
|Criticize||Judge and discuss merits and faults.
|Define||Explain the nature or essential qualities.|
|Describe||Convey the appearance, nature, attributes, etc.|
|Discuss||Consider or examine by argument, comment, etc.
Synonyms: Debate, explore solutions
|Enumerate||List various events, things, descriptions, ideas, etc.|
|Evaluate||Appraise the worth of an idea, comment, etc., and justify your conclusions.|
|Explain||Make the meaning of something clear, plain, intelligible and/or understandable.|
|Illustrate||Use specific examples or analogies to explain.|
|Interpret||Give the meaning of something by paraphrase, by translation, or by an explanation based on personal opinion.|
|Justify||Defend a statement or conclusion.
|Narrate||Recount the occurrence of something, usually by giving details of events in the order in which they occurred.
Synonym: Describe (but only applicable to something that happens in time)
|Outline||Do a general sketch, account, or report, indicating only the main features of a book, subject, or project.|
|Prove||Establish the truth or genuineness by evidence or argument. In math, verify validity by mathematical demonstration.
Synonyms: Show, explain why, demonstrate
|Relate||Give an account of events and/or circumstances, usually to establish associations, connections, or relationships.|
|Review||Survey a topic, occurrence, or idea, generally but critically.
Synonyms: Describe, discuss, illustrate, outline, summarize, trace (some test makers may use these words virtually interchangeably, although one can find subtle differences in each)
|State||Present the facts concisely.
Synonyms: Name, list, indicate, identify, enumerate, cite
|Summarize||State in concise form, omitting examples and details.|
|Trace||Follow the course or history of an occurrence, idea, etc.|
Based on: Fry, R. (1996). "Ace" any test (3rd ed.). Career Press: Franklin Lakes, NJ.