How to Answer Essay Questions – The Ultimate Guide
“I hate essays!” This battle cry is famous to most students. That’s because essay questions are either easy or difficult. Either way, there’s no certain formula. Even if you think you know the answer – don’t be overconfident – the critical part is how you make your essay worth reading. So how do you do it? Here are some tips:
Read the question more than once. Some questions can be tricky so make sure you understand it to the letter. A lot of students commit error by simply not reading instructions very well. They read and then write a long essay, only to realize very late that they did not understand the question correctly.
Familiarize yourself with your professor or teacher’s style of organization, if you can. As students, it’s your role to know how your teachers want their essays answered.
Know what is required of you. Usually essays ask you to define, compare, enumerate, describe, illustrate, and discuss. Whatever it is, don’t go beyond what is asked of you.
Don’t be shy to ask your professor if you have some clarifications.
Mentally go through your lecture notes before writing anything on your paper.
Create an outline of thoughts and related topics in connection with the essay question. By doing this you are helping yourself create a more organized answer.
Construct an idea in each paragraph. Go back to your essay outline if you think you are repeating yourself or not making sense at all.
Use the terminology of the course. Be professional in knowing what type of words to use in a particular topic or subject.
Read and go back to your previous paragraphs after you are finished with one paragraph. This will help you determine your flow of thought and if you are really making a point or giving an answer.
Don’t include ideas that are off-topic.
If there are too many ideas in your outline, cut out the least important ones. As much as possible, make your idea concrete and pointed, with arguments or statements that is easy to understand.
The body of your essay should have a summary or statement.
Support your summary or statement with adequate details and specifics. If you do not know how to add details, just expand on your generic idea.
Avoid jumping from one point to another.
Avoid vague descriptions if necessary. Include specifics to get your message across.
Review the question again and again so you will not lose your thread of thinking.
If you have time to make revisions, do so.
Use all the time you have to complete your essay. Review and re-check your answers before submitting your paper.
If you have nothing to write and don’t know what to write, don’t leave your paper blank. Write something at least.
That covers most of the important areas – See also the Writing Center which has a comprehensive list of resources for writing papers – most of these also apply to writing essays.
Here is a great Checklist for answering Essay Questions from Tennessee State University:
Use the following as a guide when writing answers to discussion questions and as a checklist after you have written your answer.
1. Do I understand the question? What am I being asked to do?
2. Do I have a plan? What are my major points and how am I going to present them?
3. Does the reader know, just from reading the first sentence of my essay, both the question and how I will answer it?
4. Are my major points clear and do they stand out?
5. Do I support my argument with facts and examples?
6. Do I make clear and sensible transitions between major points?
7. Is my answer clear to someone who knows nothing about this?
8. Have I answered the question completely? Have I fully covered all of the major points required to completely answer the question?
9. Is there irrelevant material?
10. Do I have a conclusion and summary statement?
11. Have I proofed my essay for common spelling and grammatical errors?
12. Is my handwriting legible? Is there room for comments or additions?
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