Preparing for an Essay Exam


Study–for an essay exam? Is it even possible? If so, just how does one study for these much-hated tests? The answer to the first question: Yes, it’s both possible and essential that you study for an essay test as well as prepare test taking strategies. Many College Entrance Exams, Teacher Certification Exams and most High School Tests have an essay section where you are required to write at least one essay from several given topics.  The answer to the second question, How to Study for an Essay Exam, there are several strategies.

1) First, understand what not to do. Your instructor does not expect you to memorize your textbook. Instead, he will expect you to demonstrate the application of the theory of he subject that you’ve been studying. Therefore, you must read through all of your textbooks and notes. Read through them once and as you do, highlight anything that illustrates the main concept. Then study that concept until you understand it. If necessary, ask your instructor (and fellow students) to provide examples of that concept.

You are not expected to memorize the textbooks. You are expected to demonstrate the application of the theory. You have to read through your notes and textbooks. Read through once. Highlight the concept. Understand the concept. Ask your lecturers and friends to give you examples to help you understand it.

Let’s say, for instance, that your unit is on the scientific method. You must read your material and speak with your instructor until you know what’s involved in the scientific method, and why each stage is there.

2) Once you feel like you understand the concept, you need to try to explain it as if you’re talking to a six year old child. One of the best ways of making sure you have learned something is to see if you can explain it in very elementary terms. Until you’ve reached that point, you haven’t really learned it. And so, in our example, what words, what language could you use to explain the scientific method to a child. Once you’ve learned to do that, you’re a step closer to being able to write about it in an essay test.

3) As you’re studying for the essay exam, think of as many “how” and “why” questions as you can about the subject. Don’t waste time on “who, when, where” questions. Essay tests almost never ask these sorts of questions. The “why” and “how” are the important parts of an essay exam.

4) Think of examples you will use in your essay exam to support your arguments. Write out key points of these examples. You won’t have lots of time when you’re taking the test to think of examples, so it’s helpful to have those examples already in your mind.

5) And of course, as with any other test, make sure you get enough rest before the day of the exam. Nothing will make your brain freeze just as the test begins like a lack of sleep will. But if you prepare adequately, come equipped with good examples, and have enough sleep, you stand a good chance of getting a good grade on the test.

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5 thoughts on “Preparing for an Essay Exam”

  1. These strategies that you have given to help during the study time of a test were a big help in my success on some of my most recent exams. I have learned that you can’t procrastinate and wait until the last minute to study. It is true that you do not need to memorize the entire book but to understand the material that is being taught and how to actually apply it. If you attempt to memorize the book it will not help you retain any of the knowledge actually taught during class. I definitely use the method of highlighting important parts and writing notes in the margin of my text books. I look at them for tips of what I need to study and where I need to go to find the material. I learned that once I realized what the material was talking about that I could teach it back and that helped remember the material tremendously. The how and why questions were also a big help because it helped understand how and why the material is used. If you use an example to explain the material it can help you determine what that specific subject is used for and how to use it properly.

  2. Andre – sorry we don’t have any free study guides, 😥 though we do provide free practice questions for different exams.

  3. Spend time on your outline first. Make a good outline on your scrap paper and then fill it in by degrees – before you know it you have a completed essay!

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