How to study for an essay exam

Taking an essay exam can be very difficult. You have a limited amount of time to express your understanding of a topic and you need to write a coherent essay on the first pass. Most High School exams have essay questions and so do most College exams.  If you are a student who needs several drafts before your essay assignments start to take shape, the essay exam could be a difficult and very stressful test. If you know you will need to answer essay questions start studying early and incorporate several practice essay questions in to your prep and you will find yourself doing very well on the exam.

Do not put off your study sessions until the last minute, schedule at least two study and prep sessions at least the week before the test. During these study sessions you will concentrate on not only reviewing the materials that will be covered on the test but you’ll need to write a practice essay answer as well. Once you start practicing your essay writing skills, you’ll find it much easier to answer the essay questions during the exam.  See our post on The Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation

You may find it beneficial to make lists of topics that you should include in your essay answers. Create outlines that include the topics and information you want to include in your essay but keep the lists simple. Your job when answering an essay question is to express yourself correctly and include as much information you can. Your teacher is not expecting a fully fleshed essay, they are expecting a rough draft essay that expresses your understanding of the topic.

Many teachers are willing to give the class a list of possible essay questions or helpful tips on what questions have been asked on previous tests, especially for High School tests.  Use these helpful hints to focus your preparation on the topics that may be asked during the test. Focus your study on the topics your teacher provides and practice your essay writing skills and you will find yourself doing very well on your essay exams.  Here are some very detailed tips on studying for an essay exam from the Writing Center.



About the Author

Brian has a BA in Economics, and an MA in Psychology. He lives in British Columbia, Canada. He has traveled widely and has written extensively on education, testing and tests.

Comments (2)

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  1. Marie Lourdes Miracle says:

    I support this idea that the essay exam is very hard, specially for students to whom english is a second language. I took the CUNY exam the first time and I got the Math and the reading. For the essay, it is so hard to write so fast. It is like the 90 minutes is too short. We have to do everything quickly. I am thinking that any job would ask people to think so fast. The students are competent,but the timing is hard for them.
    I am an example; I know all the techniques to realize a very good essay, but I can’t go so quickly. My heart beats so fast when they say we stay only 15 minutes.

    It would be in the interest of the CUNY office to retink this process to the essay. If not tey will lost some very potential students.

    First time written.

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