Answering an Essay Test
Essay tests can have on them the following types of questions: short or long
answers, fill in the blank, and sentence completion. Use the following
suggestions to help you with essay-type tests:
- Make a brief survey of the entire test. Read every question and the
directions. Plan to answer the least difficult questions first, saving the most
difficult for last.\
- Set a time schedule and periodically check your progress (to maintain proper
speed). With six questions to answer in 60 minutes you should allow a maximum of
10 minutes per questions. If your 10 minutes passes and you have not finished
the question, continue to the next one and come back to the other one later. Do
not sacrifice any question for another.
- Read the question carefully. Underline key words: e.g., list, compare, WWII,
political and social, art or music, etc. As you read, jot down the points that
occur to you beside that question.
- Organize a brief outline of the main ideas
you want to present. Place a check mark alongside each major idea and number
them in order of presentation in your answer. Do not spend too much time on the
- When you answer, always rephrase the question.
Example: Explain Pavlov's theory of conditioning. Answer: Pavlov's theory of
conditioning is based on...
The remainder of the answer is devoted to support by giving dates, examples,
stating relationships, causes, effects and research
- Present material that reflects the grader's personal or professional biases.
Further, stick to the material covered in the reading or lecture, and answer the
question within the frame of reference.
- If you do not understand what the instructor is looking for, write down how
you interpreted the question and answer it.
- If time does not permit a complete answer, use an outline form.
- Write something for every question. When you "go blank," start writing all
the ideas you remember from your studying - one of them is bound to be close!
- In sentence-completion items, remember never to leave a space blank. When in
doubt - GUESS. Make use of grammar to help decide the correct answer. Make the
completed statement logically consistent.
- If you have some time remaining, read over your answer. You can frequently
ideas which may come to mind. You can at least correct misspelled words or
insert words to complete an idea.
- Sometimes, before you even read the questions, you might write some facts
and formulas you have memorized on the back of the test.
ANSWERING AN ESSAY TEST WITH SEVERAL QUESTIONS
- Do a memory data dump.
- Read all the test questions and underline the important words.
- As you read each question, write down key words relating to the answer that
immediately comes into your mind.
- Develop a test progress schedule.
- Answer the easiest questions first.
- Expand the key word outline begun in Step 3.
- Organize the outline.
- Write the answer.
- Go to next easiest question and proceed to Step 6. 10. Review all test
KEY WORDS ON ESSAY TESTS
COMPARE - Look for similarities and differences between the things mentioned.
CONTRAST - Stress the dissimilarities.
DEFINE - Give a brief and accurate definition of the item.
DESCRIBE - Tell the primary characteristics of a situation or retell the
important elements of a story.
DISCUSS - Be analytical. Give reasons, pro and con.
EVALUATE - Give both the positive and negative sides of the issue or topic.
EXPLAIN - Give the reasons or causes for being as it is.
ILLUSTRATE - Use examples. If appropriate, draw a diagram.
JUSTIFY - Give your
reasons for the conclusions you have reached.
LIST - Give an itemized list;
number the items.
PROVE - Give factual evidence, including logical or mathematical proof as
REVIEW - Give a summary and comment on important aspects of the
SUMMARIZE - Give a summary without comment or criticism.
TRACE - Describe the progress or causes of some historical happening.
Paul D. Nolting, Ph.D., Winning at Math, 1997
1989 by Academic Success Press, Inc
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