Study Strategies

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Strategies for Essay Tests


Review old exam questions, or write and answer your own questions.

  1. Write a key word outline for each question, listing details and examples.
  2. Take timed mock exams if you are anxious.


A. Read through the exam sheet (5 min.).

  1. Examine the instructions for each section.
  2. Choose the best questions to answer and start with the easiest.

B. Budget your time.

  1. Allocate total time according to points per question.
  2. Leave 10-15 minutes at the end for checking.
  3. Note the expected finishing time for each question.

C. Plan your answers.

  1. Decide what the question is asking (circle key words).
  2. If necessary, ask the professor for clarification.
  3. Number parts of the question to avoid omissions.
  4. Write a key word outline of the points you will make.
  5. Include the professor’s pet theories/concepts.

D. Write.

  1. Answer the question directly in an opening sentence which lists points you will later discuss.
  2. Do not write introductory or concluding paragraphs, as they will probably not earn any points.
  3. Use transitions.
  4. Write on every other line and/or leave lines between answers so that you can add ideas later.
  5. Be complete: define terms and explain everything so that the professor doesn’t have to read between the lines.
  6. Write legibly.
  7. For each point you make, use the following formula:
  •   State your point.
  •   Explain how your point answers the question.
  •   Write details and examples about your point.

E. When time is up:

  1. Check through all answers, neatly crossing out material to omit and using arrows to add material.
  2. If unfinished with the test, list remaining points in a skeleton outline.


Learn from your exams.

  1. Compare your answers with A answers (ask another student or the professor).
  2. Discuss your performance with the professor.
  3. Remedy any faults revealed in your study techniques.