How to Prepare for an Essay Exam

Everyone who has been in college has more than likely taken an essay exam. These exams often show up in the liberal arts or sciences. It’s necessary to prepare for them as you would any other test. They require lots of information-usually dates, facts, names, and places. Specific details are a must and each question is worth 10 to 15 points. AAAH!

My worst essay exams were in U.S. History: Up to 1865. On each test, we had a short essay (5 points), long essay (15 points) and 5 detail questions which were usually people or events. If you did not lay out your essay with specific details in dates, names, places, etc. points were chopped harshly. I wish I would have prepared a lot better for these exams. In effort, here’s what I think are most important. Good luck!

1. Go to the lectures and take good notes.

I’m very picky about my notes. I outline definitions and give examples of them. For science (and social science) classes, I would put a date and under it name, what they did and why. My history teacher had us memorizing a lot for her class, and this kept me sane. Usually an event like the Boston Tea Party will appear, and you need to have these notes in one area. Who was involved? What happened? When? You’ll most likely be expected to write out all of this.

2. Do the reading.

Take the advice of someone who’s been in college for a long time. If you read with a highlighter or pen, it will be beneficial to you. I do this with all my classes. The book gives you all the information, but the teacher might not get to all of it in 50 minutes. If you’re expected to make up what they didn’t cover in the reading, add this to the back of your notes. It’ll appear on your exam. Don’t let it sneak up on you.

3. Put everything into context.

How do the noble gases relate to one another? Compare them and see how they are alike and different. Assemble all your information in one area and see how it fits into the puzzle. If the instructor gives you a study guide, write out all the answers. After you do this, you’ll have a better idea how each concept is related to each other and do better on the test.

4. Predict essay exam questions.

This is good to do with a classmate in the same class. Often times there are review questions in the back of each chapter to help you review. Take advantage of these! They are here to help you succeed, and they run in sequence in the chapter. I’ve used these in every class and when they weren’t there, I made up my own. Doing this has helped me pass the exams.

5. Find a good study partner.

This makes all the difference. If you have someone to bounce ideas off of, this helps you achieve success. Sometimes your study partner will have notes you didn’t receive in class. It’s a good process to start and it will help you in the end.