Preparing for Essays

Everyone has their own unique style of studying and preparing for exams. Depending on the type exam, study skills may need to be adjusted to accommodate what material is being assessed. For example, when preparing for an essay exam, one may wish to use a different skill set than they would use in prepping for true-false, multiple-choice, or fill-in-the-blank exams.

It has been my experience with essay exams that one should try to write everything they know about the topic in question. Human nature causes us to seek shortcuts in an effort to minimize the amount of work necessary to complete an assignment. However, this diminishes our ability to transfer data in a meaningful way. Also, teachers and professors will be expecting your work to measure up to grade level standards. If you are a trying to use shortcuts, your grades will suffer.Take time to assess your work before turning in the final project.

Usually, a professor will lay down the ground rules for their test at the beginning of the semester. If you know in advance there will be an essay exam, then you are already half way to winning the game. The following are some tips that I would like to share with those who will be taking essay exams:

1. Take comprehensive notes in class. Upon returning to your room or home, take time to rewrite your notes from class. You will find that what you may not have had time to write down in class will still be fresh enough on your mind that you can fill in the gaps from your memory of what was discussed.

2. Don’t wait until test time to look at your notes again. By first rewriting them, you are helping to reinforce the material in more than one part of your brain. However, it is imperative that you also reread your notes. Since very few people actually comprehend completely what they read the first time through, it is wise to repeat that concept with your study skills.

3.  Before test time, do a comprehensive review by thoroughly reading through your notes on all material covered during the assessment period. This will be beneficial as it will reinforce the knowledge you have stored and help it to surface during the assessment.

5. Get plenty of rest the night before and eat a good breakfast on test day. This will get your brain to engage better.

6. Once you have the test in hand, take a moment to read all directions thoroughly. It’s not likely to happen, but in the rare instance you have a professor like I once did. The directions may save you a lot of work. In my case, the professor had included instructions that stated something to this effect “if you are reading this, sign you name on top of your test, leave it face down on you desk and you are dismissed. Merry Christmas, please leave quietly!” You have no idea how many students failed to read the instructions and sat in dismay as one after another of their classmates got up to leave.

7. Since the above scenario is not likely to ever happen, remember to brain storm before beginning to write. Brainstorming is a way of getting all your ideas out of your head quickly and onto your paper. After brainstorming, take a moment to organize your thoughts on paper into coherent ideas.

8. Write what you know. Most professors will be able to detect BS as opposed to quality information.

9. If the unthinkable does happen and you cannot remember anything on a topic, write about something. It may be that once you start writing, your brain will release the information you need after all. But also remember, a blank answer cannot receive any kind of grade.