Study skills: How to write effective essay exams in college and university

What is a well written answer to an essay question?

It is…

Well Focused
Be sure to answer the question completely, that is, answer all parts of the question. Avoid “padding.” A lot of rambling and ranting is a sure sign that the writer doesn’t really know what the right answer is and hopes that somehow, something in that overgrown jungle of words was the correct answer.

Well Organized
Don’t write in a haphazard “think-as-you-go” manner. Do some planning and be sure that what you write has a clearly marked introduction which both states the point(s) you are going to make and also, if possible, how you are going to proceed. In addition, the essay should have a clearly indicated conclusion which summarizes the material covered and emphasizes your thesis or main point.

Well Supported
Do not just assert something is true, prove it. What facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point? In many cases, the difference between an A and a B as a grade is due to the effective use of supporting evidence.

Well Packaged
People who do not use conventions of language are thought of by their readers as less competent and less educated. If you need help with these or other writing skills, go to any writing lab or tutorial help offered by your university or course.

How do you write an effective essay exam?

  1. Read through all the questions carefully.
  2. Budget your time and decide which question(s) you will answer first.
  3. Underline the key word(s) which tell you what to do for each question.
  4. Choose an organizational pattern appropriate for each key word and plan your answers on scratch paper or in the margins.
  5. Write your answers as quickly and as legibly as you can; do not take the time to recopy.
  6. Begin each answer with one or two sentence thesis which summarizes your answer. If possible, phrase the statement so that it rephrases the question’s essential terms into a statement (which therefore directly answers the essay question).
  7. Support your thesis with specific references to the material you have studied.
  8. Proofread your answer and correct errors in spelling and mechanics.

Specific organizational patterns and “key words”

Most essay questions will have one or more “key words” that indicate which organizational pattern you should use in your answer. The six most common organizational patterns for essay exams are:

  • Definition
  • Analysis
  • Cause and Effect
  • Comparison-Contrast
  • Process
  • Thesis and Support

Click here for detailed tips: typical questions, examples, and the process of how to go about answering each type of question.

This article was produced originally by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Reprinted with permission.

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10 thoughts on “Study skills: How to write effective essay exams in college and university

  1. rean

    im not so understand because im filipino but i ca understand an easy english to understand what is write it on because me is fight fo essay i can’t sure if i win so i will understand clearly waht i read and that’s all THANK YOU

  2. BernardBernard

    Hi Monu,
    I am just curious to know if English is your second language as it is mine. My first language is french.
    Have a good day!

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