Students completing a test

Essay Exam Writing Tips

Essay exams are a college reality, yet they can seem scary since essay writing can be very challenging, even without the additional pressures of test environments and time limits.

Keep in mind that the purpose of essay exams is to see how well you sort through a large amount of information, distill it down to what is most important and explain clearly why it is important.

To help you prepare, here are some essay exam tips from a variety of sources including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center:

  • Read all the directions carefully! Underline any important information such as whether you are supposed to answer all questions or just 2 out of 3.
  • Set up a time schedule. If you are to answer 4 questions in 60 minutes, then allocate your time accordingly. If the questions are weighted, then prioritize that into your allocation. Make sure to allow some time for review at the end.
    When your time is up on a question, leave space and move on. You may have time at the end to go back. Six partially-complete answers will usually receive more credit than three complete ones.
  • Organization and neatness count. So try to be as neat as possible.
  • Make sure you understand what the question is asking you. If you are asked for facts, don’t give your personal opinion. Underline any key phrases such as “compare”, “contrast”, “criticize”, etc.
  • Once you have read a question, immediately write down any key words or ideas so you don’t lose them.
  • Before answering a question, put it in your own words.
  • Stop and think before you start writing. Make a brief outline so your essay is fluid, but track your time.
  • Get to your point quickly. State your main point in the first sentence.
    • First paragraph should provide an overview of the essay without long introductions.
    • One main idea per paragraph including quotes, examples or statistics to back up your points
    • Keep it brief yet complete. If you only know part of the answer, then present that well. Adding in useless padding comes across poorly and may be held against you.
  • Summarize in your last paragraph. Restate your central idea and why it is important.
  • Review if there is time. Proof read and complete any questions left incomplete.
Dana Fulton
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Dana Fulton

Social Media Content Manager at Wells Fargo
Creative professional with years of sales and marketing experience, specializing in segment-specific strategy and customer-centric communications. Skills include problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and clarifying the complex.
Dana Fulton
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