Writing Essay Exams

Beth Hedengren
University Writing
Brigham Young University
Take time to understand the question. This may seem obvious, but many times students fail an exam because they write a very good response to a question that wasn't asked.
Plan before writing. Take just a few minutes after reading the question to jot down a quick list of what you want to include in your response. That way you won't forget where you are headed partway through your essay.
Turn the question into a thesis. Try this strategy: start with a sentence that sums up your answer to the question. This provides you with a clear unifying thesis and makes apparent you are answering the question that was asked.
Don't summarize unless it's asked for. Usually teachers are looking for your original analysis or application in an essay response. Don't waste time summarizing unless the information is important to your analysis.
Use an accessible format. Make reading your response easy for the teacher.
As appropriate, use headings or lists. You can even underline key words.
Leave a few minutes for proofreading. A quick reading will allow you to insert omitted words and fix other errors that may complicate reading your response.
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