Wayne State University

Aim Higher

University Advising Center

Taking Essay Exams

Reviewing For Essay Exams
Try to predict what questions will be included.
Possible sources are:

  1. Chapter headings, end of chapter questions, lecture notes and course outlines.
  2. Previous tests, instructor's focus and emphasis during course lectures.

Taking The Exam

  1. Read the directions carefully. Notice all the instructions.
  2. Know how many questions you must answer and how much time you have. Make note of how much each question is worth.
  3. Read all the questions before you begin writing. See what each question asks of you. As you read, jot down key words or phrases in the margin.
  4. Choose the question or questions you will develop, the ones for which you are best prepared, and quickly draw up an outline using the key phrases you have identified.
  5. After you have completed the first few steps, see how much time is left. Decide how much time to give each question relative to point value. Be sure to stick to your plan.

Organizing The Essay

  1. Answer the question directly in the first sentence.
  2. Expand the first sentence by supporting it with facts and details from your jotted notes and outline. Your second sentence should contain the strongest evidence, clearest explanation, or best logic to support your main point.
  3. Restate the thesis of your essay at the end for your conclusion.

Important Odds And Ends

  1. Write neatly: This may influence points awarded.
  2. Use ink: Pencil is not appropriate for a written exam.
  3. Write on one side of the page.
  4. Leave large margins: This will provide space for instructor's comments.
  5. If you run out of time, outline remaining points: You may receive some credit.
  6. Check your answers: Correct errors so that your exam will read smoothly.

Frequently Used Essay Exam Direction Words

Compare: Concentrate on stating points, qualities or characteristics that resemble each other, but also give important differences.

Contrast: Stress dissimilarities, differences, or the unlikeness of things, qualities, events, or problems.

Criticize: Express your opinions, give points, good and bad.

Define: Give a statement of its meaning and include an example.

Diagram: Give a drawing, chart or graphic answer, being sure to label it with a brief explanation.

Describe: Give a detailed account or verbal picture in logical sequence or story form.

Discuss: Examine, carefully analyze, and give reasons for and against, giving as much detail as possible.

Enumerate: List, give statements one by one so that major points stand out clearly.

Evaluate: Give your opinion or an expert opinion to the truth or value of a concept, citing both advantages and limitations.

Explain: Give reasons, clarify or make clear by telling how to do something or the meaning of a concept.

Illustrate: Give examples to explain or clarify a concept, point or problem.

Relate: Show how two things are connected to one another.

State: Give facts or main points clearly and briefly.

Summarize: State the main points or facts in brief form.

Trace: Present a sequence of facts or events in a time order.


Revised 6/03/07