Writing the Killer Essay for an Exam without Killing Your Roommate

Many of you are thanking the “test gods” because you just found out that your final exam is a multiple choice with some true and false, but others are down in the dumps because they are having an essay exam. Don’t fret — Professor Cram is here to help you out.

Most people fear the essay exam because they are required to write about things they may not know, but actually the opposite is true. Essays are an opportunity to speak about what you do know. Most essay exams will have several questions to choose from and if you have been attending and participating in class then there ought to be something in the exam questions that you know a little about. Before we start on writing the essay, though, let’s back up a bit and look at how best to prepare for an essay exam.

To properly prepare for a killer essay exam, first review your materials (class notes, textbook, assigned reading) and pick out key ideas, such as areas to compare and contrast or significant events. Take these key ideas and develop outlines for each one, consisting of a thesis statement and at least three to four logical statements that support your thesis statement. Back up each of these statements with supporting evidence. (This may sound like a lot of work but, after all, proper studying is work.) Print these out and use them as a study sheet to review before your test.

Remember, the goal of an essay exam is to find out how well you can communicate your understanding of a particular subject. Many exams are “compare and contrast” varieties, or demand descriptions of certain significant events, but they all want you to take a position and defend it. Success or failure on the test, in turn, depends on how well you defend your statements with supporting evidence.

When the essay questions are passed out during exam time, take time to read through each question and mark the ones you are interested in answering. For each one, write out a quick outline including a thesis statement.

Your whole essay depends on your thesis statement and it should come directly from the question your instructor presented. The opening paragraph should include your thesis, your position, and how you are going to defend your position. It should be a concise version of your outline. Once you have written the first paragraph it is time for the rest to follow.

Take a deep breath and then begin to write your essay according to your outline. It is important to stay focused on defending your thesis statement. Instructors can see right through rambling gibberish. Most instructors already have certain points they will be looking for in your essay, but don’t worry — stick with what you know and can defend.

After you have completed the first draft of your essay, stop and re-read it. Look for fragmented sentences and misspellings, and make your corrections. Add in a few words or statements if you think of more, but remember that a concise well written essay is always better than a lot of ramblings and no support.

The key to writing essay for exams is preparation and a calm attitude. Instructors are not necessarily looking for you to be an expert on the issue but they do want you to present a precise logical answer.