Essay Test Taking StrategiesEssay tests are one of the most dreaded types of tests, but if you combine some general test taking strategies with specific essay test taking strategies, the essay test may prove to be one of the most interesting types of exams you take!
General Test Taking Strategies
Before the test - The most important test taking strategy is to know your subject.
- Stay up to date on your assignments.
- Take notes and spend some time each day reviewing. Review all related notes upon completion of each chapter or unit, making sure you understand the material.
- Use memory tricks, (like rhymes, anagrams, alphabetizing) for lists, definitions, and other hard to remember kinds of information.
- Don't be afraid to ask your instructor about material that will be emphasized on the test.
- Get a good night's sleep before tests.
Be early to class on the day of the test. Use the extra time to get organized and relaxed. Make sure you have the supplies you need like pencils, scratch paper, and any permitted reference materials.
During the test -
Stay relaxed. If you feel your stomach knotting up, take a couple of deep breaths, clear your thoughts and begin again.
Read the directions carefully. Pay attention to last minute verbal instructions, listening especially for changes to written directions. Ask questions if you need to clarify directions. Example: A key instruction might be that you only have to answer three out of five essay questions. Find out if answering the final two is worth extra credit or no credit.
Essay Test Taking Strategies
Review the whole test before you begin writing.
- You may find partial answers to some questions hidden in others.
- Find which questions will be easy and which will be more difficult.
- Some questions may be worth more points than others may.
Budget your time equally for each question. Include time to review and finish difficult questions, make corrections or changes, and time to proofread your essay(s),
Try to write as neatly as possible.
Each question will have a central idea. Try to answer the questions from the instructor's point of view, remembering what was most emphasized during class.
Look for directional terms found in keywords such as:
- Analyze: Examine and clarify an idea.
- Compare: Identify similarities and differences, pros and cons.
- Evaluate: Come to a conclusion based on facts.
- Outline: Describe the main points of a topic. If you're unsure, ask if this keyword means to use an outline format (i.e. I, II, III,) or an essay format (descriptions in the body paragraphs).
- Define: Explain the exact meaning and support your definition with facts.
- Describe: Go into detail. Use examples, verbal illustrations, and lists to connect ideas.
- Summarize: Give a short account of the topic, still using the essay format but sticking to facts and excluding unnecessary details. Circle any directional terms you find in each question to be sure your essay stays on course.
Make a simple outline of ideas for each essay question.
Remember the essay format is with the three "tells":
Tell them what you're going to tell them (introduction): Use the introduction to repeat the question in your own words to let your teacher see both your understanding of the question and a short description of your answer.
- Answer the question in detail, using your outline for your main points and adding the details to each point.
- Numbers or bullets make for easier reading and let your teacher easily find each point.
- If you aren't sure about an exact date or number, use approximations that you are sure of such as "the early 21srt century" or "over a dozen".
Tell them (body):
Tell them what you told them (conclusion): Don't overlook the conclusion to your essay. A strong conclusion can provide extra clarity to your essay by restating your point of view and defining how you reached it by summarizing your major points.
After Test Strategies
Every test is good practice for the next test! Analyze your test, paying equal attention to your strong points and weak points. Build on your strengths and work to make weak areas stronger.
If your score was low, ask your teacher what you could have done to improve it.
Although essay test taking strategies are important, learning some general test taking strategies for before, during, and after essay test taking is also valuable to getting good essay test grades.