Essay Test Taking Strategies

Essay 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.

  1. Stay up to date on your assignments.
  2. 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.
  3. Use memory tricks, (like rhymes, anagrams, alphabetizing) for lists, definitions, and other hard to remember kinds of information.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask your instructor about material that will be emphasized on the test.
  5. 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.

As you review the test, jot down any ideas that come to mind.

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:

Begin with the easiest question and move on to the more difficult ones.

Make a simple outline of ideas for each essay question.

Remember the essay format is with the three "tells":

Proofread your essay. Even if they don't add points, correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation makes reading easier and keeps your teacher focused on your essay instead of mechanical mistakes.

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.

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