WRITING EFFECTIVE ESSAY EXAMS

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1 1 2 WRITING EFFECTIVE ESSAY EXAMS An essay exam offers you the opportunity to show your instructor what you know. This booklet presents before-, during-, and after-exam strategies that will help you demonstrate your knowledge under exam conditions. (For general test-taking tips, please refer to the handout entitled Helpful Hints: Test Taking available at the Tutorial Center or online at < BEFORE THE TEST MASTER THE CONTENT Begin preparing for essay exams the first day of class. Attend each class session, read all assigned materials, review your notes daily, and make time for periodic review throughout the weeks prior to tests. No test taking skills can overcome a lack of knowledge and information. GATHER TEST SAMPLES; PREDICT TEST QUESTIONS Exam Tips Brought to You By... With Helpful Hints From Some instructors will provide sample essay questions. It is always worth asking if sample questions are available. You can also use your notes and summary sheets to pick out main ideas from the course and predict possible test questions. Develop several different questions to use for practice organizing and writing short essays. wwu.edu/~tutorctr WL PRACTICE ANSWERS IN OUTLINE FORM For each sample question you have, practice writing a quick outline for your answer. The outline should include key

2 words to remind you of main ideas and details you want to include in your answer. Find a study group or partner in order to practice talking through your answers. Use your outlines to recite answers and explain concepts to each other. This explaining/listening process will help you check your understanding of the information and will help you practice recalling it. TAKE AT LEAST ONE TIMED PRACTICE TEST You can best prepare by practicing under test conditions. If you will be writing two essay answers within a class period, you will have approximately 20 minutes to actually write each. Practice going through the entire essay process (planning, reading, organizing, composing, and proofreading) for at least one possible question. This practice will help you get a sense of how to use your time during a real test. 3 4 READING After planning, read through all of the questions and think about how each one relates to class material. As you read each question, look for both the content being tested and the key terms that tell you what to do. It is often helpful to underline the content cues and circle terms that indicate task. Compare and contrast the light phase and the dark phase of photosynthesis. Unlike the preceding example in which the task key words match the Task Table (see next page), many essay questions contain key words that merely hint at the task to be performed. In other words, you will need to analyze the key words carefully to identify the exact task your instructor expects of you. PLANNING DURING THE TEST At the beginning of the test, take time to survey the amount of work and to draft a timeline on scratch paper. Divide your time between reading, organizing, composing, and presenting. If you are to write two essays within the hour, for example, you might plan your time as follows. 10:00 Read 10:05 Organize for 1 st question 10:10 Compose 1 st answer 10:25 Organize for 2 nd question 10:30 Compose 2 nd answer 10:45 Proofread In her speech What Does a Woman Need to Know? Adrienne Rich uses the word power in several different senses. What are the different types of power Rich describes? Do you find these different definitions of power useful? Why or why not? In what ways do her examples of power resemble or differ from your own experiences? In the first question, we see the instructor is interested in Rich s definitions of power. Since you are not asked for your own opinions yet, the task that most closely matches is summarize restate the author s ideas. The next two questions are related; you are asked to say why you do or don t find Rich s definitions useful in other words, to evaluate her definitions. In the final question, you are asked how Rich s examples resemble or differ from your experience in other words, to compare the similarities and contrast the differences.

3 KEY TERM COMPARE CONTRAST DEFINE Task Table WRITING TASK Bring out qualities or characteristics that are similar. While differences may also be mentioned, emphasize similarities. Bring out qualities or characteristics that are dissimilar. While similarities may also be mentioned, emphasize differences. Give clear, concise meaning of words or concepts. 5 6 ORGANIZING After reading for content and task, begin brainstorming an answer on scratch paper. Jot down relevant information, listing anything you may want to include in the actual essay. Go back over your list and add numbers to determine the order in which you will include the items in your essay. Cross out items you decide not to use. You won t have time for a rough draft, so spend any extra minutes polishing your outline. At minimum, double-check to be sure your informal outline addresses both the content and the tasks the question indicates. DISCUSS ENUMERATE; LIST EVALUATE EXPLAIN PROVE SUMMARIZE TRACE Consider from various points of view; present different sides. Be complete and include details. State points in clear, concise form. Present a thorough judgment of something, stressing both advantages and limitations. Clarify material in question by stating underlying causes/effects/reasons Establish the truth of something by giving factual evidence and logical reasons. Restate another author s main ideas in your own words. Omit any personal interpretations. Give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from a point of origin. Discuss the roles of REM and dreaming in human sleep. Sample Outline: 2 Dreaming = Rapid Eye Movement (REM) David Watson- researcher 3 20% sleep = REM 1 Sleep = REM + Non-REM Daydreaming 5 Study REM deprivation REM 30% 4 Need REM everyone has 6 Theories dream Solve emotional probs. Store memories Synchronization of eyes Before you actually start the essay, decide on the format you will use. You may double or single-space your lines, depending on instructions and personal preference. It is advisable to at least double-space between paragraphs and leave large margins. White space in your answer can improve

4 7 8 its overall look and readability as well as allow you space to go back and add information if necessary. COMPOSING Opening: Draft an opening sentence on scratch paper, using the question itself to frame your main idea. Answer the question directly. This is NOT the time for a vague, fluffy sentence. The first sentence acts as a claim for your entire answer, so getting that claim as clear and effective as possible will be worth your time. Body: Sample Opening Sentence: Weak: There are many interesting things that could be said about this question and the amazing phenomenon commonly known as dreaming. Strong: While psychologists have found that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is essential in human sleep, the role of dreaming has not yet been established. Draw on your numbered outline for supporting points. Elaborate on each idea without padding and connect it to the opening sentence. Make your points directly, supporting each one with facts and logical reasoning. Sample Body: While psychologists have found that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is essential in human sleep, the role of dreaming has not yet been established. There are two kinds of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement and Non-Rapid Eye Movement. Studies of sleep in the laboratory have demonstrated that dreaming happens mainly during REM sleep. Scientists have found approximately 20% of adult sleep time is spent in REM. Researchers believe that everyone dreams nightly during REM sleep whether or not they remember doing so. A classic study involving sleep deprivation demonstrated the human need for REM sleep. People who were deprived of their REM sleep for three nights in a row became irritable and erratic in their actions. On the fourth night, when REM sleep was allowed, the subjects REM time increased from the normal 20% of sleep to 30%. Apparently their bodies had a fundamental need for REM sleep and had to compensate for the loss. It remains to be shown whether dreaming plays an essential role in REM sleep or is just a byproduct. Psychologists have several theories concerning the possible purpose of dreaming in sleep

5 Closing: Based on your opening sentence, briefly restate the controlling idea of your answer. Sample Closing Sentence: Even though scientists have observed the need for REM sleep, they are still uncertain of the significance of dreaming. PRESENTING 9 10 AFTER THE TEST USE THE LAST TEST TO PREPARE FOR THE NEXT Every test you take can help you prepare for the next test if you put in the effort to learn from the experience. When you get your exam back, don t simply look at the score and stuff the test away in your notebook. Take the time to re-read your answers and any comments from the instructor. There are several ways that you can get feedback on your answers in order to increase your chances of success on the next exam. Write legibly. Keep answers neat, but edit out any errors. It is perfectly acceptable to correct mistakes in ink with a single line through each word you wish to delete. When finished, add a title to your essay answer. A title alerts your reader to your main point and give a finished look to your essay. Sample Title: REM Necessary Dreaming? FOLLOW UP WITH THE PROFESSOR Talk to your professors about your exams. Ask them to explain how you could have improved your answers. Most professors will be happy to go over exams with you if you approach them wanting to learn rather than complaining about grades or criticizing tests. GET ANOTHER READER Proofread your answer, checking for missing words, misspellings, and grammatical errors. To help you focus strictly on mechanical errors, read your answer backwards ; in other words, read sentence by sentence starting with the last sentence and moving backwards to the first. Take your test and answers to the Writing Center, WL 482. Ask staff to help you sort through the comments and think of ways the essays might be improved. Work with them to practice revising and rewriting one or two answers. Revised by Roberta Buck and Maria Hicks Originally developed by Jody DeWilde and Carmen Werder Western Washington University, 2001

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