Essay exams require more than just knowledge recall and application.  They also require students to demonstrate their analytical skills, that is their ability to use good reasoning in analysing a situation or solving a problem.  There is an expectation that students will not only explain key concepts, but also that they will use key concepts to interpret, make connections, see relationships, draw comparisons and synthesize information in support of their argument or assertion.


Before the Exam

  1. Revise key concepts and ideas
    Go over concepts that were emphasised in tutorials and lectures, as these are, most often, the key concepts that course organisers want you to understand and critique.  Course profiles are another useful source in determining key concepts.
  2. Practise
    Study sessions should include practice exams.  Begin your study by anticipating what essay questions will be included.  There are several sources for possible essay questions, including major headings in textbooks, course profiles, study guides, end of chapter questions from textbooks, as well as tutorial questions.
  3. Prepare study sheets
    Review lecture, study guide and textbook notes.  Record the relevant and important material from these sources on your study sheet.  Use these to plan out how to answer your practice questions
  4. Organise
    Organise all your material.  Decide on the best way to present your ideas in a written form.  This not only helps you plan an effective essay, it will also help you to remember key ideas.

Sitting the Exam

  1. Allocate time
    Take note of the way marks are allocated and allocate time accordingly.
  2. Read questions thoroughly
    Identify what the question is asking you to do.  This can be done by circling any verbs or doing words, underlining the key terms, and identifying any limiting phrases. 
  3. Read questions more than once
    It may be beneficial to read the question 3 times to ensure that not only do you know what is expected, but you can also identify whether you have choices.  For instance, do you have to answer all questions, or do you have a choice?
  4. Give yourself space
    Leave every second line blank in your answer booklet.  This gives you room to fix up mistakes and add any extra ideas.
  5. Plan before you write
    Spend a few minutes gathering your thoughts before writing.  This will allow you the time to consider the most effective way to present material and will ensure that you cover all the necessary components.
  6. Aim for clarity
    Your introduction should give your reader clear direction.  Ensure that you have a clear argument or thesis in your introduction, that you link all paragraphs to that argument, and that you reinforce the main points in your conclusion.  Remember that one sentence should equal one idea.