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Tips for Finals Studying and Writing In-Class Essays
Do Essay Exams Frighten You?
Sometimes, students worry they will "freeze up" and not be able to write. In reality, an essay exam can be easier to take because you can draw from everything you learned during the course. However, you may not want to study in quite the same way to prepare.
Here are some tips from an experienced professor (who once had an "exam freeze" herself)! Study and prepare this way and you should be able to relax and be ready to sail through your essays this semester.
4 Studying Tips
- Think like the professor: As in most classes, you will probably prepare for the test by reviewing your notes and textbook. An effective way to review is to think about what questions you could ask about this material: Imagine you are the professor and want to give a comprehensive exam: What were the most important points the class covered?
- Make up your own questions: What questions could you ask to get the students to remember and write about those points?
- Be strategic in studying: If your professor seems especially interested in one part of the course, be sure you pay attention and write questions about that.
- Ask for Direction: You can also ask the professor what sort of questions to expect, whether they want to synthesize, analyze or compare and contrast. They may not answer your question, but they may be impressed that you've thought about this sort of essay.
Studying with Friends
The technique of making up questions works even better when you are studying with a friend or in a group. Here are some suggestions:
- Take turns asking each other the questions you have written down.
- Or you can exchange questions and write out exam answers (whatever type you know will be on the test—short answer, paragraphs or full essays).
Especially when you are writing an essay, you will find this technique makes you much more prepared.An alternative way to do this type of studying is to not write out the full essay, but do an outline of an essay, or write out just the main sentences.
Do a Practice Exam
Either by yourself or with some friends, set up a time to do a practice exam using the questions you have written. Here is how to do it:
- Make a list of sample questions (or if the professor has a test bank of old questions, you can choose from that).
- Find a good quiet place to write and get all the supplies you need.
- Set a time limit on your phone alarm.
- Pick a question and write your exam.
- Stop when the time is up and reread your essay. If you are studying with a friend, read each other's essays
- Evaluate your essay using the following question:
- Did you answer the question?
- Did you have a clear thesis?
- Did you have three main topic points?
- Do you have evidence and examples to back up your main topic points?
- Does your introduction interest the reader and present the question and answer (your thesis) clearly?
- Does your conclusion sum up the argument and leave the reader with one final, interesting point?
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How to Make Sure You Answer Correctly
The most common reason why students get points off on an essay or short answer exam is that they did not answer the question correctly.Different sorts of question words require different answers. Here are some common question words and what they mean:
- Argue: An argument question wants you to state a position on a topic and give reasons for agreeing with that position.Generally, you will also tell what the opposing position is and explain why your position is better.
- Compare and Contrast:Compare means to show how things are the same.Contrast means to show differences.Sometimes you are asked to do one of these.Other times you may need to do both.Usually, you are asked to give examples too.
- Explain, Define: Tell what something is and give examples.You usually will take it apart to show parts, describe what it is vs. what it is not, and compare it to similar things.
- Discuss:This is a very general question which is more open ended and is seeking to see what you have learned about a topic.Be sure to look for other words in the question which may focus your answer more.If there aren’t any, then be sure your answer does give specific examples to back up your general statements.
- Analyze:Means to divide the topic into parts and tell how the parts are related to each other and the general topic.
- Synthesize: In this case, you will have several parts and you need to show how these are related to each other.You may have to analyze first before you synthesize.
- Illustrate:In this question type, you are to give clear examples to explain.
- Trace or Give the History:This question asks you to explain the sequence of events or processes in a chronological order.
- Solve:This is a problem solution question which asks you to give a solution and explain why that solution solves the problem and is better than other possible solutions.You should also explain how it is feasible to implement.
- Interpret:This question asks you to give your own ideas about why something happened or what it means.You need to make sure you give concrete and specific reasons and examples to support your interpretation.
Step by Step Instructions
- Step One: Read the instructions on the test carefully.Notice how many of the questions you need to answer and quickly calculate how much time you have for each one.
- Step Two: Read each question and circle the key question terms.
- Step Three: Before you answer each question, write a brief outline of what you want to say. For longer essays, you may want to also jot down examples you plan to use. You should also write in one sentence a specific answer to the question which will be your thesis.
- Step Four: As you write, remember that specific examples count more than general, rambling thoughts.Look back at the question as you start each new paragraph and ask yourself, have I answered the question? Keep track of the time and keep moving rather than spending too much time perfecting any paragraph or sentence.
- Step Five: Re-read your essay once to check for spelling and word errors. If you have time, you may want to underline and re-read the thesis and topic sentences to see if your argument flows smoothly.
- Step Six: If you run out of time, then go back to your outline and briefly explain what you were planning to write in the rest of your paper.This is where a good sketch outline before you begin can help you.You can refer your professor back to the outline (and maybe even expand it a little) to show what you know.
Give Yourself a Treat
In-class essays are sometimes stressful for students, but actually, these tests often give you the best chance for showing what you really learned in a course. With multiple choice tests, you are not always able to use the information that you studied.On an essay test, you can often bring out the information you did learn.
Your professor wants to know that you were paying attention and that you studied.If you keep that in mind, you will do well on your in-class essay.
Reward yourself afterwards with a cup of coffee with a friend, or maybe a nap! Good luck!