March 2003 Issue
Student Study Skills Tips
Robin York, Chemeketa Community College
Practicing for Essay Exams
In essay exams you will be asked to create an answer from your study that
will explain your understanding of a topic, idea, concept or even a theory. You
will be asked to draw together all the information you have studied in order to
answer the question.
The best way to practice for an essay exam is to predict questions. Make sure
you compose questions which will require you to explain your understanding of
the material. Here are some suggestions:
- Write out complex definitions and be ready to compare and contrast terms
- Explain steps in a process. Analyze the process and explain why each step
- Summarize key events and be able to explain how they are related.
- Describe in detail a theory you have studied in class. Make sure you can
- Analyze why something happened.
- Use the vocabulary from your text in your answer.
- Show how a theory or idea has evolved over the years.
Notice that the above suggestions contain direction words (i.e. explain,
summarize, describe, etc.) often used in essay exam questions. Be sure you are
familiar with direction words and their meanings. For example, you don't want to
explain a point when you were asked to analyze it.
Remember when getting ready for any type of exam, the easiest approach to test
preparation is to view the process as one that goes on all term or semester. If
you review regularly, the amount of time you spend preparing for an exam will be
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