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How to answer essay-style exam questions for the best results

Jul 30, 2008
Essay style exams are becoming increasingly popular in both job and college applications. This is because essays show an applicant's ability to think logically and clearly. If you're going to be a taking an exam like this, keep several things in mind to help increase your score.

Read Each Question Carefully

When you're working on an essay style exam, take a look at each question and determine the topic and type of answer needed. Read the question very carefully. Oftentimes, test takers simply scan questions and then start writing, thinking that they'll save time by doing this. However, that's the worst thing you can do. Take a few minutes to completely understand the question and therefore answer the question correctly. If you need to, circle the key words in the question so that you can simply glance at it every so often to make sure you stay on topic when you're writing.

Let the Ideas Come To You

As you read over the questions, it's likely that you're going to begin to think of responses right away, too. As you do, take a moment to simply jot down these ideas in the test booklet's margin. Use whatever is going to help you remember your initial thoughts. Words, short phrases, and the like will do very well. Writers already know that when they release their thoughts on paper, they allow even more ideas to come to their minds. Therefore, take a moment to write down your ideas, too, and you'll do the same.

Use the Stress

Of course, you're going to experience elevated stress during an exam. You're going to have a faster pulse as your mind works hard to process information at a quicker pace than usual. Even so, you can use this to your advantage. Focus completely on the test before you and tune out any other noises or distractions in the room. If you focus completely, you'll have a much better chance of saying exactly what you want. Stress can help you think and form logical thoughts faster when you're working. So accept the stress as a positive, and let it work for you.


On average, it takes about 2 minutes to outline an essay, but that time spent will increase your ability to write it. Once you thoroughly understand the question and have jotted down a few immediate thoughts, sketch an outline for the essay to follow. The subheadings on the outline will turn into the first sentences of your paragraphs, saving you time and increasing your logical progression of thoughts.

Don't Ramble

Using an outline will also prevent you from rambling. The person who will be reading your essays has been trained to spot rambling. Stay focused at all times and use your outline as a guide. State your key points and move on. Don't elaborate on the topic just to fill up the white space on the paper.

Keep Track of Time

If you have been given a certain amount of time to answer each question, make sure you keep track. When your time is up, stop and go on to the next question. Don't put finishing touches on your essay at this point. You're going to need all the time you've got to simply complete the essay at all. In addition, essay questions might become progressively harder and you have to stay within the timeframe for responses to ensure you finish.

Finish Up

Even though you might not be satisfied with your finished essay once time's up, don't worry. This is a completely normal response and is common with essays, which don't usually have definitive answers. Those who score your essay will understand that you were under a time limit and they're not going to be looking for perfection. Instead, they're going to be looking for how well thought out your ideas are and how well you were able to communicate your key points. If you stay focused during your exam, you'll finish well.
About the Author
Author: Dr Marc R. Dussault is an expert at achieving great exam results with the least effort. Visit the "Get Better Grades" website for step-by-step instructions for obtaining better grade without busting your ***!
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