How to Write an Exam Essay

Useful tips on how to answer an essay question in an exam situation:

  1. Read the question carefully and answer it

This piece of advice is the first thing to remember and the most important. A common error that often occurs among students is that they answer the wrong exam question. This, unfortunately, can have a disastrous effect on exam grades. So, make sure you fully understand what it is the examiner requires, and it is strongly recommended you keep referring back to the main question as you write your answer. This recommendation may seem obvious, but experience suggests that the greatest cause of disappointing or poor exam results is not addressing the right question.

  1. Write a strong introduction

The introduction to your essay should provide a brief and concise summing-up of the key points for discussion. Where appropriate, clarify any key terms and concepts. A lot of introductory paragraphs fail because the writer provides excessive detail and repeats arguments from the main body paragraphs. As a rule, it is a good idea to begin with short sentences as opposed to complex ones. This helps clarify the purpose and paves the way for clear thinking.

  1. Create a plan for your essay

A well thought-out plan is a great way for collecting thoughts and ensuring the writer remembers to mention their main points or arguments. Do a little brainstorming to establish what you know or understand about your chosen topic. It is, however, vital not to make your plan too detailed. Write down just a few key words and/or phrases. It is recommended you spend between 5 and 10% of the allocated time developing an introductory paragraph.

  1. The steps involved in developing your argument

Write a basic statement concerning your argument. This step usually tests the writer’s knowledge.

Explain the statement you have written with the essay question in mind. Additionally, you should not feel tempted to avoid an explanation because it seems obvious.

Look at your argument through a critical lens. This is your chance to consider whether or why the basic principle could be limited or wrong. It is also a chance to demonstrate you are able to think on your own and not just remember lists of ideas or points.

This last step is known as evaluation or analysis and is the hardest part. However, it is required if you are to get the highest possible marks.

The above advice is entirely applicable to any topic or subject matter.

  1. Write your concluding paragraph

A concluding paragraph is the part where the various arguments are weighed up so the writer can decide which ones are the most relevant, applicable and strongest. Rather than just repeating earlier points, the conclusion should offer a new perspective. You could, for instance, suggest why you think a particular argument is especially valid and then justify your view.

  1. How much should you write?

This is a question that students often ask. A lot of students write one side and stop – virtually in the middle of a sentence – because they believe they are finished. The question about how much to write does not have any correct answer. What is important is that you write as much as you possibly can – but nothing irrelevant – in the time allowed. While quality counts over quantity, do not try to be too minimalistic by writing the bare amount. As a general rule, the more you write, the more ideas or points you are likely to get across.

  1. Have you answered the question?

It is to be hoped that you find at the end that you have answered the right question!

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