Exam and essay-writing tips

by Rob Taylor

Essay and exam time is upon us.

Actually, essay time has passed, but there's never any harm in thinking through some tips and advice when it comes to writing tests, exams and essays.


Start very early
If you finish your first draft a week before the deadline date, then you can put the paper aside for a few days and gain some perspective on what you have written and said in your essay. When you come back to it, you might see things that need improvement or changes. Plus, it'll be easier to find grammatical and spelling errors the second time around.

Another advantage of starting an essay early is that it eliminates the danger of having to finish more than one project on the same day.

Take good notes as you do your research
Pretty much every essay requires that you do some kind of research. When doing it, make sure that you take notes and don't just read the material over. While you're taking notes, write down all the publishing information from the references. For a book, this might include the edition number, page number and the publisher's information.

For a Web site, make sure you record the URL (address) of the page where you found the information. This will help you to clarify points later on if you decide to do a bit more research, and it will help you when you write your bibliography.

Ask lots of questions
If you don't understand something about what you are required to do with an essay or a paper, ask your instructor to clarify it. If you build an essay or a paper around an incorrect assumption, then that essay won't satisfy the requirements of the assignment.

When I was in school, I found it helpful to make an appointment to talk to my instructor about my essays. They often had suggestions about what I should be looking for in terms of writing and research.


Start studying early
Cramming doesn't work very well. Start studying as far ahead of time as possible. You may even want to look over your notes immediately after class.

Relax the night before an exam
This is something I did in school and I found it to be extremely helpful. I would study for an exam a little bit each night for a couple of weeks, depending on the subject area. The night before a test, I might study a bit more, just to review fundamentals, but I would have a cut-off time - after 8 p.m., I would do no more school work. Instead I would read or play some video games. At 10 p.m., I'd watch the news and be in bed no later than 11. I always tried to get eight hours of sleep the night before an exam or test.

After doing this I was able to approach the exam or test calmly and objectively.

Bring an exam kit
My exam kit consisted of a watch, five working pens (which I tested before I brought them to the exam) and five pencils, along with a pencil sharpener. The catcalls of "geek!" may begin now.

The watch I would set up in front of me so that I would be able to see how much time I had left. The pens and pencils I had on hand so that if there was a problem with one, I could move onto the next one quickly.

Read the exam over fully before you begin to write
In doing this, one question or part of the test may jog your memory or help you complete another section of the test. More than once I found the answer to one of the questions in the body of another question.

When you read the entire exam or test over first, you can also decide how much time you want to spend on each question and stick with it. For example, the test may be made up of three essay questions with the first essay question worth only 10% of the total grade. You'll want to spend only a short period of time on that first question, even if you could write about it for pages and pages.

Modified on April 23, 2009