How to Answer Essay Questions – The Ultimate Guide
“I hate essays!” This battle cry is famous to most students. That’s because essay questions are either easy or difficult. Either way, there’s no certain formula. Even if you think you know the answer – don’t be overconfident – the critical part is how you make your essay worth reading. So how do you do it? Here are some tips:
Read the question more than once. Some questions can be tricky so make sure you understand it to the letter. A lot of students commit error by simply not reading instructions very well. They read and then write a long essay, only to realize very late that they did not understand the question correctly.
Familiarize yourself with your professor or teacher’s style of organization, if you can. As students, it’s your role to know how your teachers want their essays answered.
Know what is required of you. Usually essays ask you to define, compare, enumerate, describe, illustrate, and discuss. Whatever it is, don’t go beyond what is asked of you.
Don’t be shy to ask your professor if you have some clarifications.
Mentally go through your lecture notes before writing anything on your paper.
Create an outline of thoughts and related topics in connection with the essay question. By doing this you are helping yourself create a more organized answer.
Construct an idea in each paragraph. Go back to your essay outline if you think you are repeating yourself or not making sense at all.
Use the terminology of the course. Be professional in knowing what type of words to use in a particular topic or subject.
Read and go back to your previous paragraphs after you are finished with one paragraph. This will help you determine your flow of thought and if you are really making a point or giving an answer.
Don’t include ideas that are off-topic.
If there are too many ideas in your outline, cut out the least important ones. As much as possible, make your idea concrete and pointed, with arguments or statements that is easy to understand.
The body of your essay should have a summary or statement.
Support your summary or statement with adequate details and specifics. If you do not know how to add details, just expand on your generic idea.
Avoid jumping from one point to another.
Avoid vague descriptions if necessary. Include specifics to get your message across.
Review the question again and again so you will not lose your thread of thinking.
If you have time to make revisions, do so.
Use all the time you have to complete your essay. Review and re-check your answers before submitting your paper.
If you have nothing to write and don’t know what to write, don’t leave your paper blank. Write something at least.
That covers most of the important areas – See also the Writing Center which has a comprehensive list of resources for writing papers – most of these also apply to writing essays.
Here is a great Checklist for answering Essay Questions from Tennessee State University:
Use the following as a guide when writing answers to discussion questions and as a checklist after you have written your answer.
1. Do I understand the question? What am I being asked to do?
2. Do I have a plan? What are my major points and how am I going to present them?
3. Does the reader know, just from reading the first sentence of my essay, both the question and how I will answer it?
4. Are my major points clear and do they stand out?
5. Do I support my argument with facts and examples?
6. Do I make clear and sensible transitions between major points?
7. Is my answer clear to someone who knows nothing about this?
8. Have I answered the question completely? Have I fully covered all of the major points required to completely answer the question?
9. Is there irrelevant material?
10. Do I have a conclusion and summary statement?
11. Have I proofed my essay for common spelling and grammatical errors?
12. Is my handwriting legible? Is there room for comments or additions?
Glossary of Essay Exam Terms
When taking an exam the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with all instructions. At times this can be confusing especially if you do not understand the terms. Below you will find some common terms used on essay exams. Learning these terms is a key step in successful completion of most essay exams.
- Compare (also Compare with): Discuss the similarities between two or more given subjects.
- Contrast: Discuss the differences in two or more given subjects.
- Criticize: Explain the value of a finding or theory. Include both negative and positive aspects based on implementation. This could be the ease of which it is applied, examples of false findings, etc…
- Define: Describe precisely a term’s meaning as it applies specifically to a given subject.
- Describe: Use exact detail to explain a given term. This may call for the use of examples, definitions, or discussion of the term.
- Diagram: Use a visual representation of relevant information to explain implementation of a term. This usually calls for an explicit chart or graph which is thoroughly labelled. In some cases it may call for a detailed plan as well.
- Discuss: The literal meaning of discuss is talk about. To do this in an exam you must thoroughly explain your subject with words.
- Enumerate: Form a list of relevant points and explain each point. This may result in an outline like answer.
- Evaluate: Discuss the pros and cons of the application of your given subject from a professional point of view. This differs from criticize because personal opinion should be avoided unless instructions specify otherwise.
- Explain: Define the given material and give examples of how and why it is important to the subject.
- Illustrate: Use a visual aid or a clearly defined example to explain a given subject.
- Interpret: Explain the given question, include you personal feelings on the subject as well as a solution.
- Justify: Use factual information to argue you view of the situation presented in a given problem.
- List: Brief but thorough list of information that explains the given topic.
- Outline: much like writing an outline for a paper. Answer the question by creating an outline that highlights the main ideas and key points of those ideas.
- Prove: Discuss the topic in a way that readers are convinced to support or reject the idea discussed. This is done through presentation of facts or the step by step illustration of logical thinking.
- Relate: Discuss the connection between two or more events, people, problems, etc…
- Review: Close examination of a problem accompanied by brief comments that explain the main points.
- State (also Give, Specify, or Present): Explain the major points of a subject in brief for. There is typically no need for further explanation.
- Summarize: Create a brief description that highlights the major points of your subject.
- Trace: Explain the progress of the given subject from conception to current date. Highlight anything that is considered a major topic as well as the reason for any changes.
More Info on Essay Exams
How to Study for an Essay Exam
How to Answer Essay Questions – The Ultimate Guide
How to Answer Different Types of Exam Questions
All about Essay Exams
Written by: Brian Stocker MA, Complete Test Preparation Inc.
Modified: September 26th, 2017
Published: November 30th, 2007
Why is the “Why this college?” essay so important? Colleges care why students put their college on their list, and many colleges incorporate the “why?” question into their applications.
While most students find themselves having to write a variety of essays for different colleges, typical students will focus almost exclusively on the Common Application essay or a college’s Personal Statement. Frequently they think they’re done with their applications, and then they go to hit “submit” and find out that colleges want them to write another essay telling them why they want to attend.
These are usually the worst essays imaginable. Students don’t know how to distinguish themselves and consequently end up writing about football, greek life and the weather.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington got so tired of students saying they wanted to come to Wilmington for the sunny climate that a few years ago their prompt was: “Tell us why you want to come to UNC Wilmington, besides the beach!” This year, Georgia Tech’s prompt got even more specific when they asked students to respond to: “Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech?”
I suggest that students imagine themselves on the other side of the admissions desk. If you were a director of admissions at a college and were choosing who to accept and who to deny, what would you want to read about in a “Why this college?” essay? Once you are looking at the prompt from that perspective, it’s easy to see why droning on and on about the sense of spirit in the stadium won’t set you apart.
Colleges want students who want to be there for the academics. Students need to demonstrate that they’ve done their homework on the college website. How does this specific college differ from others on your list? Are their multi-disciplinary majors unique? Are the study abroad opportunities especially appealing? If so, why? Is their commitment to an Honor Code something that speaks to you?
What are some things that colleges don’t want to read about?
Students often fall prey to regurgitating college facts and trivia that they read in guidebooks or heard on their campus tour. Don’t tell colleges what they already know about themselves, such as the number of books in their library or the fact that they have dining halls open 24 hours a day.
Colleges really don’t like it when students suggest that they can make a lot of money after they graduate because their school did well on some college ranking. I think they like it even less when a student writes that with an undergraduate degree from their school they’ll be able to get into a top-notch graduate school.
Make sure your final “Why this college?” essay is not an essay that you can multi-purpose and use for other colleges. Personalize it, and be specific about identifying why each college is a good fit for you. It’s very easy for a college to determine which students have put in the effort on this essay.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:email@example.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com