answer questions in essay format
The first paragraph introduces your main idea or position. It begins with a topic sentence. The topic sentence states plainly the point you intend to make in your answer. Often it simply restates the question.
- Did the student fully answer the question?
- Is there a beginning, a middle, and an ending?
- Could more information be added?
Now trade papers with another student. Comment on the new paper in the same way. When you’re finished, return the paper to its writer and get your own back. Read the comments on the back. How could you improve your answer? Did other students have ideas or write answers that show you other ways you might respond to the question?
Decide if you need to write a 1-paragraph or a multi-paragraph answer.
How much information to include, repeat, restate (intro needed? details needed?).
We’ve all been there. You’ve handed in an essay and you think it’s pretty great: it shows off all your best ideas, and contains points you’re sure no one else will have thought of.
The best way to get really good at making sure you always ‘answer the question’ is to write essay plans rather than whole pieces. Set aside a few hours, choose a couple of essay questions from past papers, and for each:
So you’re taking an exam. You breeze through the first portion of the exam – multiple choice, no problem. The written questions give you a bit more trouble but they are only short answer, not a big deal. However, then you turn to the last page of the exam. Oh no! It is the essay question.
[00:04:42] Tip number five: end with a strong conclusion. Most writing guidelines suggest that it is best to restate the points that you’ve made throughout as well as to summarize your essay in the conclusion. However this is also indicative of boring writing and it’s an ineffective way to end your essay. Think instead about synthesizing the various points that you have made throughout your exam essay question rather than just simply restating although you’re not trying to prove a new point, you’re going to try to synthesize your points into a well-rounded argument that you have also shown in your essay. Think about it as a way to tie everything together at the end of your essay.
Writing a good essay requires synthesis of material that cannot be done in the 20-30 minutes you have during the exam. In the days before the exam, you should:
- Anticipate test questions. Look at the question from the last exam. Did the question ask you to apply a theory to historical or contemporary events? Did you have to compare/contrast theories? Did you have to prove an argument? Imagine yourself in the role of the instructor–what did the instructor emphasize? What are the big ideas in the course?
- Practice writing. You may decide to write a summary of each theory you have been discussing, or a short description of the historical or contemporary events you’ve been studying. Focus on clarity, conciseness, and understanding the differences between the theories.
- Memorize key events, facts, and names. You will have to support your argument with evidence, and this may involve memorizing some key events, or the names of theorists, etc.
- Organize your ideas. Knowledge of the subject matter is only part of the preparation process. You need to spend some time thinking about how to organize your ideas. Let’s say the question asks you to compare and contrast what regime theory and hegemonic stability theory would predict about post-cold war nuclear proliferation. The key components of an answer to this question must include:
- A definition of the theories
- A brief description of the issue
- A comparison of the two theories’ predictions
- A clear and logical contrasting of the theories (noting how and why they are different)
In the exam
Many students start writing furiously after scanning the essay question. Do not do this! Instead, try the following:
- Perform a “memory dump.” Write down all the information you have had to memorize for the exam in note form.
- Read the questions and instructions carefully. Read over all the questions on the exam. If you simply answer each question as you encounter it, you may give certain information or evidence to one question that is more suitable for another. Be sure to identify all parts of the question.
- Formulate a thesis that answers the question. You can use the wording from the question. There is not time for an elaborate introduction, but be sure to introduce the topic, your argument, and how you will support your thesis (do this in your first paragraph).
- Organize your supporting points. Before you proceed with the body of the essay, write an outline that summarizes your main supporting points. Check to make sure you are answering all parts of the question. Coherent organization is one of the most important characteristics of a good essay.
- Make a persuasive argument. Most essays in political science ask you to make some kind of argument. While there are no right answers, there are more and less persuasive answers. What makes an argument persuasive?
- A clear point that is being argued (a thesis)
- Sufficient evidenct to support that thesis
- Logical progression of ideas throughout the essay
- Review your essay. Take a few minutes to re-read your essay. Correct grammatical mistakes, check to see that you have answered all parts of the question.
Things to Avoid