essay exam format

essay exam format

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

Tips for Writing Essay Exams

  • Have a really good introduction. Have a snappy first sentence, show you have a firm grasp of the question and that you have a main line of argument. This tells the examiner where you are headed and also what to look out for.
  • Have a good plan. If each paragraph deals with the factors, points or issues raised in your introduction, the examiner sees that you are fully in control.
  • Sign-posting’ – Make every paragraph catch the eye by beginning with a strong argumentative point that is linked to the main argument (backbone) of your essay. Then you can go on to explain and prove it.
  • Try to make your essay fluid and easy to read. Ideally the points you make within a paragraph should flow from one to the other and each paragraph should link well with the next.
  • Have a snappy ending. Summarise your main points and end with a clear and well thought out main argument. A strong ending will remind the examiner of what you have proven and show that you have been in control of the essay all the way through.

But – A good essay style will help you make the most of what you know. If you know a bit about the essay topic, a good essay style can hide some of your inadequacies. If you really know your stuff, you should end up writing an excellent essay rather than just a good essay.

The following words are commonly found in essay test questions. Understanding them is essential to success on these kinds of questions. Study this sheet thoroughly. Know these words backwards and forwards.
The well-organized, neat-appearing individual will usually get the nod over another equally capable person who is disorganized and careless in appearance. Although other factors are involved, the analogy to examination writing is a skill. This skill can be improved by instruction. The student would be advised to follow certain steps in writing an essay exam.

Essay exams test you on “the big picture”– relationships between major concepts and themes in the course. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare for and write these exams.
For more information on exam preparation and writing strategies, see our Exams pages.

Essay exam format
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