It’s that time of the year when you come to the sudden realisation that the exam is just around the corner, and many of you will start thinking about how to prepare for your exam! Tackling an essay under exam conditions will require a very different approach from writing a paper in the comfort of your home.
Here are some tips when it comes to writing an essay during an exam:
Before the Exam
Performing well requires more than just learning the subject content and rocking up to the exam. Much of the success of your essay will depend on your preparation before exam day.
- Anticipate the test question – Your past exam paper will likely provide you with a good idea on the type of questions that may be asked. What are the common directive* words that you should expect in the question? Are you supposed to compare and contrast two issues, or critically analyse a piece of writing? Your lecturer may also let you know the format of the question beforehand.
- Prepare an essay structure – It’s critical that you have a clearly defined structure that you are comfortable with. Students for whom English is their second language may also find that preparing a structure will allow them to focus on the content, rather than the mechanics of their writing on the day of the exam. Base your essay structure on the directive word of the question, but be flexible enough to alter your structure if the topic demands so.
- Practice, Practice, Practice! –Practicing writing sample essays under time constraints will give you a rough idea of the length and structure of your exam essay. When it comes to writing good essays, there is no substitute for consistent practice!
During the exam
- Read the question very carefully! – While this may sound obvious, failing to address the question is a mistake that students commonly make. Oftentimes, when seeing a topic they are familiar with students will be tempted to write everything they know about the topic, but make sure your answer is relevant to the task at hand.
- Set up a time schedule for your writing – Does the exam have several questions that need to be answered, or is there a single question that needs to be broken down into separate parts? Use the relative mark value of each question to set up a schedule of how much time you need to dedicate to writing each section of your exam and stick to it. Move on if you are spending too much time on any single section of the exam!
- Do a rough essay plan – It can be tempting to start writing furiously the moment writing time begins, but taking the time to organise your thoughts and drafting a plan ensures that you do not forget key points, and also more importantly allows you to gauge how much time you can dedicate for each point which allows you to track your progress throughout the exam. There is no need to have a detailed plan – use key words and phrases to organise your paragraphs. Highlight and label any text in the exam paper that you want to reference later in your writing.
- Read your own writing –Make sure to leave some time at the end to read through what you have written to correct any grammatical mistakes and ensure that you have answered all parts of the question. It may also be handy for you to leave some blank lines at the end of every paragraph so you have space to make any insertions should you need to make any revisions.
* A directive word simply instructs the student on what to do with his/her essay. Your thesis statement should address the question set using the directive word. Examples of directive words may include: critique, analyse, recommend, evaluate, compare, contrast, discuss, and outline.
Peer Writing Tutor
The Peer Writing Tutor program is provided through the FBE Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT):
Refer to website for timetable details