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Succeed at Exams

What is unique about essay exams?

Essay exams have a significant written component, such as detailed short answer questions and/or formal essays. These exams may ask you to:

  • Show what you know about the course content and communicate this knowledge effectively
  • Be analytical and critical about the themes of the course
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the relationships between course content, course objectives, and the practical and theoretical perspectives used within the course
  • Integrate and apply what you have learned in lectures, readings, and discussions
  • Articulate connections between the course material in complete sentences and paragraphs

What is the difference between a short-answer question and an essay question?

Both short-answer and essay questions ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of course material by relating your answer back to concepts covered in the course.

Essay questions require a thesis (argument) and supporting evidence, which comes from knowledge gained from course lectures, readings, seminar discussions, and assignments.

Short-answer questions are more concise than essay answers and they generally do not require an introduction, body, and conclusion.

How do I prepare for an essay exam?

  • Review course outlines
    • Go beyond the topics that are covered and try to figure out the broader themes that the course explores
    • Use this information to prepare sample questions.
  • Review your notes regularly
    • Keep the content fresh in your mind.
    • Look for recurring themes, ideas, concepts, and trends.
    • Organize your study notes around these major ideas.
  • Be active in your learning strategies.
    • Go beyond simply reading your notes.
    • Describe concepts aloud, explain them to a friend, or use a strategy such as concept mapping to organize your thoughts and show how concepts are related or different.
    •  Identify the areas that you understand well and the areas where you can strengthen your knowledge and understanding.  

How do I use practise questions?

  1. Review your notes from lectures, seminars, textbook, online notes, and other course materials to create summary or study notes.
  2. Formulate practice questions based on the different categories of questions described above. Use old midterms, course outlines, study partners, and lecture and text notes to help you predict and create possible short-answer or essay questions.
  3. Create outlines to answer your possible questions. Choose a definite argument and organize the supporting evidence logically.
  4. Try mnemonics such as rhymes or acronyms to help you remember your outline.
  5. Use a timer to practise answering your questions within a limited time frame.
  6. Arrange a study group to discuss possible questions and key issues or concepts from the course.

How can I prepare if I get the questions in advance?

  • Research the questions from your text, lecture notes, and other supplemental resources, and write down outlines for your answers ahead of time.
  • Memorize an outline or key points.

How can I prepare for a take-home exam?

  • Prepare as if you were going to write the exam on campus.
  • Study before you receive the take-home exam or you may spend too much time researching the material and not enough time writing the exam.

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