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Written Tests

Learn how to prepare for your short-answer and essay exams.

Long-term Preparation

  • Read the course syllabus
  • Make note of any themes or connections you notice
  • Check with your instructor to see if he/she agrees with the connections you have made
  • Learn from instructors and other resources about the form and content of upcoming tests, including grading criteria

Short-term Preparation

  • Review your notes and reading assignments one to two weeks before the test
  • Make a list of main ideas or themes that your instructor covered in class
  • Note the relationships between these ideas—they may be clues to possible essay questions
  • For each idea or concept, create a summary sheet of relevant data
  • Review the topics actively by integrating notes, text, and supplementary information like diagrams
  • Show your review sheets to your instructor to make sure you are on the right track
  • Generate a list of possible questions using your relationship charts and
    summary sheets
  • Outline answers to as many of these questions as time permits

During the Test

Before You Write

  • Budget your time. Spend more time on questions that are worth more points. Allow time for reviewing and proofreading at the end.
  • Read carefully. Read all essay questions before you start to write. Pay attention to key words such as compare, explain, justify, and define. Ask your instructor for clarification if you don’t understand a question.
  • Start off easy. This might seem obvious, but it can help you manage your time.
  • Make an outline. Quickly list the ideas and facts you want to include. Number the points in the order you want to present them. Be sure to distinguish main topics from supporting examples.

While You Write

  • Write on every other line. This will leave space for any additions you may want to make to your answer.
  • State a definite, clear thesis. Include it within the first few sentences of your answer.
  • Follow your outline. Be specific with examples and details.
  • When time is up for a given question, move on to the next one. Partially answering all questions is better than fully answering some and not answering others at all.
  • If you’re running out of time, write an outline for the rest of the answer. The grader might be able to give you partial credit for it.
  • Brainstorm if you don’t know much about a question. Relax and try to recall your reading, lectures, and discussions; this may trigger memories relevant to the question.
  • If your mind goes blank, don’t panic. Think about something pleasant, unrelated to to the test. Take some deep breaths. If you’re still blank, move on to a different question.

After You Write

Read through your answers and make any necessary additions. Check for errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation.