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Essay exam tip extended

Page history last edited by Jared 12 years, 5 months ago


Writing a good essay exam is tantamount to producing a good first draft. Clearly, there will be time to make some additions and to edit or make corrections, but no time for significant revision. However, there are other important dimensions of the writing process of good essay exams.


Typically, there is no need to spend time on developing an introduction that sets up the main point or thesis. The central claim or answer to the question can be stated immediately in response to the question (which can be repeated as a generic opening sentence). The initial paragraph should be written as clearly as possible, encapsulate the main line of thinking, and forecast the direction of what’s to come.   In most essay exams, a straightforward thesis that answers the question will take care of most of these requirements.


Subsequent paragraphs providing supporting evidence, reasons, details and examples should also be relatively concise and clearly related to the main point. The point in an essay exam is not necessarily to demonstrate the depth of understanding of each supporting premise, but to encapsulate how it relates to your answer and to highlight understanding of how material in a course has worked together. This means attempting to link specific ideas from your plans in relevant ways.


To make such connections, students can rely on transition words to help save time and maintain coherence.


o                                on the other hand

o                                similarly

o                                yet

o                                unlike A, B ...

o                                in the same way

o                                but

o                                while both A and B are ..., only B ..

o                                nevertheless

o                                on the contrary

o                                though

o                                despite

o                                however

o                                conversely

o                                while A is ..., B is ...


Again, most commonly, the emphasis is on making connections between insights and evaluations to course material.



  Other strategies students can work with in the drafting process include: strategies for writing a simple summative conclusion, strategies for incorporating new ideas (such as adding new paragraphs or simply adding a sentence to existing paragraphs), strategies for proofreading, and strategies for time-management.

Students will need to see examples of A grade essay exams in order to understand what kinds of writing is expected. Good examples can be annotated to emphasize how students work from their plan to connect key ideas, establish a main focus, explain key terms, illustrate with examples, maintain coherence, and draw conclusions.


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