Three Rules Deal With Essay Questions on Exams

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Originally published May 17, 2021
Three Rules Deal With Essay Questions on Exams

In answering exams, essay questions can be one of the tougher types of test questions many students dread. Depending on the subject matter, these test items require different approaches to answer well, made even more difficult by the exam's time limit. 

By contrast, most students prefer multiple-choice tests because even if you don't know the right answer, there is always a chance you'll make the right choice, and you can quickly answer all the questions you don't know within the test's time limit.

For the same reason many students prefer multiple-choice exams, many educators prefer the use of essay questions to assess students' learning; students can't just get lucky answering an essay question. You may even encounter essay exams made up of only essay questions.

Whether you need help writing your essay or just answering a short-answer question, keep reading for advice for writing any type of essay, advice for different types of essay questions. 

Be Brief

Good essay writing involves being able to communicate as much relevant information as possible, in as few words as possible. While many essay tests will specify a minimum number of sentences or paragraphs, this doesn't mean that educators want you to write out lengthy essay responses. 

Whether you decide the best way to answer will be to write a single paragraph or a multi-paragraph essay answer, strive to be brief; a good essay should be no longer than it needs to be to get your point across.

To be brief, it will help for you to...

Understand the Question

Before you start writing, you should first identify what the purpose of the question is. You should read each question carefully at least 2 or 3 times. Identify the operative verbs in the question and decide on a strategy for answering the question based on the type of answer expected to the question.

Questions will usually fall into one of these four categories: 

  • Factual recall 
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Opinion

To identify which of these categories a specific question falls under, pay close attention to keywords in the question. What follows are the different kinds of essay questions and some of the operative verbs or essay prompts identifying each.

Types of Essay Questions

Factual Recall 

Write the main body of your essay answer by listing topics in a logical order, in terms of major points, usually followed by a brief explanation with clarifying details for each topic.

Keywords: NAME, LIST, RESTATE, SUMMARIZE, OUTLINE

Analysis

Explain the main point of your answer in detail, based on the information you've gathered from your lectures and readings. Make use of critical analysis, comparison, and contrast to show relationships between cause and effect.

Keywords: ANALYZE, EXPLAIN, DISCUSS, INTERPRET, DEFINE

Synthesis

This type of essay test item is supposed to make you think about situations discussed outside of the assigned material. Illustrate a novel situation, then fill in the relationship by applying the major ideas you've learned.

Keywords: EVALUATE, SHOW, JUSTIFY, ILLUSTRATE, COMPARE/CONTRAST

Opinion

Start by stating your opinion on the topic in your own words. Then, using the principles you've learned, support your opinion through related examples from your class lectures or assigned material.

Keywords: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF

Review Your Answer

After writing your essay, make sure to read over it again to check if you've included all of the main ideas you feel are necessary to properly answer the question. Be sure to also double-check your essay for proper grammar and punctuation to avoid any unnecessary deductions.

Essay Writing Model Answers

QUESTION: Explain the relationship of class size to learning outcomes.

Learning is an essential process for students as it serves as the main goal of education and can serve as a drastic factor in effecting change in their lives. Learning, thus, sufficient dedication of time and focus for its successful occurrence. With effective learning being so desirable, one major factor for consideration is class size. 

Class size can directly affect learning outcomes both positively and negatively, given other factors remain constant. It has such a drastic effect on learning outcomes primarily because of how it can influence the concentration of the individual students and how it determines the amount of attention educators are able to give to each student.

QUESTION: In your opinion, are cell phones dangerous? Briefly explain how.

A cell phone is one of the most commonly used devices in the modern day. About 80 percent of the current world population makes use of cell phones, primarily for communication, though technological development has led to many other uses. These other uses range from facilitating business transactions, planning, and event management, to providing entertainment. 

The widespread use of cell phones has prompted concerns about whether cell phones are dangerous. Some studies support, while others reject the conclusion that cell phones pose significant health risks. Further, it is debatable whether any risks that may accompany the use of cell phones in everyday activities outweigh the benefits they provide to the current world. 

In my opinion, cell phones are dangerous. My conclusion is supported by various research papers and case reports which link excessive cell phone usage to negative physical, mental, as well as social side effects. Those range from distracted driving, impaired development of social skills to a myriad of physiological health problems.

Writing Better Essays

Don't be discouraged if you're having a hard time answering essay questions, and don't be afraid to ask for help. By practicing the tips outlined in this article and studying the model answers provided above, you will be more prepared and better equipped to write essay answers in your exams.

Beyond this article, you can access this paper writing resource for further assistance, whether that involves writing essays or research and thesis papers.

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I write articles and do SEO-optimisation here at Studybay. I'm obsessed with creating content both people and Google love, surfing in Portugal, and dancing Jazz-funk.