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Tom Siebold

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Strategies for Essay Tests

1. Read the question carefully and make certain that your response really answers the question.  Also be alert to the parameters of the question.  For example, when the question asks that you discuss the importance of the porter scene in Macbeth, donít wander off into other scenes of the play that donít relate.

2. Be certain that you find and understand the function word in each question.  These are key words that should dictate your response.  When you are asked to enumerate, for example, make sure that you offer a list; when asked to compare and contrast your answer should show similarities and differences between two or more elements; when asked to discuss, cover several different aspects and support each with relevant details.  In other words, know what the test giver wants with each essay question.

3. Before you begin writing, take a little time to jot down key things that you know you want to include in your answer: important names, dates, concepts, formulas, facts, etc.   Do this in the margin or on a separate piece of paper.  This simple effort may prevent you from omitting relevant information as you write.

4. Before you jump headlong into the content of your answer, take a little time to organize your content.  A key word outline will give your writing an important sense of direction.

5. Your essay answer should have a controlling idea statement or thesis.  This is a single sentence that tells the reader exactly what you are attempting to prove, show, or demonstrate. 

6. Make certain that each of your paragraphs have clear topic sentences.  These are your main points of support.  Each topic sentence should be supported with details and/or examples.

7. Your answers should be developed fully.  It is very maddening for the test reader to be titillated with an answer only to find that it is incomplete. 

8. Donít stuff your answer with content filler that is not relevant to the question.  This immediately triggers a negative teacher response.

9. You must allow adequate time for proof reading.  Check for organizational problems, extraneous content, usage errors, incorrect dada, misspellings, and grammatical problems.