7 Essay Writing Tips To Ace Your Next Exam

1. After the initial panic passes, read through all the questions before you begin to answer any of them, underlining key words and phrases that will help guide you in your answer. In many cases, instructors will incorporate key words and phrases from their lectures in the exam question, so make sure that you focus on these elements in your answer.

2. Based on your comfort level (or lack thereof) with particular questions, after you have reviewed all questions, decide approximately how much time you have for questions that are relatively easy for you to answer and, conversely, which questions will require more time to answer correctly and thoroughly. This is a very important step because it will help you organize your time and effort.

3. Think of each essay answer as a mini-essay in itself, and approach each answer with a shortened version of the process that you’ve been taught to use when writing full essays. If you are used to brainstorming or clustering when preparing to write an essay, go through the same, but greatly shortened, process for an essay answer. The time spent in some form of outlining will save time and effort as you answer the questions.

4. Given the time constraints of most essay exams, you can’t afford to write and re-write answers. From an instructor’s perspective, if a student’s answer contains a great deal of cross outs and perhaps whole paragraph deletions, the instructor will probably conclude that the student is not well prepared. It is critical, therefore, to outline the answer before you begin writing and to follow the outline as you write. Marginal notes of an outline or brainstorming process will probably impress the instructor.

5. The “rhetorical mode” for an answer may be determined by your instructor. For example, you may be asked to analyze, define, compare/contrast, evaluate, illustrate, or synthesize the subject of the question, and you need to focus on answering the question with an analysis, a definition and so on in order to respond to the question appropriately.

6. Just as you do when you draft an essay, try to begin the answer with one or two sentences that answer the question directly and succinctly. In other words, think of the first two sentences as a thesis statement of an essay, and after you’ve stated the answer’s “thesis,” support that thesis with specific examples in the body of the answer.

7. Lastly, one of the most important steps you can take is to proofread your answers and make any necessary corrections neatly and legibly.

Misplaced Modifier

Misplaced Words

Many single-word modifiers are often misplaced; these include only, almost, just, even, merely, hardly, and nearly, for example.
Consider how the meaning of the following sentence changes, depending on where you place the word only:
Only Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser. (No one else but Susie gave $20.)
Susie only gave $20 at the fundraiser. (The only thing Susie did was give $20.)
Susie gave only $20 at the fundraiser. (Susie didn’t give any more than $20.)
Susie gave $20 at the only fundraiser. (Susie gave $20 at the only available fundraiser.)
Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser only. (Susie didn’t give $20 anywhere else.)
One trick to help you avoid misplacing these types of modifiers is to place the modifier next to (or near) the word/words it modifies. For the above sentence, if you want only to modify $20, then use the third example.

Misplaced Phrases/Clauses

Phrases and clauses are also regularly misplaced in writing.
My husband asked me if we might consider having another baby during our friends’ baby shower. (implies that the husband wants to have a baby during the shower)
I found a new scratching post for my cat, which was on clearance at the pet store. (implies that the cat was on clearance)
To correct these sentences, place the modifying phrase/clause closer to the word/words it modifies:
During our friends’ baby shower, my husband asked me if we might consider having another baby.
I found a new scratching post, which was on clearance at the pet store, for my cat.

Dangling Modifiers

A pet peeve of mine, the dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause (a dependent clause in which some words have intentionally been left out), often at the beginning of a sentence, that either doesn’t modify anything specific in the sentence or modifies the wrong word or part of the sentence.
Consider my introductory sentence:
As a freelance editor and proofreader, the misplaced or dangling modifier is a common writing error I see.
Of course, you can probably figure out what I was trying to communicate, but the dangling modifier is distracting and creates ambiguity; it illogically implies that the modifier is actually a freelance editor and proofreader!
So how can I fix the sentence?
As a freelance editor and proofreader, I notice that many writers struggle with misplaced and dangling modifiers.
Now, the introductory phrase (As a freelance editor and proofreader) correctly and logically modifies the pronoun I.
Remember the trick to place the modifier as close as possible to whatever it needs to modify, and you’ll avoid the majority of errors associated with modifier placement.

All About Abbreviations

An abbreviation is defined as a shortened version of a word or phrase. But did you know that there are many different types of abbreviations? Here is a list of abbreviation types:
Acronym – This forms a word using the initial parts or first letters of a name. For example, ABBA, MADD, and OPEC are all acronyms that take the first letter from each word to form a new word. Lesser known acronyms include scuba and laser. The latter examples show that not all acronyms have to be capitalized.
Initialism – Also called alphabetism, this is a group of letters, each pronounced separately, used as an abbreviation for a name or expression. Examples include: CD, TV, and UK.
Truncation – This type of abbreviation consists only of the first part of a word. These are most often used when referring to proper titles such as months of the year or days of the week, e.g., Mon., Fri., Apr., Oct.
Clipped – Similar to truncation in that you are using a part of the word to form the abbreviation, but in this case you’re using either the middle or end. Common clipped abbreviations include phone (telephone) and fridge (refrigerator).
Aphesis – In this case, you have dropped the unstressed vowel at the beginning of the word. These are often unintentional and casually spoken versions of the words. Perhaps the best example is ’cause instead of because.
Portmanteau – The blending of two or more words will give you a portmanteau. Some of my personal favorites include liger (lion and tiger), spork (spoon and fork), skort (shorts and skirt), and brinner (breakfast and dinner).
Some things to consider when using abbreviations:
  • Anyone can make up an abbreviation and many are non-standard. They should, therefore, be left out of formal writing.
  • If the full word would be capitalized (e.g., Sunday or January), make sure to capitalize the abbreviation (e.g., Sun. or Jan.).