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.