Knowing how to write different kinds of exams is an important skill to have. Whether you’ve never written a short- or long-answer exam before or you consider yourself a pro, we have some great tips to help you tackle any exam questions you may face.
Before the exam
Attend the final lecture
I know you might not think the last class is valuable, but your instructor will likely give some hints as to what could be on the exam—especially if they do an in-class review session. This is also the perfect time to ask your prof any questions you may have.
Make a study plan
This is a great way to stay organized and on track with your studying. You have to manage your time to make sure you’re covered for each of your exams – a study plan can help you do this. They may also boost confidence and reduce anxiety. If you aren’t sure how to go about making one, download a handy Studying for Success resource sheet.
Use your lecture notes, readings, and syllabus to create a list of possible test questions and answer them. Use the hint questions that your prof gave in the final lecture. You will perform better if the context that you study in is the same as the context that you’re tested in so when you’re studying, practice writing essays under a time limit and without notes!
Always check the time, location, and date of your exam
These things can change overnight, so make sure you check the exam schedule 100 times so you show up on time and at the right place on the right day.
During the exam
Read over the entire exam
By reading the entire exa, you will know how much each question is worth and what to focus on. Start with the questions that are worth the most marks or with the questions that you know best. Answering the questions you know best first builds confidence and develops a pace for the rest of the exam. If you start with the ones worth the most you know you’ve gotten the majority of the marks over with if you run out of time.
Read the question
But actually read the question. Re-read over and over until you understand exactly what it’s asking you.
Look for keywords
The question usually gives you keywords that give you a clue as to what the prof is looking for. Examples of these include words such as explain or compare. Highlighters can be very helpful to make key words stand out.
Organize your thoughts
List your main arguments, or jot down what you know about the topic and go from there. You can even do this on a scrap piece of paper first.
Plan your time
Once you have a plan on what you’re writing, make a plan to split it up so you don’t run out of time during the exam! This could be as simple as giving yourself half of the time for one of two essays. Trust us, it’ll keep you on track.
Follow a format
A short answer should always have three things:
- A topic sentence: This is your main idea or main argument—it’s also the answer to the question.
- At least 3 supporting sentences: These prove to the prof that you know what you’re talking about. These sentences back up your main idea.
- A conclusion: This restates your main idea and brings the paragraph to an end.
For essay questions, think back to grade 10 English. Your essay should have:
- An introduction: Your introduction should explain the purpose of your essay and contain your thesis – a one or two sentence statement about your argument. For example: Based on the tips and tricks I learned in this article, we are able to definitively argue that long answer exams are hard, but not impossible.
- A body: What are your points? Why do they matter? Prove it.
- A conclusion: Your conclusion should follow the formatting of your intro, contain a restate thesis, and summarize your key points. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, you’ve got this.
Quality is more important than quantity
Don’t worry if your essay isn’t crazy long! Profs are looking for a few strong points, not a lot of weak ones. So don’t keep rambling on about the same thing you’ve already said just to make it longer. The longer you go on, the easier it is to over-explain yourself into a wrong answer.
When organizing your time, make sure you leave time to proofread your exam. Always proofread before you hand it in to make sure your grammar is OK, that your points make sense, and there isn’t any extra information you want to add.
If you’ve answered your question(s) to the best of your ability, then you’re done!
After the exam
Bask in the warm feelings of a job well done!