Essay Tests

Before You Begin the Test

Read over all the questions carefully. Make sure you understand what the professor is asking (See the list of terms and their definitions, below). In addition, look at how the points are allocated for each question and plan to spend more time on the questions that are worth more points.

Next, outline your answers to each question. Write on the back of the test or in the margin. Doing this will help you remember what you learned about that topic when you're ready to write the answer, and the outline will help you organize your answer.

Writing Your Answers

Answer the question that's being asked; don't waste time writing everything you know about a topic (unless that's the question that was asked!).

Be logical and organized; support your opinions and statements with empirical evidence or a logical argument.

Write neatly and use good grammar and spelling. Telling someone what you know requires good communication, and good written communication includes neat writing and good grammar and spelling.

If you have difficulty spelling, make sure you memorize the spelling and pronounciation of terms that will be on the test so you can get those right. Not spelling correctly communicates an impression that you don't know the material or that you didn't take the time to learn to use the terms.

Read over your answers when you're done to make sure that you've answered each question completely and didn't get sidetracked.

Essay Terms and Their Meanings

Explain--to make clear; to interpret; to clarify; to tell the meaning of or how to do something

Summarize--to give concisely the main points of a topic or area

Evaluate--to give the good points and the bad points; appraise; give an opinion supported by evidence and logic regarding the value of an event, development, contribution, etc.; discuss the advantages and limitations of something

Contrast--to bring out the points of difference between two or more things

Define--to give a meaning of a word or concept without using the word itself; to place it in the class to which it belongs and set it off from other items in the same class

Compare--to bring out points of similarity and difference

Describe--to give an account of; tell about; give a word picture of something

Discuss--to talk over; consider from various points of view; present the different sides of or perspectives on something

Criticize--to state your opinions of correctness or merits of an item, concept, development, or issue; to point out the positive and negative aspects

Justify--to show good reason for; present facts to support your opinion of some issue or idea

Trace--to follow the course of something; give a description of the progress of something

Interpret--to make plain; to give the meaning of; to translate

List--to summarize ideas or concepts with short phrases rather than paragraphs and sentences

Analyze--to examine a complex event, development or concept by separating it into its elements, and discussing those elements and the relationships among those elements

Prove--to establish the truth of something by giving factual evidence or logical reasons for something

Illustrate--to use a word picture, diagram, chart, or concrete example to clarify a point