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Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Thu, 17-Nov-2005
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PREPARING FOR AN ESSAY EXAM. Article by Dr. Nellie Perret, Counselling and Learning Skills Service: University of Toronto

Students often feel at a loss when studying for essay exams. They usually find themselves confronted with a tremendous number of seemingly incoherent bits and pieces of information that they have to understand and, often, memorize; moreover, then they actually sit down to write an essay exam, they tend to fall back on generalizations, forgetting to incorporate the factual material (dates, names, course-specific terminology) that they've studied.
The following method of studying for essay exams should help you anticipate possible questions, organize the material that you've covered and gain some experience writing a clearly expressed and well-structured essay within a fixed amount of time.

I. Generate possible questions

It's always a good idea to get copies of old exams. Copy out relevant essay exam questions.
If you've been assigned essay topics for your course, look these over and copy out potential essay exam questions.
Look over your lecture notes and predict possible essay topics by concentrating on areas that were given particular emphasis, or themes that were repeated, throughout the year. This can be done alone or in a group.

II. Write thesis statements for as many essay topics as possible

Most thesis statements have a subject and three to four main points.
Look over your list of possible essay topics.
Think of the three to four main points that seem most relevant for each of the topics.
Determine an order for each of the points within each of the topics.
1. Random order. Put them down any way that you like. No order makes any more sense than another.
2. Chronological order. One thing occurs, in time, before another. This is often the best method to use when describing a process, an historical chain of events, and so on.
3. Logical order. One idea must be presented before the next can be understood.
4. Climactic order. Put your "second best" idea first and your best idea last.
(See Sarah Norton and Brian Green's The Bare Essentials.)
Rework each of the essay topics you have chosen into a thesis statement having a subject and three to four main points (i.e., "What are some of the common characteristics of all underdeveloped countries?" becomes "Three of the most common characteristics of all underdeveloped countries are [A: first main point], [B: second main point] and [C: third main point]).

III. Write one or two "mock" essay exams

Now that you have constructed a number of thesis statements or "mini-outlines," use these to help you organize your studying.
Using your textbook and lecture notes, research each of the topics as if you were doing the research for a term paper.
Expand upon each of the thesis statements, filling in the specific detailed information that you have found (facts, figures, dates, names, etc.) under the appropriate main points.
Having organized the material in this way, you will find that it is relatively easy to memorize these "clusters" of information.

IV. Write one or two "mock" essay exams

Some students run into trouble duiring the actual exam situation because they have not paced themselves appropriately during the exam. They might, for instance, spend 10 minutes working on the introduction for an essay exam question and then find themselves with only 5 minutes remaining in which to write the body of the essay and the conclusion, and to "proof" the paper for any careless mistakes. The student can be alerted to potential problems of this sort by writing a timed "mock" essay.
Using one of the prepared outlines, write an essay in the time that you would normally have during an exam.
Without looking at one of your prepared outlines, write a timed "mock" exam.
Look over your "mock" exams critically. Think about ways in which they might be improved.

V. Common instructional verbs used in essay exams.
(from Ron Fry's "Ace" Any Test. Hawthorne, N>J>: Career Press, 1994)

Compare: Examine two or more objects, ideas, people, etc. and note similarities and differences.
Contrast: Compare to highlight differences.
Criticize: Judge and discuss the merits and faults of (critique).
Define: Explain or identify the nature or essential qualities of.
Describe: Convey the appearance, nature, attributes, etc. of something.
Enumerate: List various events, things, descriptions, ideas, etc.
Explain: Make the meaning of something clear, plain, intelligible and/or understandable.
Illustrate: Use specific examples or analogies to clarify of explain.
Interpret: Give the meaning of something by paraphrase, by translation or by an explanation based on personal opinions.
Justify: Defend or uphold a statment, decision or conclusion.
Narrate: Similar to describe, but only applicable to something that happens in time; to recount the occurrence of something, usually by giving details of events in the order in which they occurred.
Outline: Do a general sketch, account or report, indicating only the main features of a book, subject or project.
Prove: Establish the truth or genuineness of by evidence or argument. (In math, verify validity by mathematical demonstration.)
Relate: Give an account of happenings, events and/or circumstances.
Review: Survey a topic, occurrence or idea, generally but critically.
State: Present the facts concisely and clearly.
Summarize: State in concise form, omitting examples, analogies and details.
Trace: Follow the course, development or history of an occurrence.

Copyright for this article belongs to Dr. Nellie Perret

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Dr. Nellie Perret. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.calss.utoronto.ca/pamphlets/essayexam.htm

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