The Essay Exam
Exam essays are meant to conform to standard essay format - they should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. However, you are generally not required to reference your material. Essay exams usually take two basic forms:
- The closed-book exam: where you don't know what the questions will be and cannot bring any books or notes into the exam with you.
- The open-book exam: where you can take books and/or notes into the exam room and refer to them during the exam. A variation is the take-home exam, where you have a short period of time in which to submit an essay. Sometimes you are shown the questions in advance so that you can prepare fully for the essay. For example:
- Australia should be a republic. Discuss.
Type of learning required
- Exam essays assess your ability to analyse a topic and answer a question (including how well you articulate your ideas and argument).
- Therefore, you need to not only remember facts about a topic, but also form an opinion about it and be able to argue your case.
Study strategies for essay exams
Essay exams are the opposite of multiple choice exams in that they test the depth of your knowledge, not the breadth. You need to understand a few topics at a complex level.
What to do
- Prior to the exam, summarise your notes and use 'memory joggers' - that is, group your information under key headings that can help to jog your memory during the exam. By reading over your notes a number of times and remembering the key headings, hopefully thinking of the headings will trigger your memory into action.
- Practise writing essays under exam conditions and use past exam papers to do so if available.
What NOT to do
- Don't try to memorise an entire essay for the exam. Don't spend all your time on one essay if you have three to write.
During the exam
- Carefully interpret the question, noting key words and directions.
- Brainstorm the question, noting relevant points that come to mind, making use of your memory joggers.
- Make a written plan of your essay.
- Provide as much relevant and detailed information as you can.
- Try not to write in a messy scrawl. You don't want to lose marks because your lecturer can't read your handwriting!
If you get stuck
- Keep going back to the question and to your essay plan.