Sunday, October 26, 2014

Writing for an Exam

By: Eleanor Greene

The time of the semester when there’s no tests to study for is sadly long-forgotten as we’re now in the limbo between midterms and finals. There’s no denying test season. No matter what major or program you’re in, you can count on some writing for those tests. And whether that means a timed test-essay or just a bunch of short answer questions, here are some tips to help get you started.

Write down what you know. The moment between putting down your notes and getting your exam is the moment to remember that definition, conjugation, or date.  Once you get your test, jot down that thing you might forget to refer to later, when you really need it.

(Really) Read the prompt. Look out for specific action terms that will tell you what your professor is looking for. This will help you to answer the question correctly and to not do more work than you have to. Underline terms like: identify, compare/contrast, take a stance, discuss, or explain.

Once you think you know what you’re going to write about, jot down your ideas (that will later become body paragraphs). Write down only a couple words so you know what you meant, and try writing down a few more than you need. Your best thought may not be the first thing you think of. Write them down, then narrow down.

Even in a classroom exam, backing up your claims with outside support makes your argument stronger. Think back to class discussions, lectures, readings, and any outside research you’ve done, and note those sources in your writing. A professor probably doesn’t expect a direct quote in a paper, but it’s nice to add something like, “Source X agrees, this was a cause of the Civil War.” Or something like that.

Don’t spend too long working on an outline—just enough so you know what you’re doing and can pace yourself through the test. With an eye on your outline and your watch, you’re ready to start writing!

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