TIPS FOR TAKING UNIVERSITY ESSAY EXAMS AND BLUE BOOK TESTS
Why do professors give essay and blue book tests and exams and what are they looking for?
- Demonstrate what you know; its meaning and significance.
- Demonstrate what you understand about a subject.
- Demonstrate your writing and conversant ability on a subject.
There are different kinds of essay tests that are given for different purposes:
Short Answer for:
Identification -- This type of question:
- tests your factual knowledge and understanding of terms and concepts
- wants you to identify a person, place, term, concept
- requires an answer in one paragraph (3-4 sentences) or two paragraphs at the most
A good way to prepare for this type of question is by using drill or "flash" cards.
Long Answer for:
Discussion -- This type of question:
- wants a full written discussion of paragraphs for you to develop and give your answer
- wants you to provide your answer and then provide an explanation or justification in a logical and organized progression -- in other words, to make an "airtight" case
Essay test questions have their own language, and knowing that language can help you to understand what the question is asking and wants.
- Agree/Disagree -- State a position and support your answer.
- Compare/Contrast -- Discuss similarities and/or differences.
- Analyze -- Discuss something in its parts.
- Explain/Illustrate -- Write about something as it exists, mainly the facts about it.
- Interpret -- Discuss the meaning or importance of something such as a document, poem, written passage.
- List/State -- Present a list of something, sequence, or an issue.
- Summarize -- Discuss the main points of something.
Long-Term Preparation For Essay Tests
Preparing to take essay tests or exams starts as a long-term process and begins when the course begins, because being ready to write an essay test is a building process that takes time. Using three tools can help you in this process.
Syllabus -- Not only does the syllabus tell you when the essay test will be, but it also tells you the likely topics that precede the test and therefore, what is likely to be on the test.
Summarizing Your Notes -- Summarize your notes on a regular basis, daily or weekly. At the bottom of each page of notes or on a separate piece of paper, summarize what the notes are about. This helps you to focus, get the main points of your notes, and establish a way of finding specific notes when you need to.
Summarizing your notes also helps you to "handle" and organize your information to understand and learn it. Summarizing is also an important preliminary effort to later making a study guide.
Drill Cards/Flash Cards -- Drill cards are an excellent way to learn terms, concepts, and facts.
- Making the cards for each term, concept, fact is a good way for learning them.
- Drilling must be done in small amounts over a long period of time; try drilling three cards at a time for 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
- The object is to learn one of your three cards. When you do that, put the card that you learned aside, pick up a new one, and continue.
- For really tough terms and concepts, write them and their definition out 10 times each, "training" your writing hand to know the word or concept.
Short-Term Preparation For Essay Tests
Short term preparation should begin two to three weeks before the test.
- Locate the test chapters and your notes that are related to the topics on the test.
- Identify the major topics that you have covered leading up to the time of the test.
- To be ready for taking an essay test, you must be prepared ahead of time. You must "practice" or "rehearse" for an essay test, just as athletes practice for games or actors rehearse for a play.
- Make a study guide for each topic that is likely to be on the essay test. Each study guide should have key terms and concepts for you to make sure that you know for that topic. On your study guide write down one or two questions about that topic that you would ask a class if you were the professor.
- Practice answering your questions by outlining what you would write in order to answer
the question, or by actually writing an essay to answer the question.
By this rehearsal process, you are organizing the information in your mind and you are practicing to answer. Even if the professor does not ask the essay question that you practiced for, you may find that your question has similarities or that what you trained into yourself can be transferred to the question that is asked. Keep drilling your terms and concepts as you should have been doing all semester.
The day of the essay test get off to a good start:
- Be well rested and make sure that you eat.
- Get to the test early; don't be in a rush or your mind will still be racing when the test begins.
- Make sure that you have everything that you need and are allowed to have for the test; pack it all in your book bag the night before the test.
- Stay away from the "worrier" and "last-minute questioning" students; they will only confuse you and undermine you. If you must wait outside the classroom to avoid listening to this until the professor arrives, do that.
- Sit where you won't be distracted and where you can concentrate.
- Turn off your cell phone, musical watch, pager, other noise maker. If any of those go off during the test, you are going to interrupt yourself and break your concentration while you turn those things off.
Rules of Thumb About Taking Essay Tests
- Be sure that you understand what the essay questions are asking for.
With discussion questions, briefly outline your answer in your blue book before you start to write. This helps you to organize your thinking on paper where you can see it. Outlining also helps you to get some or the most important part of your information down on paper, where you no longer have to worry about remembering or forgetting something. Now you can concentrate on how to present your discussion and answer. Additionally, sometimes an outline shows the professor what you were attempting to do and what answers you had, in the event that you can't finish the essay.
- Turn the essay question that you are answering into the opening sentence of your essay;
this way you are less likely to go off track with your discussion in answering your
- Write in paragraphs, one paragraph for each point that you want to make.
- Check your work for what you left out and add it to a page for the professor to find.