While students are usually intimidated by end of the year or mid-semester exams, they usually understand easily enough how to study for them, as most exams consist of multiple choice and fill in the blank and short answer questions. Because most exams are now standardized and computer-administered in order to make it easier on the professors who grade them, they are also more predictable, which makes them easy to study for.
But essay exams aren’t so predictable. So how can you prepare for them?
Well, the first thing you should do in order to prepare for an essay exam is review all of the biggest issues that your professor covered in the course. It’s helpful to review your notes about in-class debates, controversial movies or readings, and any previous essay questions you’ve seen. If you’re lucky, your professor will give you a list of possible questions that he or she might put on the exam. Make a list of all of these possible questions on a sheet of paper.
Next, you should brainstorm possible sources of evidence that could help you write an answer to these questions. Review all of your notes from the semester, and reread any course materials that might best apply to the specific questions, especially if you do not remember them very well. By reviewing the evidence, it could help your mind jolt possible answers to these questions.
Select some of your favorite questions and try to quickly outline a response to each of them. Start with a thesis statement that directly answers the question and hints towards the structure of your essay. Fill in parts of the outline with different kinds of evidence. Tie them together with your own thoughts on how the evidence helps you answer the question. If outlining doesn’t work, then try idea mapping, which is essentially a big map of ideas and phrases written in bubbles that you connect to one another. The entire point of this pre-writing is to prepare your brain for the arduous task of making these connections under stress.
Finally, give yourself a timed shot at answering one of the questions. It can’t hurt to see how well you think in a timed environment; however, if you’re already too close to the exam date, it might be better to just rest and relax.
Remember, the more you prepare and practice this routine of reviewing the material, anticipating possible essay questions, and brainstorming ways to answer them, the better you’ll do in the actual test. Good luck!