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How to Prepare for a Final Exam Essay

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Read prompt, brainstorm, plan, write and revise.

Read prompt, brainstorm, plan, write and revise.

Worried About Your Essay Final?

Try these easy strategies for the best grade. Essay tests don't require the same sort of studying for multiple-choice exams. However, there are some specific ways you can prepare to be able to write your best. Here are the tips I've developed after reading and grading these sorts of exams for over 20 years.

5 Important Essay-Writing Strategies

1. Study by making up possible essay questions and answering them.
2. During the test: Read the question carefully and circle essential words.
3. Don't choose the easiest essay topic. You'll have more competition that way.
4. Don't be the first person to leave. Check and re-check if you are done early.
5. Don't forget an interesting title.

What to Prepare for an Essay Exam

  1. Study Different Essay Requirements: Using the list below of different essay types, learn the different kinds of essays, the key words that help you identify what type of essay is being required, and the basic outline of what you need to write to get a good grade on that type of essay.
  2. Study Clue Words: Study the types of question words that clue you what sort of essay you need to write.
  3. Practice Careful Question Reading of Sample Questions: If you are given the questions ahead of time, or given sample questions practice by reading them carefully and underlining the keywords. Make a quick outline of a possible essay that answers that question. Remember, you must answer every part of the question to get a good grade.
  4. Write Your Own Essay Questions: Don't panic if your instructor did not give you any sample questions. One of the best ways to study is to imagine you are the instructor and write your own essay questions (or topics). Even better, get a group of classmates together to write sample questions. Often, you will quickly realize that there are only a few questions that let the class use the material they've covered over the course.
  5. Practice Choosing the Best Question for You: Whether you have sample questions or ones you've written yourself, you can practice choosing the best question or topic for your essay and then writing a quick outline of an essay answer. You want to do this carefully, but quickly. First, read all of the questions and make a mark on the ones that you think you know the most about. Generally, it is better to pick a question that does not seem to be the easiest or most obvious one. Frankly, if you write on a topic that half of the class writes on, your essay ideas will not seem as original, and you will have to do a better job to get a better grade. However, don’t pick a topic just because it seems hard if you can’t think of what you would write about.

What to Do Before You Write the Essay

  1. Choose an audience if it is not suggested in the essay. Write down your audience in your notes ( cover of a blue book or first pages). Think about what tone you should use for that audience and also what types of information would convince them.
  2. Write down some brainstorming ideas in a cluster or a list.
  3. Make an outline and write it on your final. Use the basic outline format for that type of essay. Your outline can be brief phrases but should be clear. If you can’t write an outline as you write, then put it as a sketch at the end, or do it as you go along.
  4. Why is the outline critical? If your essay ends up wandering or you don’t finish, you can point the instructor back to the outline. That outline will tell your main points clearly, so they aren't missed. (Hint: many instructors read a lot of finals and have to scan them quickly. Make your points easy for the professor to read and understand so that you get the best grade).

Organization Tips for Different Types of Essays

To get the best grade, you need to be sure you understand the question and organize your essay correctly. Here is the primary way to organize the most common types of papers:

Argument Essay

The question includes words like argue, agree/disagree, why or why not, argue for or against, or should you.

  • Introduction: present the problem and state your opinion.
  • Body: 3 or more reasons why your opinion is right with evidence and examples. Refute objections and other points of view.
  • Conclusion: appeal to the audience to adopt your view.

Problem/Solution Essay

The question includes words like propose a solution, how-to, or what steps?

  • Introduction: describe the problem vividly.
    Body: Give your solution details: what? How it solves. Why it is better than other solutions.
  • Conclusion: appeal to the audience and show your solution will work and should be implemented.

Explaining Essay

The question includes words like identify, characterize, analyze, explain, interpret, define, describe, cause/effect, or tell the history of.

  • Introduction: Describe clearly with either a clear definition or a question as the thesis.
  • Body: Several ways to explain: how-to, compare/contrast, cause/effect, historical overview, expectations reversed.
  • Conclusion: Don’t just review but come to the main point. Connect with the introduction.

Evaluating Essay

The question includes words like evaluate, review, give your opinion, value, or good or bad.

  • Introduction: Describe the subject clearly. Thesis: good/bad? Or what is good and what is bad?
  • Body: Three reasons you judge it as good or bad. What is good, what is bad.
  • Conclusion: Recommendation to the reader.
Don't forget to give specific examples.  Leave time to proofread for errors.

Don't forget to give specific examples. Leave time to proofread for errors.

Essay Exam Writing Tips

  1. Make sure you put a title and use that title to make your main point. The title should answer the question of the essay.
  2. Openings and conclusions are essential. Don’t make a boring one, or use phrases like “in the history of humankind” or “everyone knows.” Instead, think of a story or scenario which illustrates the situation. Briefly tell that story as the intro, ask the question (using the words of the essay question if possible) and then answer that question. The answer will be your thesis. If possible, use a frame story or a story revision. That will help your conclusion be easy to do. Another idea is to address the audience in the conclusion and tell them what they should think or do (especially if you are doing an argument or propose a solution essay).
  3. Body: This needs to have three clear parts. The first sentence of each should be the main point of the paragraph. In-class writing needs to be organized in an obvious way to keep you on track and to keep your reader focused. The body can be three reasons, three examples, three parts, or three steps. It can be more than three, but keep 3 as a minimum. Underline the topic sentence to highlight it.
  4. Re-read and Proof-read: When you finish, or when you have ten minutes left, stop and go back over the whole paper. Read carefully and slowly. Watch for spelling errors, commas, and missing words. If you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary or at least put a mark next to the word (sp?), showing that you are aware that you need to check that spelling.


Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 04, 2013:

Hi Rahman--Looking at this short sample, I can see that you do have basic English writing skills. My best tip for a test like this is to practice for it every day. Here is how:

1. Write out your own prompts or look online to see if you can find prompts like the test you are going to take.

2. Pick one prompt a day and give yourself the same amount of time you will have on that test.

3. Write the essay. Follow the same ideas I give on this Hub. Be sure you have a clear topic sentence which answers the question exactly. Be sure to make an outline before you write, so you know the main points you want to make.

4. Ask someone else who has better English writing skills than you to read your essays and give you comments.

5. Every day, if possible, I'd also suggest that you read for at least 30 min. to 1 hour in English. It would be best to read about the same level of English as you will be expected to write.

6. If you do this, you will definitely improve your English writing skills and probably have a very good chance to pass your test and do well.

I have many, many other articles on writing. You can also find several hundred prompt ideas on argument essays and lots of others. Good luck! Please let me know if this advice helps!

Rahman on April 04, 2013:

I am ESL student. I took those writing ESL and English 101 classes like 8 years ago.I forgot all the writing rules and structures, I am going to have in class short essay in 2 months and its .25% of my grades, As you can tell from my writing I am in trouble. Please anyone can help me. My teacher will give us 4 prompt and he will give us 2 on test day to write in blue-book.

Alli on February 17, 2012:

Thank you so much for posting this!butted no idea how I was going to survive inanimate but this has helped tremendously

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 13, 2012:

Cabduljabaar--I certainly hope your essays go well. I know myself how easy it is to get scared. Sometime we just need to take a deep breath, calm down and start writing!

cabduljabaar sheekh on February 12, 2012:

Today is my first day of essay class and I have got a lot of confusing which is thumping my heart, so thank you very much for your helping about these experiences. I really get a good experience about essay. I hope I will enjoy my essay writings and in the final exam.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 12, 2011:

Thanks for letting me know Whitney! I start grading my students essay this week, so I'm hoping it helped them too!

Whitney Schultz on December 12, 2011:

Final exit essay is tomorrow! This helped out a lot!!

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 02, 2011:

Thanks Charlotte! I just shared this with my classes today and decided I would post it for others. I've lectured about this for many years but had never actually written up my notes. So many times, students are never told how to prepare for these essays.

Charlotte B Plum on December 02, 2011:

This is extremely useful information! Every student will benefit from your advice. =) Thank you for sharing this with us!