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How to best answer essay questions

Published on 22 October 2018·Latest update at 30 August 2019
How to study for exams - How to best answer essay questions

Many exams often contain one or more essay questions. Answering them can be difficult. Often, such questions require you to explain multiple concepts and link them to each other in the way that is asked of you. This is not an easy task and it can also lead to a lot of stress, causing you to not answer the question as thoroughly as you could have. In this article, best practices and pieces of advice are shared to ensure the best strategy to answer an essay question and get a good grade.


Use a draft

Often, you get extra paper with your exam to write notes and drafts on. Use this to write down all the keywords that you think of while reading the question. This will help you to think about what is discussed in college and what you have studied. Because you write this down in keywords, you might be able to visualize the lessons and get some memory back.


Use a structure and support your answer

The next step is to use these keywords to create a structure. Which concept needs to be explained first? What links do you have to make between these concepts in order to answer the question? Often, there are some hints in the question. For example, if you are asked to discuss two philosophical views, compare them and give an opinion, then this should be the structure of your answer. First, you discuss the two philosophical views separately. Then, you'll be able to compare them. Lastly, you will give your opinion about which view suits you best. Don't forget to explain why this is the case and support your opinion with facts or sources from the course. An easy way to create structure in your answers, is to always repeat a part of the question, before writing down your answer.


Stick to the word limit

Usually, a word limit is given to answer an essay question. Be sure to stick to the word limit and write down only the essential information, don't get side-tracked! Following the example of discussing philosophical views, you would want to stick to the main points of this view and you do not want to discuss the private life of the philosopher. If you have exceeded the word limit, but there is still relevant information you feel you should include, first try to see if you can write more concise. If not, it is often fine to exceed the word limit a little (one or two phrases), but this depends on your university. Normally, the word limit should be enough to formulate a thorough answer. If you are unsure, write down your complete answer on the draft paper first. This way, you can still adjust your answer if you are writing it down on the exam form.


Re-read your answer after finishing the exam

When you are done answering all the questions, read your answers one more time. Maybe you remember something you’ve forgotten the first time. So you can add that to your answer to get more credit. Always leave one or two lines blank in between your answers, so you can add something there later.


Good luck!

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