5 Rules for Answering ESSAY Questions on Exams

5 Rules for Answering ESSAY Questions on Exams


If I were to ask you what your least favorite type of test question is, I’m pretty sure I could guess it before you gave me your answer, because it is clearly the essay question. Other types of questions are easy, right? Multiple choice? More like multiple guess. True false? Fifty-fifty, I’ll take it. But with an essay there’s no guessing. Everything that’s gonna
be on that piece of paper has to come out of your head. And that can be intimidating. But if you look at it from
a different perspective, it’s also an opportunity. Essay questions put you 100% in control. Rather than having to pick from questions that were written for you, you have the opportunity to demonstrate exactly how well you understand the question and the material that it was based on. And assuming you’re actually did study and you do understand the material, the five rules we’re gonna go over in today’s video will show you how you can most effectively communicate that understanding in
your next essay question. When you’re faced with an
essay question on a test, you’re almost always working under a pretty stressful time limit. And it can often feel like
the best way to tackle that is to start writing immediately. But before you do, remember, a good essay is when it communicates your thoughts in an organized way, and
if it’s not organized, it’s not gonna be effective and it’s not gonna get you a good grade. Without a good plan to guide you, it can be really easy to misinterpret, or even outright miss, important points the prompt wants you to cover. So before you start writing your essay, use a piece of scratch paper to plan it out in advance. First, read the prompt carefully and make sure you understand exactly what it’s asking for. And if it’s a long
prompt, it might actually be useful to highlight
the important points in that prompt, or to create a checklist so you know that you’re gonna cover everything within it. Next, you want to create a
rough outline of your essay. And I recommend going through
a two-stage outlining process. In the first stage,
you just want to create a bullet list of everything
that comes to mind related to the prompt. This is essentially a brainstorming phase, so at this point don’t
worry about the order of the points that you’re writing out, because it’s all about just getting things out of your head and onto the paper and ensuring that they cover what’s being asked for in the prompt. Once you’ve got that done, then it’s time to move onto stage two. At this point you’re
creating a more organized, ordered list of points that represents the flow of your essay. When you have that in hand, you’ll find that writing the actual
essay itself is much easier. Alright, let’s talk about essay formats. There are plenty of creative ways to structure your writing, as I’m sure you’ll probably know if you’ve ever seen Memento or read House of Leaves. But when you’re dealing
with an essay on a test, it’s often best to stick with a simple, time-tested format, both to compensate for your own limited time, and as a courtesy to your teacher. As the author Walter Pauk once wrote, “Instructors don’t have
time to treat each essay “as a puzzle in need of a solution. “Take the guesswork out of your essay.” A good default format that does this is the five-paragraph-essay,
which consists of an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, though you can use more if you need to, and finally a conclusion. Within this structure, there are several different methods that you can use to organize your points. The most popular is probably the decreasing-importance pattern, in which your first body paragraph contains your strongest argument, and the last one covers the weakest or least consequential. However, this pattern isn’t
always the right one to use. For example, if you’ve been
asked to summarize an event, then it’s probably best to
go in chronological order. And, likewise, if you’ve
been asked to write the word “potatoes” 600 times, then you should probably do that. In short, use the prompt
as a guide for choosing the pattern that you’re going to use. Going back to that idea of taking the guesswork out of the essay, let’s talk about the introduction. In most contexts, an essay
has to earn its audience. That’s why it’s usually a good idea to start with a hook, something designed to grab the reader’s
attention and draw them in. You might use a quote, or
an interesting statistic, or sometimes even a story. But when you’re answering
an essay question on a test, you’ve got a guaranteed audience, namely your teacher. And when you’re writing for an audience that you know, you can write with their needs in mind. So, the question is, what
are your teacher’s needs? Well, number one, your teacher is looking to get through your essay
as quickly as possible because he’s got dozens
of others to grade, and number two, he’s looking
for a solid understanding of all the points that were
asked for in the prompt. And here’s the thing. A clever introduction doesn’t really serve either of those two
purposes, and also wastes your precious time during the test. So, unless you think it’s
absolutely necessary, I say just jump right into
the thesis statement instead. When you write that thesis statement, there is one big thing that you need to make sure you avoid and that is blatantly restating the prompt. What do I mean by that? Well, say you’re faced
with a prompt like this: “Explain the tactics used by Genghis Khan “against the Khwarezmian Shah’s armies “that allowed for his victory in 1221.” With a prompt like this, your teacher is almost guaranteed
to get a ton of essays from your classmates that all start virtually the same way: “The tactics used by Genghis Khan “against the Khwarezmian Shah “included utilizing superior speed,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You get the point. This is boring, lazy writing. It literally grabs a
phrase from the prompt and restates it verbatim. And you’re better than that. So let’s consider an
improved way to do it. (clears throat) “Genghis Khan’s swift conquest “of the Khwarezmid Empire in 1221 “hinged on the use of
several innovative tactics, “chief among them being
the constant utilization “of superior speed and maneuverability. “The Khan also subverted “the Khwarezmian Shah’s
expectations by sending “a force across the dangerous
Tien Shan mountain range “in order to attack
from a different angle, “and dedicated another
force solely to the task “of hunting down the Shah himself, “forcing the Shah to continually flee “and diminishing his ability “to effectively command his forces. “These tactics, in conjunction “with a numerically greater force, “allowed for a decisive Mongol victory “that led directly to the destruction “of the entire Khwarezmid Empire.” This is the kind of introduction that covers what the prompt is asking for, but does so in a much more interesting way that demonstrates your ability to think and write independently. Speaking of writing and
thinking independently, I love what the Harvard Writing Center has to say about the
conclusion to your essay. “So much is at stake in
writing a conclusion. “This is, after all, your last chance “to persuade your readers
to your point of view, “to impress yourself upon them “as a writer and thinker.” With that being said, want a way to leave a really weak impression with your reader? Well, if you do and you’re in the market for sabotaging all of your hard work, then just do what all of the other study skills books and websites that I came across seem
to be recommending, just blindly restate your
points in the conclusion, summarize them and call it a day. I’m kidding, don’t do that. Instead, synthesize, find a way to tie everything together. Here’s how I might end that essay about the Mongol tactics. “As countless military
conflicts through history “have demonstrated, numerical superiority “is not always a perfect
predictor of victory. “Hannibal’s victory over the Romans “at the Battle of Cannae
is a perfect example. “However, Genghis Khan’s
use of speed, surprise, “and unrelenting
aggression towards the Shah “gave his forces an unbeatable edge. “The Khwarezmid Empire,
with its more settled ways “and reliance on fortifications, “was unable to adapt.” Alright, so let’s quickly recap. To make sure that you write the best essay possible on your next test, first, start with an outline. Get really, really
familiar with the prompt, know exactly what it’s asking for, and then use that
two-stage outline process to create a plan so you know that you’re going to
hit every single point. Next, follow a standard essay format, like the five-paragraph essay. Don’t make your teacher
work more than they have to. Third, get right to the point. Don’t waste time on a clever introduction. Fourth, don’t restate the
prompt in your introduction. Instead, write an
interesting thesis statement that covers the prompt
but in your own words. And finally, ensure your conclusion synthesizes everything you’ve written. Avoid simply summarizing your points, especially since your essay
is probably a short one. In addition to keeping
these points in mind, always seek to ensure that your essays are logical and thorough, but that they’re also concise and don’t waste words. As the author William Strunk wrote in The Elements of Style, “Vigorous writing is concise. “This requires not that the writer “make all his sentences short, “or that he avoid detail
and treat his subjects “only in outline, but
that every word tell.” When it comes to doing well on tests, whether they’re full of
essays or other challenges, one of the best tools in your arsenal is your ability to think critically and to analyze the problems facing you from all sides. And if you’re looking for a great way to improve those abilities, you should check out Brilliant. Brilliant’s library of courses helps you become a better thinker and develop your intuition by
immediately challenging you with interesting problems,
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challenges that enable you to learn as efficiently as possible, and when you need help, you’ll have access to their extremely detailed wiki, as well as an active community of thousands of other learners. To start learning for free, head on over to Brilliant.org/ThomasFrank, which you’ll find in the
description down below, and if you’re among the first 83 people to sign up with that link, you’ll also get 20% off of your annual subscription. Big Thanks for Brilliant
for sponsoring this video, and helping to support this channel. And as always, guys, thank
you so much for watching, and thank you so much for
one million subscribers. The channel just recently
passed that threshold and to be honest, I’m still
kind of processing it, and it’s freaking awesome. And hopefully, if have
anything to say about it, the best on this channel
is still yet to come. So, if you enjoyed this video, hit the Like button, get subscribed so you don’t miss out on future videos. You also might want to grab a free copy of my book on how to earn
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I’ll see you next week!

100 thoughts on “5 Rules for Answering ESSAY Questions on Exams

  1. Often while writing answers in exams i find it difficult to remember the examples, certain facts, other dimensions of answer, etc. How to remember more what we have learnt and make the most of it while writing answers?

  2. I stalked a guys for 5 minutes at a service station because I thought it was you, then I thought why would Thomas be in England it’s freezing over here, all that to say you my favourite productivity vlogger, and congratulations on hittin that milli.
    P.S. I’m not a stalker ?… most of the time….

  3. so should your whole introduction be your thesis? I thought it was suppose to just a sentence. Your example was more than one sentence. I have an essay exam coming up so I really could use a reply.

  4. HELP I am currently doing a research paper on a complex subject. And I am now at the point where I am spiralling down the "must read all" road, I find my selfs not so much taking notes as basically hand-rewriting any information that is remotely relevant to the paper. I basically am hand re-writing the whole book while also panicking and not understanding..
    What to do ?

  5. Congratulations from Peru! thanks a lot for this one. I have been teaching writing for international exams but haven't found the tip of two-step outline. Because of the rush, students often confuse brainstorming with the outline process. One last step would be to edit oneself to check grammar or vocabulary issues. Thanks Frank. Love your videos

  6. I'm a big fan of your channel, Thomas! I've followed you for 2-3 years. (I used my old channel to subscribe to you about 3 years ago.) And I found your content very useful. Can you do more videos essay type of exams? I'm very weak at it. I can usually score high in other types of exams but whenever it comes to essay exams, it hurts my overall grades.

  7. Your channel is one of the best things I found on youtube . It has helped me a lot certainly . Especially the time blocking technique i am using it now and i am to get a lot more work done nowdays .
    Also you are a motivation.

  8. Fill in the blanks without a word bank are the cancerous sore of exams in college. Especially if you're a Biology major and half of the words you learn are spelled in awkward ways that make you feel illiterate and have you borderline in tears by the end of the section because now you're pretty sure you spelled "vesicle" wrong. At least in my experience, essay questions give you all the material you need and have some sort of choice for writing. If you've studied the major material and concepts you're good to go.

  9. Hey Thomas Nice Video. Could you make video improve writing skills ??? I feel that no matter how much books or journals i read, i always have a hard time constructing a good paragraph or sentence.

  10. Essay questions are my favourite type of questions. In Finland matriculation exams last 6 hours and you have to answer 6 essay questions. Most of my friends absolutely hated these tests but to be honest, I kinda enjoyed taking them. Also what I find amusing is that in these essays you are supposed to repeat the question. Thesis statements aren't used until in university.

  11. Hi Frank,
    Your videos are really useful. Can you make a video on how to pass a verbal exam?
    In Serbia, most of our exams are verbal. Meaning, we need to know the whole textbook, like you do, but the exams are conceptualized a bit differently – we go into the classroom full of students, and professors call out one by one, and everyone, when it's their turn pulls out 3 questions from a pile of questions. You always have 5-10 min to write a concept, and then give the answers. Of course, professors will usually stop you to ask some sub-questions on the spot. How would you tackle the oral exams? So, it's not 1, it's about 7-12 per year.

  12. Actually I think essay questions are the best. Most often, for me, they are about politics. Anyone who knows me in real life, I love talking about politics and defending some of trumps actions and trump supporters.

  13. Im ordering essays here BUY ES SAY. GQ (without spaces) for years, their site is wonderfull!

  14. I came here to learn. I did not expect to be sucker-punched by a One Punch Man question, not 20 seconds into the video! Such a pleasant surprise! Beast King IS the right answer!

  15. I'm ordering papers at this site BUY ES SAY. GQ (without spaces) for 3 years, their site is amazing!

  16. I like how he's very fluent in speaking and is never out of words….so smooth that its so comfortable listening to it…

  17. in our school we use the format of TEEL
    Topic sentence
    Example
    Explanation
    Link

    for the two E's doesn't matter how you order them eg: explanation and example. you can also extend yourself by doing

    topic sentence
    example
    explanation
    example
    explanation
    Link

    only works on body paragraphs

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