How to Write Good Essays in Exams (And Avoid Stress)

An essay is a piece of writing that presents a focused argument or explores a specific topic in a structured and coherent manner. Students often write essays in exams to assess their understanding of a subject matter, their ability to analyze and interpret information, and their skills in constructing coherent arguments. However, writing good work in exams requires careful planning, effective time management, and strong writing skills. Therefore, here is a step-by-step guide to help students write good essays for exams (and avoid stress).

How to Write Good Essays in Exams (And Avoid Stress)

Write Good Essays in Exams: A Step-By-Step Guide

Writing in exams can be challenging and stressful for many students. The step-by-step guide below will help you write good essays for exams, avoid stress and achieve better results.

Read the Instructions Carefully

Check you understand any restrictions or limitations mentioned in the instructions, such as word count, time limit, and how many questions to answer.

Read the Questions Carefully

Read through the exam paper once and then re-read each question. You might think a topic you’ve revised hasn’t come up when it is there, but the wording is unusual. Alternatively, the question might be obtuse, and you do not understand it.

Choose Your Questions Carefully

Mark any questions you might answer, and then check that you fully understand them. Do you have relevant knowledge, ideas, and evidence for the essays you plan to write?

Understand the Questions

Before you start writing, take time to read and understand the question. Underline or highlight the key points and requirements. And make sure you know what is asked of you.

Look for any keywords or phrases that indicate what you need to do, such as “explain,” “compare,” “contrast,” “define,” or “justify.”

Decide the Order You Plan to Answer Questions

Some people like to start with the topic they know best to give them a good start. Others prefer to answer their best question second because, with one essay written, they can relax, expand on their best ideas and gain a higher grade.

Plan Your Response to Write Good Essays in Exams

The stress of writing essays for exams can make all your preparation disappear. And it is essential to get your ideas across clearly and concisely in exams. So, take a few minutes to brainstorm and organize your thoughts.

Identify the main topic and discussion areas. Choose a few points or arguments about which you can write.

Make a mini-plan that puts your points/arguments in order before you start writing. This plan will serve as a roadmap for your writing and help you stay focused.

Manage Your Time

Good time management is necessary when writing essays under timed conditions. Ensure you allocate enough time for each essay section and stick to the time limit.

Divide your time according to the number of essays or sections to write.

Allocate time for each essay section, including planning, writing, and proofreading. Stick to this schedule to ensure enough time for all the necessary tasks.

Good Essays in Exams Are Clear and Concise

When writing time-constrained essays, express your ideas clearly and concisely. Avoid long, rambling sentences and focus on making your points clearly and concisely.

Write in clear and concise sentences. Avoid using overly complex language or jargon that might confuse the reader. Use specific and descriptive language to convey your ideas effectively.

Proofread and Edit

Take a few minutes at the end to review your essay. Check for any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Ensure you present ideas clearly and logically. If time permits, read your work aloud to identify any awkward phrasing or unclear sentences.

Once you have finished writing, take a few minutes to edit your work. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and make sure your essay flows logically.

Stay Calm and Focused

Stay relaxed and focused during the exam. Read the instructions carefully, manage your time wisely, and answer the questions to the best of your ability.

Write Good Essays in Exams: Structure Your Essay

A well-structured essay will make it easier for the reader to follow your arguments and understand the ideas presented.

Therefore, students should follow some basic guidelines to ensure their answers are concise and effectively convey their knowledge and understanding of the material.

Here are some tips to help you structure your exam essay.

  1. Start with a Strong Introduction: To write good essays in exams, begin your essay with a compelling introduction that grabs the reader’s attention. Clearly state your thesis or main argument. And provide a brief overview of the points you will discuss. This information shows the assessor how you understand the question and how you will answer it.
  2. Develop Coherent Body Paragraphs: Each body paragraph should focus on a single main idea that supports your thesis. Start each section with a topic sentence that introduces the main point and provides evidence or examples to support it. Use clear and logical transitions between paragraphs to maintain a smooth flow of ideas. Moreover, develop your story!
  3. Provide Evidence: Support your claims with relevant evidence such as examples, statistics, or references to authoritative sources. Make sure your evidence is accurate and supports your arguments effectively. This strategy will make your essay more convincing and help you score higher marks.
  4. Address Counterarguments: Acknowledge and address counterarguments or opposing viewpoints. This strategy demonstrates that you have considered different perspectives and strengthens your argument. Refute counterarguments with logical reasoning and evidence.
  5. Conclude Effectively: Summarize your main points in the conclusion and restate your thesis. Avoid introducing new information at this stage. End with a strong closing statement that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

What to Do if Your Mind Goes Blank

Most students fear this happening.

If it does—put your pen down, take a deep breath, sit back, and relax for a moment.

If you’re in the middle of an answer, read through what you have written so far—what happens next?

Lastly, if you can’t progress with your writing, then leave a gap! Your thoughts will probably return once you are less anxious.

What to Do if You Are Running Out of Time

Don’t panic.

Look at the questions left to answer (or essay sections left to write) and divide your remaining time to cover all the parts.

Or, perhaps you are halfway through writing an essay with 30 minutes to finish. Remember, give yourself 15 minutes to complete (or upload) your work because you may encounter technical problems!

Write economically—make your point, support it with evidence, and then move on to the next point.

If you can’t finish on time, briefly list the points you wanted to make—they could pick you up a few marks.

Referencing in Exams

Refer by name to the theorists and researchers in your subject area, also giving the year of their major works—the best you can given the time you have.

Citing a few up-to-date references in your essay demonstrates current knowledge and understanding.

For open-book exams, provide a reference list (i.e., evidence of your reading) at the end of your essay.

A reference list is not necessary for in-person exams, which are typically shorter in duration than open-book assessments. This requirement helps students focus on writing when time is at a premium.

Note. The reference section (if you require one) does not usually count towards the word limit. Moreover, there is no penalty for minor formatting deviations.

Write Good Essays in Exams: Marking Criteria

The marking criteria for written exams have a reduced emphasis on stylistic elements (e.g., APA formatting) to allow students to write good essays in exams.

However, being mindful of your marker’s needs is essential when writing good essays. For instance, understanding what they will be looking for can help you tailor your writing to meet their expectations. Plus, this will improve your chances of receiving a good grade.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about your marker’s needs (and to achieve better grades!):

  • Knowledge & Understanding: Ensure you show thorough, up-to-date knowledge and comprehension of the topic by including evidence of reading beyond the key texts.
  • Analysis: Ensure you examine ideas and principles beyond those introduced in the module resourcefully and imaginatively. Synthese ideas from diverse sources. Additionally, show independence of thought with critical evaluation.
  • Reading & Referencing: Show clear evidence of extensive and relevant reading.
  • Essay structure: Ensure your essay structure is logical, easy to follow, addresses the title, and enhances your argument and discussion.
  • Use correct language: Use excellent standard written English.

Summary

Remember, writing essays for exams can be stressful, but you can succeed with careful planning and a clear strategy. So, stay calm, stay focused, and do your best.

However, a clear strategy is not enough when writing good essays for exams. Students should also be able to analyze, interpret, and synthesize the information they have learned, thus demonstrating their understanding of the subject matter.

Good luck with your exams!

Want to get the most out of your degree? Then check out my other pedagogy articles!

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