Taking Essay Tests



2. Break the question into its component parts.

3. Know what is being asked of you in each part.

The following are some common terms used in essay test questions:

Analyze: Break the idea, position, or theory down into its parts. Identify the parts and demonstrate how they relate to each other to make the whole.

Assess/Criticize/Evaluate: Make and defend a judgment of the success or failure of the idea, position, etc. in question according to clear, stated criteria. If the question supplies criteria, then use the ones supplied.


Classify: Say where and how an idea (or position or thinker, etc. as designated) fits in the relevant categories.


Compare/Contrast: Give accurate descriptions of important similarities and differences between two ideas or positions. Emphasize similarities if you are asked to compare, differences if you are asked to contrast. Do both ONLY if asked to do both. 

Define/Identify: Say what makes the idea, position, term, thinker, etc. what it is. 

Discuss/Examine: Inquire into the topic along the lines suggested, going beyond mere summarization. 

Illustrate: Use a specific example to clarify the characteristics of or explain the idea, position, etc. in question. 

Outline/Trace/Review/State/Recount: Organize and explain the main and major subordinate points of the idea, position, etc. in question. 
Say how these points are interrelated. 

Prove/Validate/Show: Provide clearly argued reasons and/or cite factual evidence to convince the reader of the truth of the idea, position, etc. in question.

Disprove/Refute: Provide clearly argued reasons and/or cite factual evidence to convince the reader of the falsehood of the idea, position, etc. in question.

4. Re-read your class notes and textbook, and review any returned assignments that pertain to material covered on the test.

5. Practice answering ALL parts of EVERY question beforehand.

6. Define any and all technical terms you use in your answer. (Make sure your reader knows that you know what those terms mean.)

7. If you will be using ANY external sources, CITE THEM PROPERLY. Do not plagiarize.

8. Proofread your practice writing. Make sure it is concise, clear, and well written. Eliminate grammatical and spelling errors.

9. Write ONLY about what the question asks you to write about. Eliminate everything else (introductions, conclusions, digressions, etc.). Write for substance, completeness, and accuracy. The length of your answer is irrelevant next to these qualities.

10. Do NOT give your opinion unless you are specifically asked to do so. IF you are asked for your opinion, support it with clear, concise reasoning and/or facts and avoid arguing from personal anecdotes.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License