The Secret to Writing Excellent Essays on Exams

Posted on November, 13, 2023 by

Students are generally split into 2 groups when taking exams: multiple-choice people and essay people.  The multiple-choice students are good with remembering facts and deduction.  Strategies to parse out the correct answer works for them.  Other students are essay people.  They are good with persuasion and creativity.  It may not be about hard facts as much as making a solid case for their point of view. These students have discovered the secret to writing excellent essays on exams. Think of it like a right brain/left brain thing.

Consider this common scenario. You sit down to take an exam and are feeling pretty good.  You studied and feel like you have a good grip on the information. The multiple choice is first so you attack that and go back and check for mistakes. You read the essay prompt and realize you spent way too much time on the multiple-choice portion and don’t have enough time to write a solid essay. Your mind is completely blank.  You can’t remember anything about the subject, and certainly not enough to write an essay.  Anxiety kicks in and it’s hard to concentrate.  You jot down a couple of sentences just so the page isn’t blank and turn in your test.

This story is actually quite common. Once it happens it puts future exams in jeopardy because it’s hard to shake the fear that it will happen again.  But it doesn’t have to.  There is a simple strategy to eliminate test anxiety and boost your exam grades.  It’s called Brain Dump.  Not the most eloquent name, but it works.  Let’s hit rewind and revisit the exam using this method.  

You take your seat and begin your exam. But this time, instead of plowing right into the multiple-choice portion of the test, skip that and go straight to the essay question. Read the questions carefully and then jot down everything you can think of relating to the topic.  It doesn’t need to be full sentences or in order, you literally dump everything you can think of about that subject from your brain onto the paper. This should be a quick exercise.

Once that’s done you can now concentrate on the multiple-choice questions without the stress of having to remember any information for the essay question. If you spot any information in a multiple-choice question that could enhance your essay, go back to the essay portion and add it.  It is very important that you watch the clock to make sure you have enough time to craft the essay. Don’t rush, just focus.

With the multiple-choice section complete, it’s time to dive into the essay.  Take a few deep breaths to refocus and:

  • Organize the information you wrote into an outline.  You will naturally see a starting point and a progression of ideas.  
  • Turn the ideas you wrote into full and complete sentences.  
  • Turn those into paragraphs. 
  • Add transitions, details, and examples.  
  • Proofread checking for spelling and grammatical errors.  
  • Go back and check over the multiple-choice questions.
  • Done!

This strategy sounds easy because it is as long as you studied and really do know the material.  This should help stop the cycle if you are anxious about your mind going blank and forgetting everything you learned.  You can practice the dump by crafting a prompt using your test materials and writing down everything you can think of about the subject.  Practicing with friends by making prompts for each other is an excellent way to prepare for exams as well.