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Essay Type Questions Answer

Writing Essays for Exams

Summary:

While most OWL resources recommend a longer writing process (start early, revise often, conduct thorough research, etc.), sometimes you just have to write quickly in test situations. However, these exam essays can be no less important pieces of writing than research papers because they can influence final grades for courses, and/or they can mean the difference between getting into an academic program (GED, SAT, GRE). To that end, this resource will help you prepare and write essays for exams.

Contributors: Kate Bouwens, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 03:30:10

What is a well written answer to an essay question?

It is...

Well Focused

Be sure to answer the question completely, that is, answer all parts of the question. Avoid "padding." A lot of rambling and ranting is a sure sign that the writer doesn't really know what the right answer is and hopes that somehow, something in that overgrown jungle of words was the correct answer.

Well Organized

Don't write in a haphazard "think-as-you-go" manner. Do some planning and be sure that what you write has a clearly marked introduction which both states the point(s) you are going to make and also, if possible, how you are going to proceed. In addition, the essay should have a clearly indicated conclusion which summarizes the material covered and emphasizes your thesis or main point.

Well Supported

Do not just assert something is true, prove it. What facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point? In many cases, the difference between an A and a B as a grade is due to the effective use of supporting evidence.

Well Packaged

People who do not use conventions of language are thought of by their readers as less competent and less educated. If you need help with these or other writing skills, come to the Writing Lab

How do you write an effective essay exam?

  1. Read through all the questions carefully.
  2. Budget your time and decide which question(s) you will answer first.
  3. Underline the key word(s) which tell you what to do for each question.
  4. Choose an organizational pattern appropriate for each key word and plan your answers on scratch paper or in the margins.
  5. Write your answers as quickly and as legibly as you can; do not take the time to recopy.
  6. Begin each answer with one or two sentence thesis which summarizes your answer. If possible, phrase the statement so that it rephrases the question's essential terms into a statement (which therefore directly answers the essay question).
  7. Support your thesis with specific references to the material you have studied.
  8. Proofread your answer and correct errors in spelling and mechanics.

Specific organizational patterns and "key words"

Most essay questions will have one or more "key words" that indicate which organizational pattern you should use in your answer. The six most common organizational patterns for essay exams are definition, analysis, cause and effect, comparison/contrast, process analysis, and thesis-support.

Definition

Typical questions

  • "Define X."
  • "What is an X?"
  • "Choose N terms from the following list and define them."

Example

Q: "What is a fanzine?"

A: A fanzine is a magazine written, mimeographed, and distributed by and for science fiction or comic strip enthusiasts.

Avoid constructions such as "An encounter group is where ..." and "General semantics is when ... ."

Process

  • State the term to be defined.
  • State the class of objects or concepts to which the term belongs.
  • Differentiate the term from other members of the class by listing the term's distinguishing characteristics.

Tools you can use

  • Details which describe the term
  • Examples and incidents
  • Comparisons to familiar terms
  • Negation to state what the term is not
  • Classification (i.e., break it down into parts)
  • Examination of origins or causes
  • Examination of results, effects, or uses

Analysis

Typical questions

Analysis involves breaking something down into its components and discovering the parts that make up the whole.

  • "Analyze X."
  • "What are the components of X?"
  • "What are the five different kinds of X?"
  • "Discuss the different types of X."

Example:

Q: "Discuss the different services a junior college offers a community."

A: Thesis: A junior college offers the community at least three main types of educational services: vocational education for young people, continuing education for older people, and personal development for all individuals.

Process

Outline for supporting details and examples. For example, if you were answering the example question, an outline might include:

  • Vocational education
  • Continuing education
  • Personal development

Write the essay, describing each part or component and making transitions between each of your descriptions. Some useful transition words include:

  • first, second, third, etc.
  • next
  • another
  • in addition
  • moreover

Conclude the essay by emphasizing how each part you have described makes up the whole you have been asked to analyze.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect involves tracing probable or known effects of a certain cause or examining one or more effects and discussing the reasonable or known cause(s).

Typical questions:

  • "What are the causes of X?"
  • "What led to X?"
  • "Why did X occur?"
  • "Why does X happen?"
  • "What would be the effects of X?"

Example

Q: "Define recession and discuss the probable effects a recession would have on today's society."

A: Thesis: A recession, which is a nationwide lull in business activity, would be detrimental to society in the following ways: it would .......A......., it would .......B......., and it would .......C....... .

The rest of the answer would explain, in some detail, the three effects: A, B, and C.

Useful transition words:

  • because
  • consequently
  • therefore
  • for this reason
  • as a result

Comparison-Contrast

Typical questions:

  • "How does X differ from Y?"
  • "Compare X and Y."
  • "What are the advantages and disadvantages of X and Y?"

Example:

Q: "Which would you rather own—a compact car or a full-sized car?"

A: Thesis: I would own a compact car rather than a full-sized car for the following reasons: .......A......., .......B......., .......C......., and .......D....... .

Two patterns of development:

Pattern 1

Full-sized car

Compact car

Pattern 2

Advantages

  • Full-sized car
  • Compact car

Disadvantages

  • Full-sized car
  • Compact car

Useful transition words

  • on the other hand
  • similarly
  • yet
  • unlike A, B ...
  • in the same way
  • but
  • while both A and B are ..., only B ..
  • nevertheless
  • on the contrary
  • though
  • despite
  • however
  • conversely
  • while A is ..., B is ...

Process

Typical questions

  • "Describe how X is accomplished."
  • "List the steps involved in X."
  • "Explain what happened in X."
  • "What is the procedure involved in X?"

Process (sometimes called process analysis)

This involves giving directions or telling the reader how to do something. It may involve discussing some complex procedure as a series of discrete steps. The organization is almost always chronological.

Example

Q: "According to Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute?, what is the best procedure for finding a job?"

A: In What Color Is Your Parachute?, Richard Bolles lists seven steps that all job-hunters should follow: .....A....., .....B....., .....C....., .....D....., .....E....., .....F....., and .....G..... .

The remainder of the answer should discuss each of these seven steps in some detail.

Useful transition words

  • first, second, third, etc.
  • next
  • then
  • following this
  • finally
  • after, afterwards, after this
  • subsequently
  • simultaneously, concurrently

Thesis and Support

Typical questions:

  • "Discuss X."
  • "A noted authority has said X. Do you agree or disagree?"
  • "Defend or refute X."
  • "Do you think that X is valid? Defend your position."

Thesis and support involves stating a clearly worded opinion or interpretation and then defending it with all the data, examples, facts, and so on that you can draw from the material you have studied.

Example:

Q: "Despite criticism, television is useful because it aids in the socializing process of our children."

A: Television hinders rather than helps in the socializing process of our children because .......A......., .......B......., and .......C....... .

The rest of the answer is devoted to developing arguments A, B, and C.

Useful transition words:

  • therefore
  • for this reason
  • it follows that
  • as a result
  • because
  • however
  • consequently

Exercises

A. Which of the following two answers is the better one? Why?

Question: Discuss the contribution of William Morris to book design, using as an example his edition of the works of Chaucer.

a. William Morris's Chaucer was his masterpiece. It shows his interest in the Middle Ages. The type is based on medieval manuscript writing, and the decoration around the edges of the pages is like that used in medieval books. The large initial letters are typical of medieval design. Those letters were printed from woodcuts, which was the medieval way of printing. The illustrations were by Burn-Jones, one of the best artists in England at the time. Morris was able to get the most competent people to help him because he was so famous as a poet and a designer (the Morris chair) and wallpaper and other decorative items for the home. He designed the furnishings for his own home, which was widely admired among the sort of people he associated with. In this way he started the arts and crafts movement.

b. Morris's contribution to book design was to approach the problem as an artist or fine craftsman, rather than a mere printer who reproduced texts. He wanted to raise the standards of printing, which had fallen to a low point, by showing that truly beautiful books could be produced. His Chaucer was designed as a unified work of art or high craft. Since Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, Morris decided to design a new type based on medieval script and to imitate the format of a medieval manuscript. This involved elaborate letters and large initials at the beginnings of verses, as well as wide borders of intertwined vines with leaves, fruit, and flowers in strong colors. The effect was so unusual that the book caused great excitement and inspired other printers to design beautiful rather than purely utilitarian books.

From James M. McCrimmon, Writing with a Purpose, 7th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), pp. 261-263.

B. How would you plan the structure of the answers to these essay exam questions?

1. Was the X Act a continuation of earlier government policies or did it represent a departure from prior philosophies?

2. What seems to be the source of aggression in human beings? What can be done to lower the level of aggression in our society?

3. Choose one character from Novel X and, with specific references to the work, show how he or she functions as an "existential hero."

4. Define briefly the systems approach to business management. Illustrate how this differs from the traditional approach.

5. What is the cosmological argument? Does it prove that God exists?

6. Civil War historian Andy Bellum once wrote, "Blahblahblah blahed a blahblah, but of course if blahblah blahblahblahed the blah, then blahblahs are not blah but blahblah." To what extent and in what ways is the statement true? How is it false?

For more information on writing exam essays for the GED, please visit our Engagement area and go to the Community Writing and Education Station (CWEST) resources.

Types of exam questions

Exams usually include different types of questions. Before you start studying for your exams make sure you know what type of questions to expect. Check your course materials or the course page. If you're still not sure ask your lecturer/tutor.

This section includes tips on how to study for and answer the most common types of questions.

Short answer questions

Short answer questions require a reasonably short answer – anything between a few words and a paragraph or two. The number of marks allocated often gives an indication of the length required.

When studying for short-answer questions, concentrate on:

  • terminology
  • names
  • facts
  • concepts and theories, and examples underpinning them
  • similarities and differences.

When answering short questions:

  • Plan your answers before you start writing.
  • Keep your answers short. It’s not necessary to rewrite the question, and you shouldn’t give more information than you have been asked for, as you won’t get extra marks and may run out of time.
  • Mark any questions you aren't sure of, and go back to them at the end of your exam if you have time.
  • Try to answer all of the questions. 

Multiple-choice questions

Multiple-choice questions consist of a question or the first half of a sentence (the stem), and a number of possible answers (usually between three and five). You have to choose the answer you think is correct from that list. Again, the number of marks allocated determines how long you should spend each question.

When studying for multiple-choice questions, concentrate on:

  • terminology
  • names
  • facts
  • concepts and theories, and examples underpinning them
  • similarities and differences.

When answering multiple-choice questions

  • Quickly read all of the questions and their answers before you answering any.
  • Mark the questions you aren’t sure of so that you can come back to them if you have time.
  • Answer the questions you’re sure of first.
  • Then try the others. Start by eliminating any answers that are obviously wrong.
  • Watch out for negatives. For example, ‘Which of these is not…?’
  • Stick to your time allocation. If your time's up and you still haven't decided on an answer guess or leave it out. 
  • Don't change your first answer unless you're really sure; your first instinctive choice is usually right.

In most cases you should answer all of the questions even if you have to guess; if you choose something you may just be right. However, sometimes marks are deducted for wrong answers, so make sure you read the instructions very carefully before you start.

Essay-type questions (long answers)

Essay-type questions require an answer that is structured in the same way as an essay or report. They questions can be anything from a few paragraphs to a few pages. You don't have to include a reference list, but you should acknowledge your source(s). The mark allocation will often give an indication of the length required.

When studying for essay questions:

  • Try to identify possible questions you may be asked by reading past exam papers, corrected assignments and/or revision-type questions in your course material and textbook(s). However, check that the contents/format of the exam hasn't changed first.
  • Work out model answers.
  • Practise by writing answers under exam conditions. This means planning an answer, and writing it out within a timeframe.

When answering essay questions in the exam:

  • Read the question carefully and analyse it so that you're sure you understand what it means.
  • Brainstorm ideas and plan your answer. You could try using a mind map to help with this.
  • Write down some key words. For example, your answer might have five main points, so jot them down, with a few key words under each point.
  • Start your answer by briefly rephrasing the question using your own words.
  • Use a new paragraph for each main idea or topic. Back up each topic with supporting detail such as examples, reasons and results.
  • Leave a few lines of between each paragraph, as you may want to add additional information later.

In essay-type questions it is important to stick to your time allocation. If you spend too much time on a question it may mean you run out of time for other questions. If you run out of time, jot down your main ideas and key words so that the examiner knows where you were going with the essay – you may get a few additional marks in this way.

You should also leave wide margins for the marker, and try to write neatly and proofread as you go.

Problems/computational questions

These types of question requires you to solve a problem using calculations.

When studying for problems/computational questions:

  • Learn the key vocabulary, theories and formulas, including how and when to apply the formulas.
  • Look for practice questions in past exam papers, your course materials, set texts, etc.
  • Practise answering this type of question in full, and writing each step down as if it were an exam.

When answering problems/computational questions:

  • Read the questions and instructions very carefully before you start to ensure you know exactly what's required.
  • Once you’ve decided what you have to do, write down the formulas or methods you’re going to use (if applicable).
  • Show your workings. Even if your answer is wrong or incomplete you may still get some marks for showing you understand the process.
  • Use a pencil for drawings and diagrams in case you need to change anything. If required, you can go over them with pen once you're satisfied.
  • Label drawings and diagrams and include headings.

More about answering different types of exam questions

The sources below are for guidance only, as different educational institutions have different requirements.

Exam question types – Massey University (opens in new window)

Identifying exam questions – Language and Learning Centre, Monash University (opens in new window)

 Related information

Exam study tips

Planning your time for an exam

Study, concentrate and remember

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