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Study for an Essay Test

And the Rest will Follow

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Test day is here. You’ve packed your brain full of definitions, dates, and details, preparing for a marathon of multiple choice and true & false questions, and now you’re staring at a single, solitary, terrifying essay question.

How could this happen? You’re suddenly fighting for your life (okay, a grade), and your only weapons are a blank piece of paper and a pencil. What can you do? Next time, prepare for the test as if you know it will be an essay test.

Essay questions are based on themes and overall ideas. Teachers like to use essay questions because they give students the opportunity to express everything they’ve learned over the weeks or months, using their own words. Essay test answers reveal more than the bare facts, though. When submitting essay answers, students are expected to cover lots of information in an organized, sensible manner.

But what if you prepare for an essay question and the teacher doesn’t ask one?

No problem. If you use these tips and understand the themes and ideas of the test period, the other questions will come easily.

Review chapter titles. Textbook chapters often refer to themes. Look at each relevant title and think of smaller ideas, chains of events, and relevant terms that fit within that theme.

As you take notes, look for teacher code words. If you hear your teacher use words like “once again we see” or “another similar event occurred,” make note of it. Anything that indicates a pattern or chain of events is key.

Think of a theme every day. Every few nights as you review your class notes, look for themes. Come up with your own essay questions based on your themes.

Practice your essay questions. As you do, make sure you use vocabulary terms found in your notes and text. Underline them as you go, and go back to review their relevance.

If you take effective notes and think in terms of themes as you study each night, you’ll be prepared for every type of test question. You’ll soon find that, in understanding the theme of each lesson or chapter, you’ll begin to think more like your teacher thinks. You will also begin to form a deeper understanding of the test material overall.

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