“Google Map” Essay Tests

SLAC.jpgBy Texas State SLAC

When you read an essay question, do you get a headache? Does your brain go blank? Try comparing taking Essay Tests to using Google Maps or another map search engine. Principles that achieve good map search results also work for answering essay questions.


Read the question thoroughly. Details determine the route you take in your explanation.

Search tip: Identify specifics in an essay question so you don’t waste time on false starts and explanations that are loose or dead ends.


Make an outline of relevant information to make clear connections, organized by main and subordinate ideas.

Search tip: Link relevant ideas into a navigable whole. If links or chains of reasoning are random or chaotic, your answer could miss the mark.


Visualize action words to find your lines of arguments:

* ANALYZE – provide an in-depth exploration of a topic, considering components of ideas and their interrelationships

* EXPLAIN – clarify, interpret, give reasons for differences of opinion or of results, analyze causes

* ILLUSTRATE – justify your position or answer a question using concrete examples

* TRACE – describe the evolution, development, or progress of the subject step-by-step, sometimes using chronological order

* COMPARE/CONTRAST – emphasize similarities and/or differences between two topics, give reasons pro and con

* PROVE – argue the truth of a statement by giving factual evidence and logical reasoning

* CRITICIZE – express your judgment about the merit, truth, or usefulness of the views or factors mentioned in the question and support your judgment with facts and explanations

* EVALUATE – appraise, give your viewpoint, cite limitations and advantages, include the opinion of authorities, and give evidence to support your position

* INTERPRET – translate, give examples, or comment on a subject, usually including your own viewpoint

* REVIEW – examine and respond to possible problems or obstacles in your account

Search tip: Use the essay question as your guide to choose the line(s) of argument that allows you to make your strongest, most concise argument. Then, map your answer!


If your professor allows, take in an outline or more than one outline of essay questions, but be SURE this is okay before you do this. If you can’t take in an outline, go in with one (or more) in your mind and write it inside of your bluebook or on your paper first thing. This helps when can’t remember something because of stress. It also helps you stay calm and focused during tests.

Spring Break Tips


Spring Break is here at last. Unfortunately, semesters don’t always end when a college student’s vacation begins. Learning to keep up with academic work while enjoying your time off is an essential skill for college life and beyond!

Since your brain is still in college mode, take advantage of it. To ensure you complete all of your homework, make a schedule that includes all of the work you need to get done. That way, you will study a little each day, particularly those days when you have nothing else to do. Making a plan now will prevent stress later and keep you from completely losing the rhythm of academic life.

Tell your family, friends, and roommates that you will have work to do over the break. Letting people know in advance that you must do some homework over the break will make it easier for you to get it done. This way you won’t have to deal with others’ disappointment when you can’t do everything they’d planned with them. Also, they’re more likely to help by reminding you of your plans and giving you space and time to stick to them.

Keep up on your sleep and nutrition, and avoid ill people if possible. First, who wants to get sick during spring break? More important, you don’t want to have to make up for losing a week of classes after coming back from a week off and get that much further from your college work and world.

Use a coffee shop or city library if you need somewhere quiet to work. Working at home, or wherever you’re spending break, may be difficult. Coffee shops offer quiet places to eat and work, online if necessary, and city libraries are almost everywhere.

Use time waiting in airports, on long car rides, or during bad weather days to study. Even intermittent studying will help your retention and processing and make returning to academic life easier. Use ear stoppers to block noise, or if you feel like you might need a disguise to avoid being forced to converse, wear ear buds and pretend you’re listening to music when studying in a public place.

Make back-up copies of your materials. Carrying notes and computers entails the possibility that they may get lost or damaged. Make back-up travel drives, email work, photocopy or scan in notes, and, as always, save your work in at least two places.

If this is an appropriate time in your academic career to gain real world experience, consider alternate spring break trips that focus on volunteer work for well-known organizations. These may include working with local entities such as Habitat for Humanity or domestic violence shelters. Some trips could involve living on and working at a camp for the disabled, a Native American reservation, a nature reserve, or going out of the country. Regardless of where you go, volunteer work can broaden your perspective and shape your goals.

If you are lucky enough to have little to do for homework or studying, at least read something that interests you—even a magazine—or work crossword puzzles. Do something to keep your mind active!



Heading for Finals: Don’t Hit the Wall – Climb Over It!


By Texas State SLAC

Is this you – or someone you know – as finals are approaching? During exams, do you…

  • Feel like you “go blank”?
  • Become frustrated?
  • Find yourself thinking “I can’t do this” or “I’m stupid”?
  • Feel your heart racing or find it difficult to breathe?
  • Suddenly “know” the answers after turning in a test?
  • Score much lower than on homework or papers?

Many students find their anxiety level at an all time high by the end of the semester. These pressures can come from opposite directions and vary according to your performance in each of your classes. You want to do as well on your final exam as you have during the year to get the good grade you have worked hard for – or – you have to do well on your final to pull up your grade because you have struggled through your coursework during the semester. Reacting to performance pressure, anxiety, and stress can challenge even the best students . . . but you can take control of anxiety and stress by “preparing to succeed.”

Start small

If you have ever gone skiing or snowboarding on difficult terrain, the pros will tell you to at least crest the top of a hill so the view to the bottom is not as scary. Start studying here and there . . . even in small amounts. Knowing that you have begun helps you stay in control!

Practice, practice, practice

Practicing is not only a good way to retain knowledge, but helps you build your comfort level with the typical final exam performance environment. Take a practice exam or two – you will get a feel for where you need to concentrate your studies. Confidence and familiarity are great anxiety reducers!

Learn to relax

Stress can make us fearful and even lead to irrational thinking. It is very important to make quiet time for yourself to control stress. Don’t just take a break – make a break. Get some fresh air, listen to music, go for a run or a swim, eat a decent meal . . . simple steps like these can help calm your nerves and keep you balanced and positive.

Adjust your focus

Anxiety and stress build up because we are worrying about the future. Keep your focus on the present: what is it you need to do now? Get rid of distractions, control negative thinking, organize and prioritize your plan of action, and move forward. You can do it.

Preparing for Thanksgiving



The days are getting shorter as your to-do list is getting longer. You might be tempted to put classwork off till after Thanksgiving because you don’t want to be writing papers, working on projects, or studying for tests while you are around family and friends, eating turkey and sleeping it off. However, as one of the most jam-packed holidays — short, intense, condensed into too little time — Thanksgiving can become the most difficult holiday of the year.

Ways to alleviate the stress of a holiday:

  1. Don’t put off work you need to do in favor of doing other work. Prioritize.
  2. Consider discussing something other than politics at gatherings: relatives’ childhoods; your hamster, cat, snake, animal friend; others’ vacation plans; and the all-time favorite for conversation gone awry in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys. If you do venture into the topic of politics, remember the close proximity you might be to others who disagree with you.
  3. Along those lines, having to study can be a graceful excuse to leave an argument no one will win.
  4. De-stress through calling friends, playing sports, running, music, art, etc.
  5. Take your own form of transportation if you can and leave if you must.

This week and over the holiday, when you study:

  1. Put your phone away, really away, while you work.
  2. Pick times to study when you’ll be awake (at night, in the morning) and undisturbed (whenever the football game or favorite TV show isn’t on).
  3. Write a rough draft/outline for a paper/presentation; review notes about your 99 physics problems (or problems in any class).
  4. Plan and start any projects due by the end of class and read notes for upcoming tests.
  5. Visit SLAC now! We are open through Tuesday at 5 p.m. and start again the Monday after Thanksgiving. Go to edu/slac/ to see our schedule and to look up other academic services on campus.

If you follow these tips, you can be more worry-free during the holiday because either you are done with some projects or you are finishing them in manageable amounts. Get started. Once the ball is rolling, it’s easier to keep it in motion. Don’t sabotage yourself by waiting until the last minute. Start getting the work done today so that this Thanksgiving can be as restful as possible.

Test Week is Over. Now What?



Once a “test week” has passed, lots of students get caught in the same trap they did at the beginning of the semester: falling behind! Here are some tips for staying on track until your next round of exams:

  • Use your planner or a large calendar to note all of your assignments and due dates.
  • Complete your assignments and maintain organized notes.
  • Correct those questions you missed, if you get tests back, to keep from making the same mistakes on the final and having to track down correct answers when you need to be studying for other exams.
  • Speak with your professor or grader to see what things you need to change for the next test if you did not do as well as you would have liked.
  • Seek out students who did well on tests/essay exams and ask if you can study with them.
  • Go to SLAC, the Math Lab, the Writing Center, or other relevant tutorial services now—get help before the next exam or essay test (see http://www.txstate.edu/slac/othersupport.html for links to academic services).
  • Take time to de-stress by walking during and after studying, as this can help you generate new ideas and approaches.
  • Lessen your tension also by punctuating your studying with short and sometimes longer breaks.
  • Use HALT to help you remember to check to see if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired as your physical well-being affects your attitude.

Whatever you do, do not simply shrug off a bad test or essay grade as a “fluke”—but don’t beat yourself up about it either. Remember that we learn as much or more from failure as we do from success. Use this as an opportunity to grow and learn different ways to study. Using the same approach in preparing for the next test will likely yield the same results! Likewise, if you do well on an exam or essay, pat yourself on the back and duplicate that study approach when the next test/essay approaches.

Keeping Up With Academic Goals



September is practically gone, but it’s never too late to remind yourself that schoolwork now is crucial — especially considering extracurricular activities you may have committed to this fall. Make sure to keep up with all of the reading(s) and homework for classes. The longer you put them off, the harder it is to catch up, and the more likely you will become overwhelmed the night before a test or due date. Bad grades at the beginning of a course are very hard to bring up at the end. Here are some tips to help you keep going:

  1. Use a planner and wall calendar. Put the dates of assignments and school-related work on it and the amount of time you’ll need to study/work. Put work times and medical appointments on it. Look at it at the end and beginning of each day. Really look at it.
  1. Spread the schoolwork evenly throughout the rest of the semester — especially if you have any large papers or projects. Do not wait until the last minute. If the project or paper seems overwhelming, break it into parts and set deadlines for each.
  1. Refresh your connections to contacts in class. If you get sick and have to miss class, having people to get notes from will help you catch up.
  1. Form or find groups with which to do your schoolwork. Study groups offer one of the best ways to prepare for tests, whether you are doing well in a class or not. Learning from a peer can be easier than trying to increase your understanding alone. And helping others learn is the best way to retain and understand material yourself.

Whatever your strategies, don’t let other fall obligations lull you into inaction. That way finishing on a positive note won’t seem impossible later!


Summer at Texas State

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by Texas State SLAC

Parking’s closer. Traffic’s lighter. You can turn left without a car bearing down on you or a bicyclist whizzing past. The river and its banks are less crowded. You can park at the Square! On campus, you can walk without dodging skateboards. Classrooms seem bigger: You don’t trip over backpacks as you squeeze between desks. If professors don’t mind, you can prop up your flip-flops.

Only one problem: schoolwork. Some papers are due each week (or two), there are tests on Mondays, and there’s homework every night — because you have 4 1/2 weeks to accomplish 13 to 14 weeks of work.

But intensity has pluses. You are working with focused students with broader age ranges and experiences; some will be returning professionals honing skills or redirecting careers. As a result, in-class discussions can be more interesting. Study groups can draw from the variety of students’ backgrounds, so use each other’s strengths. Also, motivated students in small classes can mean accessible, involved professors.

And campus study and recreation resources are still available: The Student Learning Assistance Center (SLAC), the Writing Center, Math Lab and many other tutoring labs are open for the summer sessions (txstate.edu/slac/othersupport). In addition, the Alkek Library, LBJ Student Center and Rec Center are not only open but also, hopefully, far less crowded than during the fall and spring semesters.

Summer school equals work — but it can give you a great introduction or a refreshing return to one of college’s best experiences!