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.
ASSESS THE MOST EFFICIENT ROUTE
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.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Visualize action words to find your line of argument:
- 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 of argument that allows you to make your strongest, most concise argument. Then, map your answer!
PRINT OUT YOUR MAP
If your professor allows, take in an outline or more than one outline of essay questions, but be SURE this is OK 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 you can’t remember something because of stress. It also helps you stay calm and focused during tests.