Author Archives: vanessavillescas

“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!