How to Study For Essay Exams in College

How to Study For Essay Exams in College
As a college student, you will probably have to contend with essay exams more often than you did in high school. The more practice you have had writing outside of class, the easier an in-class essay will be. However, the preparation that goes into an essay exam is critical to successful results. There is a cardinal rule in studying: one size does not fit all. In other words, preparation for a short answer objective exam differs greatly from preparation for an essay test. Here are some tips on how to study for essay exams in college.
Upon the announcement of an exam, one of the first things you should do is ask the instructor for copies of any old exams on which to practice. While you know the questions would not be the same, you will get a sense of the professors' style and perhaps the depth of knowledge expected. Practice answering the exam questions to the best of your ability.

In addition, there are usually sample essay questions at the end of every chapter. Check them out. If the professor taught primarily from the text, then there is a good bet that the questions will be similar. Also consult the online website that supplements the book. It often goes ignored by students but can contain valuable practice that ends up being very close to the real exam.

In addition, you can brainstorm potential questions for the exam first, and then get together with friends who are doing well and exchange ideas. Practice answering each others questions. Do not forget to take your notes into consideration when thinking of possible questions. If there is something in your notes that is not in the text, there is a good bet it will be the subject of an exam question.

When you practice answering essays, do not write in paragraph form. Rather, create an outline. It may be easiest to list all of the important ideas you want to convey first, followed by their respective details. Write in short phrases, not sentences, and use abbreviations. This makes it easier to memorize. You can use color, too, as a powerful memory tool. Some students are more comfortable thinking in pictures, so they prefer mind-mapping to outlining. There are many mind-mapping applications you can download for free online. One of my favorites is Mindomo. It is to your advantage to print your mind map, rather than study it on the computer screen, so before you get comfortable with a free program, make sure it gives you the option to print.

Next, you want to commit your outline or mind map to memory using mnemonics (word tricks, i.e. Every Good Boy Does Fine for the notes of the scale that go through lines), color hints, or any visual clues you can think of. Practice again and again until you can re-create your outline or map by heart. It is important to over-learn the material, so it does not disappear out of nervousness when you start the exam. In fact, it is a good idea to do a "data dump" before the test starts, too. That is where you take a blank corner of the test paper and jot down any formulas, mnemonics, dates, etc., that you fear you are going to forget. Once they are recorded, you can relax!

You can now see that studying for essay exams is a defined process. The only question that remains is--how do you know when you have studied enough? When you can easily replicate your outline or mind map without any omissions, you have over-learned the material, and you can walk into the exam confidently!

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