Academic Success in College - On Essay Exams, Raise Your Grade by Outlining Answers and Being Neat

Academic Success in College - On Essay Exams, Raise Your Grade by Outlining Answers and Being Neat
Most professors like to see students outline their answers on discussion and essay exams. A good outline will not only help you remember and organize all the points you want to make, it can earn you points by itself, especially if you run out of time to complete your answer.
If a professor tells you not to write in the margin, then don't. Put your outline somewhere else, such as just beneath the question itself, written small.

Otherwise, outline your answers in the margin, and be NEAT. Write your outline as neat as you do your answer.

Here's what I do, but you should do whatever works for you. I form a column by putting a dash in front of each point I want to make. Imagine that I was asked to discuss Edgar Allan Poe and his connection with Charleston, South Carolina. I would start my outline this way:

- Mother performed Dock Street Theatre

- Stationed Fort Moultrie

- Name Perry

- The Gold-Bug/Sullivan's Is.

- Annabel Lee legend

- Considered himself Southern

- Et cetera

Quickly put everything in your outline that occurs to you so you don't miss anything. You can organize your points later by putting numbers next to them or some such method. If something occurs to you as you write your answer, add it to your outline immediately so you don't forget it.

In fact, jot notes in the margin on anything that might help you answer any question on a test. Do not hesitate to help yourself.

If you have outlined and answered part of a discussion question as time runs out, the professor will see your outline and know that you know the relevant issues, but just didn't have time to write them down.

While leaving an outline for an essay answer is usually an excellent idea, you might want to erase other things you wrote beside multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions--or maybe not. Use your own judgment. If it can help in any way, leave it. If not, erase it.

Here are some other important things to remember about taking essay exams.

Professors HATE sloppy tests. Write legibly and neatly. Make sure your professor can read everything without straining. Make sure everything is dark enough. Don't scratch things out.

Remember, when professors grade, they look at tests from everybody in your class. That might be 100 tests; but even 25 is a lot for a professor to grade if it is a lengthy discussion test or has a lot of short-answer questions. If you write poorly or lightly, and the professor has to wrestle with your writing, you are dead. It will prejudice your professor against you immediately because he/she will think your answer has to be as sloppy as your penmanship.

Consider erasable ink for exams. I took all my exams with erasable ink. It gave me the authority of ink but the ability to change an answer at will, and still be neat. Erasable ink pens are inexpensive and have an ink eraser on the tip, like a pencil. You can find them anywhere.

Erasable ink is fine for a single blue book exam, but I didn't like it for anything else. It can smudge.

One final thing to reiterate: on essay exams, always write things down as they occur to you. If you think you will simply remember something later, you are wrong. You won't.

This is true, too, about great ideas that occur to you in life. Write them down and date them the moment you think of them. If you don't, you'll lose most of them.

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