Studying for Essay Tests Tips

Question: My daughter, a high-school freshman, is a very good student until she has to deal with essay tests. She tenses up and gets writer's block and nearly works herself into an anxiety attack. Her teachers say my daughter writes well when she does not have to work under time restrictions. What can be done to help her overcome this problem now? - Writer's Block

Answer: Essay tests can be scary for students who don't really know how to take or study for this type of test. They might panic, like your daughter has been doing, under the pressure of answering questions within a limited amount of time. With some positive experiences in handling essay tests, your daughter should become more comfortable with them.

One of the first steps in learning how to handle essay tests is determining what the questions are likely to be. Essay questions usually cover the main points that have been discussed in the classroom or are major topics in a textbook. Some teachers go so far as to give the students possible questions. Others might broadly indicate what will be on the test. Studying past tests will provide some clues as to what future test questions are likely to be.

Preparation greatly reduces the anxiety associated with essay tests. Students should prepare by writing out answers to questions that the teachers have given them, ones that they have made up, and those at the end of a chapter. They will frequently find out that they have answered actual test questions by studying this way. Once they become more comfortable answering likely test questions, they should start answering these questions under generous time limits until they can handle them in the time allowed at school.

On essay tests, students will do better if they take a moment to organize their answers. Some jot down a quick outline or at least a few key ideas before they start writing longer essays. They also should make an effort to use the proper technical vocabulary to show their teachers that they not only have learned the terms but are also able to use them correctly. When students aren't completely sure of an answer, they need to write down what they do know about the topic in order to get at least partial credit.