Tip: Studying for Essay Exams

When you walk into a humanities course, such as English literature, you know: there will be essay questions on every. single. test. But! No need to fret. With these tactics, you can knock those pesky essays out of the park.

Read the text before class. Participating in those class discussions can help you form an opinion of the ideas in the text. Developing a perspective and position on a topic is half of formulating a good essay. It is all about making an effective argument, regardless of your view.

When preparing, focus on analyzing and interpreting the information as you read. Reflect and ask questions: What is the significance of the text? Pick out themes, metaphors, and know why the text was written. Compare to other readings in the course, as you will likely be asked to discuss multiple texts in your essay.

During class discussions, be sure to take notes. Many teachers base exam questions on the topics touched on during these discussions. You could separate out the question, professor’s comments, and student comments in your notes to help you better remember the course of the discussion as well.

Review after class and reflect on the reading and class discussion as a whole. Did your perspective change? Figuring out exactly what you think about issues in the text can make formulating arguments on the essay exam much easier. Another way to review is by annotating the text. Identify themes and symbolism as discussed in class, marking important passages as you go.

If you follow the main ideas in discussions, you may be able to anticipate possible essay topics. If you are fairly certain of a test topic, you could outline the question for practice. Truthfully, other than doing the reading, being involved in class is probably the best way to prepare yourself for any question. As you participate, you will be forming a position on the text, which, with a bit more planning, will ensure your success on the test.


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