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Preparing for an Essay Test

Needless to say, part of your preparation for an essay exam requires that you have a broad knowledge of the subject matter. If you know the dates of the Civil War and some of the principal battles that were fought, these facts will be of little value when you are asked for the principal "cause" of the Civil War. (Conceivably, these same facts may be of some value if you're facing a multiple choice exam on the Civil War.)

So, the first step in preparing for the essay exam is to have a broad knowledge of the subject matter. Next, you can prepare for your essay exam by writing some practice essay questions. Here, you are "second guessing" the instructor. You review your notes and/or reading assignments and compose some sample essay questions that you feel the teacher may ask. Naturally, as part of your test preparation, you'll need to answer the essay questions you have composed. You can then use these questions and answers as key review tools.

As you prepare for an essay exam, it is important to think about and understand concepts. In our example, the concept is the economic cause of the Civil War, as opposed to specific recall of dates or events. Think of the economic causes as being an umbrella, under which are such items as slavery, inexpensive labor, the abolitionist movement, the economics of the plantation system and the election of Abraham Lincoln. Thus, the mental picture of the umbrella becomes the essence of your essay answer.

In summary, essay test preparation starts with a comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter, with an emphasis on understanding key concepts or ideas. Write and answer some essay questions of your own covering the material you will be tested on. Remember, each paragraph should start with a topic sentence or main idea, followed by supporting information and a conclusion.