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  • Focus and Precision: How to Write Essays that Answer the Question

answering questions on essay

About the Author Stephanie Allen read Classics and English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and is currently researching a PhD in Early Modern Academic Drama at the University of Fribourg.

We’ve all been there. You’ve handed in an essay and you think it’s pretty great: it shows off all your best ideas, and contains points you’re sure no one else will have thought of.

You’re not totally convinced that what you’ve written is relevant to the title you were given – but it’s inventive, original and good. In fact, it might be better than anything that would have responded to the question. But your essay isn’t met with the lavish praise you expected. When it’s tossed back onto your desk, there are huge chunks scored through with red pen, crawling with annotations like little red fire ants: ‘IRRELEVANT’; ‘A bit of a tangent!’; ‘???’; and, right next to your best, most impressive killer point: ‘Right… so?’. The grade your teacher has scrawled at the end is nowhere near what your essay deserves. In fact, it’s pretty average. And the comment at the bottom reads something like, ‘Some good ideas, but you didn’t answer the question!’.

answering questions on essay

If this has ever happened to you (and it has happened to me, a lot), you’ll know how deeply frustrating it is – and how unfair it can seem. This might just be me, but the exhausting process of researching, having ideas, planning, writing and re-reading makes me steadily more attached to the ideas I have, and the things I’ve managed to put on the page. Each time I scroll back through what I’ve written, or planned, so far, I become steadily more convinced of its brilliance. What started off as a scribbled note in the margin, something extra to think about or to pop in if it could be made to fit the argument, sometimes comes to be backbone of a whole essay – so, when a tutor tells me my inspired paragraph about Ted Hughes’s interpretation of mythology isn’t relevant to my essay on Keats, I fail to see why. Or even if I can see why, the thought of taking it out is wrenching. Who cares if it’s a bit off-topic? It should make my essay stand out, if anything! And an examiner would probably be happy not to read yet another answer that makes exactly the same points. If you recognise yourself in the above, there are two crucial things to realise. The first is that something has to change: because doing well in high school exam or coursework essays is almost totally dependent on being able to pin down and organise lots of ideas so that an examiner can see that they convincingly answer a question. And it’s a real shame to work hard on something, have good ideas, and not get the marks you deserve. Writing a top essay is a very particular and actually quite simple challenge. It’s not actually that important how original you are, how compelling your writing is, how many ideas you get down, or how beautifully you can express yourself (though of course, all these things do have their rightful place). What you’re doing, essentially, is using a limited amount of time and knowledge to really answer a question. It sounds obvious, but a good essay should have the title or question as its focus the whole way through . It should answer it ten times over – in every single paragraph, with every fact or figure. Treat your reader (whether it’s your class teacher or an external examiner) like a child who can’t do any interpretive work of their own; imagine yourself leading them through your essay by the hand, pointing out that you’ve answered the question here , and here , and here. Now, this is all very well, I imagine you objecting, and much easier said than done. But never fear! Structuring an essay that knocks a question on the head is something you can learn to do in a couple of easy steps. In the next few hundred words, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned through endless, mindless crossings-out, rewordings, rewritings and rethinkings.

Top tips and golden rules

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to ‘write the question at the top of every new page’- but for some reason, that trick simply doesn’t work for me. If it doesn’t work for you either, use this three-part process to allow the question to structure your essay:

1)     Work out exactly what you’re being asked

It sounds really obvious, but lots of students have trouble answering questions because they don’t take time to figure out exactly what they’re expected to do – instead, they skim-read and then write the essay they want to write. Sussing out a question is a two-part process, and the first part is easy. It means looking at the directions the question provides as to what sort of essay you’re going to write. I call these ‘command phrases’ and will go into more detail about what they mean below. The second part involves identifying key words and phrases.

2)     Be as explicit as possible

Use forceful, persuasive language to show how the points you’ve made do answer the question. My main focus so far has been on tangential or irrelevant material – but many students lose marks even though they make great points, because they don’t quite impress how relevant those points are. Again, I’ll talk about how you can do this below.

3)     Be brutally honest with yourself about whether a point is relevant before you write it.

It doesn’t matter how impressive, original or interesting it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re panicking, and you can’t think of any points that do answer the question. If a point isn’t relevant, don’t bother with it. It’s a waste of time, and might actually work against you- if you put tangential material in an essay, your reader will struggle to follow the thread of your argument, and lose focus on your really good points.

Put it into action: Step One

answering questions on essay

Let’s imagine you’re writing an English essay about the role and importance of the three witches in Macbeth . You’re thinking about the different ways in which Shakespeare imagines and presents the witches, how they influence the action of the tragedy, and perhaps the extent to which we’re supposed to believe in them (stay with me – you don’t have to know a single thing about Shakespeare or Macbeth to understand this bit!). Now, you’ll probably have a few good ideas on this topic – and whatever essay you write, you’ll most likely use much of the same material. However, the detail of the phrasing of the question will significantly affect the way you write your essay. You would draw on similar material to address the following questions: Discuss Shakespeare’s representation of the three witches in Macbeth . How does Shakespeare figure the supernatural in Macbeth ?   To what extent are the three witches responsible for Macbeth’s tragic downfall? Evaluate the importance of the three witches in bringing about Macbeth’s ruin. Are we supposed to believe in the three witches in Macbeth ? “Within Macbeth ’s representation of the witches, there is profound ambiguity about the actual significance and power of their malevolent intervention” (Stephen Greenblatt). Discuss.   I’ve organised the examples into three groups, exemplifying the different types of questions you might have to answer in an exam. The first group are pretty open-ended: ‘discuss’- and ‘how’-questions leave you room to set the scope of the essay. You can decide what the focus should be. Beware, though – this doesn’t mean you don’t need a sturdy structure, or a clear argument, both of which should always be present in an essay. The second group are asking you to evaluate, constructing an argument that decides whether, and how far something is true. Good examples of hypotheses (which your essay would set out to prove) for these questions are:

The final question asks you to respond to a quotation. Students tend to find these sorts of questions the most difficult to answer, but once you’ve got the hang of them I think the title does most of the work for you – often implicitly providing you with a structure for your essay. The first step is breaking down the quotation into its constituent parts- the different things it says. I use brackets: ( Within Macbeth ’s representation of the witches, ) ( there is profound ambiguity ) about the ( actual significance ) ( and power ) of ( their malevolent intervention ) Examiners have a nasty habit of picking the most bewildering and terrifying-sounding quotations: but once you break them down, they’re often asking for something very simple. This quotation, for example, is asking exactly the same thing as the other questions. The trick here is making sure you respond to all the different parts. You want to make sure you discuss the following:

Step Two: Plan

answering questions on essay

Having worked out exactly what the question is asking, write out a plan (which should be very detailed in a coursework essay, but doesn’t have to be more than a few lines long in an exam context) of the material you’ll use in each paragraph. Make sure your plan contains a sentence at the end of each point about how that point will answer the question. A point from my plan for one of the topics above might look something like this:

To what extent are we supposed to believe in the three witches in Macbeth ?  Hypothesis: The witches’ role in Macbeth’s downfall is deliberately unclear. Their claim to reality is uncertain – finally, they’re part of an uncertain tragic universe and the great illusion of the theatre. Para.1: Context At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth , there were many examples of people being burned or drowned as witches There were also people who claimed to be able to exorcise evil demons from people who were ‘possessed’. Catholic Christianity leaves much room for the supernatural to exist This suggests that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience might, more readily than a modern one, have believed that witches were a real phenomenon and did exist.

My final sentence (highlighted in red) shows how the material discussed in the paragraph answers the question. Writing this out at the planning stage, in addition to clarifying your ideas, is a great test of whether a point is relevant: if you struggle to write the sentence, and make the connection to the question and larger argument, you might have gone off-topic.

Step Three: Paragraph beginnings and endings

answering questions on essay

The final step to making sure you pick up all the possible marks for ‘answering the question’ in an essay is ensuring that you make it explicit how your material does so. This bit relies upon getting the beginnings and endings of paragraphs just right. To reiterate what I said above, treat your reader like a child: tell them what you’re going to say; tell them how it answers the question; say it, and then tell them how you’ve answered the question. This need not feel clumsy, awkward or repetitive. The first sentence of each new paragraph or point should, without giving too much of your conclusion away, establish what you’re going to discuss, and how it answers the question. The opening sentence from the paragraph I planned above might go something like this:

Early modern political and religious contexts suggest that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience might more readily have believed in witches than his modern readers.

The sentence establishes that I’m going to discuss Jacobean religion and witch-burnings, and also what I’m going to use those contexts to show. I’d then slot in all my facts and examples in the middle of the paragraph. The final sentence (or few sentences) should be strong and decisive, making a clear connection to the question you’ve been asked:

  Contemporary suspicion that witches did exist, testified to by witch-hunts and exorcisms, is crucial to our understanding of the witches in Macbeth.  To the early modern consciousness, witches were a distinctly real and dangerous possibility – and the witches in the play would have seemed all-the-more potent and terrifying as a result.

Step Four: Practice makes perfect

The best way to get really good at making sure you always ‘answer the question’ is to write essay plans rather than whole pieces. Set aside a few hours, choose a couple of essay questions from past papers, and for each:

You can get your teacher, or a friend, to look through your plans and give you feedback . If you follow this advice, fingers crossed, next time you hand in an essay, it’ll be free from red-inked comments about irrelevance, and instead showered with praise for the precision with which you handled the topic, and how intently you focused on answering the question. It can seem depressing when your perfect question is just a minor tangent from the question you were actually asked, but trust me – high praise and good marks are all found in answering the question in front of you, not the one you would have liked to see. Teachers do choose the questions they set you with some care, after all; chances are the question you were set is the more illuminating and rewarding one as well.

Image credits: banner ; Keats ; Macbeth ; James I ; witches .

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Essay Structure

Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.

The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.

Answering Questions:  The Parts of an Essay

A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.

It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)

"What?"   The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.

"How?"   A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.

"Why?"   Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.

Mapping an Essay

Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.

Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:

Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.

Signs of Trouble  

A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").

Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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How to Answer Essay Questions – The Ultimate Guide

Everyone Loves Essay Questions!

“I hate essays!” This battle cry is famous to most students. That’s because essay questions are either easy or difficult. Either way, there’s no certain formula. Even if you think you know the answer - don’t be overconfident - the critical part is how you make your essay worth reading. So how do you do it?

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Tips for Writing an Essay

Read the question more than once. Some questions can be tricky so make sure you understand it to the letter. A lot of students commit error by simply not reading instructions very well. They read and then write a long essay, only to realize very late that they did not understand the question correctly.

Familiarize yourself with your professor or teacher’s style of organization, if you can. As students, it’s your role to know how your teachers want their essays answered.

Mentally go through your lecture notes before writing anything on your paper.

Create an outline of thoughts and related topics in connection with the essay question. By doing this you are helping yourself create a more organized answer.

Construct an idea in each paragraph. Go back to your essay outline if you think you are repeating yourself or not making sense at all.

Use the terminology of the course . Be professional in knowing what type of words to use in a particular topic or subject.

Read and go back to your previous paragraphs after you are finished with one paragraph. This will help you determine your flow of thought and if you are really making a point or giving an answer.

Don’t include ideas that are off-topic.

If there are too many ideas in your outline , cut out the least important ones. As much as possible, make your idea concrete and pointed, with arguments or statements that is easy to understand.

The body of your essay should have a summary or statement.

Support your summary or statement with adequate details and specifics. If you do not know how to add details, just expand on your generic idea.

Avoid jumping from one point to another.

Avoid vague descriptions if necessary . Include specifics to get your message across.

Review the question again and again so you will not lose your thread of thinking.

If you have time to make revisions, do so.

Use all the time you have to complete your essay. Review and re-check your answers before submitting your paper.

If you have nothing to write and don’t know what to write , don’t leave your paper blank. Write something at least.

Get the Complete Guide to Studying

Get the complete guide to taking notes, taking a test complete guide to multiple choice, essay check list.

Here is a great Checklist for answering Essay Questions from Tennessee State University:

Use the following as a guide when writing answers to discussion questions and as a checklist after you have written your answer.

1. Do I understand the question?  What am I being asked to do? 2. Do I have a plan?  What are my major points and how am I going to present them? 3. Does the reader know, just from reading the first sentence of my essay, both the question and how I will answer it? 4. Are my major points clear and do they stand out? 5. Do I support my argument with facts and examples? 6. Do I make clear and sensible transitions between major points? 7. Is my answer clear to someone who knows nothing about this? 8. Have I answered the question completely?  Have I fully covered all of the major points required to completely answer the question? 9. Is there irrelevant material? 10. Do I have a conclusion and summary statement? 11. Have I proofed my essay for common spelling and grammatical errors? 12. Is my handwriting legible?  Is there room for comments or additions?

Glossary of Essay Exam Terms

When taking an exam the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with all instructions. At times this can be confusing especially if you do not understand the terms. Below you will find some common terms used on essay exams. Learning these terms is a key step in successful completion of most essay exams.


Last piece of advice – Don’t get your parents to edit it!

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How to Study for an Essay Exam How to Answer Essay Questions – The Ultimate Guide

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How to Answer Essay Questions on an Exam

By: Angelina Grin

How to Answer Essay Questions on an Exam

Understanding the Question

Identify the question category, writing your response, check yourself, short answer examples, how to answer long essay questions, tips on how to answer an essay question, how can you spot a good essay question 🔥, why do students find essay questions challenging 😓, what is the #1 takeaway for answering these questions 🥇, how can i write better answers ✏️.

From high school English comprehension exams all the way up to college entrance exams and the GRE, essay questions are a mainstay. They can be broadly broken down into four categories: factual recall, analysis, synthesis, and opinion.

You have one hour to respond to as many as five different short essay questions, each of which requires you to write a paragraph. Writing an essay requires you to break it up into several paragraphs. Within the allotted time, you might be asked to compose just one extended essay, or maybe even two of them.

In this article, we will show you how to answer essay-style exam questions.

What are the Steps for Answering Essay Questions Properly?

There are four basic steps you need to focus on.

Student at Desk Answers Essay Questions

You are strapped for time in every exam but understanding the question is the most important part. If you cannot understand what it is that you need to do, you will write a quality answer, no doubt, but it will be misguided and wrong, and you will have wasted all that time, resulting in poor test scores. Therefore, to save time in the long run, you have to understand what relevant facts are being asked of you before you commit to a course of action.

The strategy is to begin the exam by answering essay questions. You'll save time by dealing with the most stressful issue first. You should also pay particular attention to the questions themselves: read them 2-3 times to properly comprehend what they are asking of you, paying special attention to the verbs, and ask the examiner before the test begins if you have any doubts or confusions. It will also make answering the question much easier if you underline or highlight the essential terms inside it.

Speaking of relevant terms, that is what we will talk about next.

Essay questions typically include a list of specific keywords that teachers and professors want students to focus on when composing their responses. For instance, an essay question that asks you to "describe" an issue will be different from an essay question that asks you to "argue" a position. Both of these types of questions are part of an essay. When you read an essay question, it is imperative that you locate and identify the corresponding keyword. The following are some of the most frequently used keywords:

Okay, now you have a grasp on what the question demands from you. That’s great. The next step involves writing your answer. How to structure answers to essay questions? Let’s find out.

In most cases, sticking to the usual five-paragraph formula will work. This consists of an introductory paragraph, up to three body paragraphs, and a final paragraph where you summarize your arguments and conclude your answer.

There is no universally applicable standard for how to answer essay-type exam questions in college or university. One thing is certain, though: your introductory paragraph has to make a strong impact. It's the first thing people will read, so if it doesn't hook them, the rest of the essay better be excellent. It needs to be competent, at the very least. The introduction should take up about 10% of the total number of words in the essay. If you write a 1500-word essay, for instance, your introduction will be about 150 words.

The body of the essay will nearly write itself once you have a plan in place. All that's left to do is fill in the main ideas. Now that you know what they are, it's time to employ the key terms you found in the question. In order for the text to make sense, each paragraph needs to make some sort of connection back to the topic sentence. You will have access to far more data than is actually useful, so write only that which is absolutely necessary. Avoid fluff. You want to be comprehensive but not at the cost of putting your professor to sleep.

In the concluding paragraph of your essay, you will restate your main points. It is crucial, so make sure to always include one. The examiner will spend the least amount of time on this section, but it will have the greatest impact on the final grade.

You should restate the primary points you made and make direct reference to the question's keywords. The most important thing is that it doesn't add anything to what you've already said. It's too late to say anything else that hasn't already been said.

Following this structure for your essay answers is a good way to learn how to write a paper to answer a bunch of questions essay.

Even with the essay questions answered, you’re not finished yet. When you’re done with your essay answer, give yourself some time to go through what you wrote. No matter how carefully you craft the answer in your head and how quickly you write it, you are bound to make some spelling errors. Even if you go through it and find that you didn’t make any, you can now be sure that you didn’t! That in itself is worth the time to go through and proofread your well-rounded essay.

In this section, we will talk about answering multiple questions in essay format examples. By studying these illustrations, we will see how and why they work.

Hopefully, by reviewing these short essay question examples, you now have a better grasp on how you want to do things. These are the kinds of answers admissions officers look at on personal statements when you apply to graduate school.

In this section, we will take two essay answers that are on the longer side and dissect them. We will discuss what makes them good, and why you should try to model your style after them if you can.

There are a lot of things you can do to improve the essay answers you write. In this section, we will discuss the top five things you can and should do in order to write better answers for your tests.

Following these five tips will have shown you how to answer essay questions but they will also improve the overall quality of your test-taking experience as well. You should put these into practice when you take timed mock tests at home to prepare for the big one. The more you write essays, the better position you will be in when the date for the actual test rolls around.

You can tell whether most essay questions are good just by reading them. It will be clear about what it wants and to the point.

Time management. Reading the essay, noting information, understanding the question–all of these take time, and that makes it tough for middle school students to master and leads to a desire for essay question help.

Answering questions in essay form can be hard. The main thing you need to do is understand what the question wants. Once you get that, it’s only a matter of writing it down. So give yourself some time while you read it to understand it effectively.

The key to answering essay questions is to think fast and write fast. You have to recall the main topic from the passage and apply it quickly. And you also have to give yourself enough time to check your answer for errors afterward.

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Confirm your understanding of the text by writing a summary.

Two commonly confused words are *affect *and effect. Though their meanings are related, they are quite different. **Affect is most often a verb meaning "to influence." It can also be a noun meaning, "mood; feeling" or a verb meaning "to put on; to make a pretense of being or having." Effect is most often a noun meaning "result." It can also be a verb meaning "bring about." Verb: How will this change affect ‾ \underline{\text{affect}} affect ​ you? Noun: What is the effect ‾ \underline{\text{effect}} effect ​ of the change? In most cases, you can avoid confusing these. words by deciding whether you want a verb meaning "to influence" ( affect ) or a noun meaning "result" ( effect ). Choose the correct word to complete below sentence. The serious subject of Midsummer may (effect, affect) some readers.

A Write the plural for each of the following words on the line provided.

Example 1. airline airlines ‾ \underline{\text{airlines}} airlines ​

bird-watcher The horse with the sllvery mane and white tall was chosen by the photographer. ‾ \underline{\phantom{\text{The horse with the sllvery mane and white tall was chosen by the photographer.}}} The horse with the sllvery mane and white tall was chosen by the photographer. ​

Answer the following question about Belgium. Refer to the Points de départ in Le c ¸ \c{c} c ¸ ​ on C.

Quelle est la situation économique de la Flandre?

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How to answer essay exam questions like a boss 6 min read

Strategy for answering essay questions.

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Preparing your essay

The formula for a stellar introduction , creating a strong body, writing a standout conclusion, rereading your essay, tips for effective writing, when in doubt, just start writing, do not write fluff and just get to the point, write at your own pace, follow the instructions given.

The instructions for exam questions can be seen as your personal guide to scoring points on the exam. Keep the instructions in mind as you write your essay and respect the essay prompt by addressing all the points mentioned and you will live happily ever after with a beautiful grade.

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To answer an essay question (EQ), students must assess the purpose of the essay question: factual recall, analysis (explanation of relationships) synthesis (application/transfer of previously learned principles) opinion

How much information to include, repeat, restate (intro needed? details needed?).

The chart below outlines 4 main types of essay questions, the verbs/cues that indicate the type of essay question and its purpose, and the strategy to be used to answer it.

Read the questions very carefully at least 2 or 3 times. Circle  the main verb (= action verb/imperative) in the question and decide on the necessary rhetorical strategy for answering the question (cause-effect, comparison-contrast, definition, classification, problem-solution). Make sure you understand what type of answer the main verb calls for (a diagram a summary, details, an analysis, an evaluation). Circle all the keywords in the question. Decide if you need to write a 1-paragraph or a multi-paragraph answer. Write a brief outline of all the points you want to mention in your answer. Restate the question and answer it with a topic sentence (for a 1-paragraph answer) or a thesis statement (for a multi-paragraph answer).  Answer the question according to general rules of academic writing.  Use indentations; begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; support the topic sentence(s) with reasons and/or examples; use transition words to show logical organization; write a conclusion.  Use correct punctuation throughout. Read over your answer again and check if all the main ideas have been included. Check your answer for grammar and punctuation.

© 2005: Christine Bauer-Ramazani ; last updated: September 02, 2019



Writing samples are an important part of your application to any college. Your responses show how well you would fit with an institution; your ability to write clearly, concisely, and develop an argument; and your ability to do the work required of you should you be accepted. Use both short answer questions and personal essays to highlight your personality and what makes you unique while also showing off your academic talents.

Short Answer Questions

Short answer questions are almost harder to write than a personal essay, since you usually have a word limit. Often, this may be as short as 150 words (a paragraph). This means that your answers must be clear and concise without being so bare bones that you don’t seem to have a personality. In fact, it’s okay if you answer the question in less than the allotted space. Provided you avoid clichés and sarcasm and answer the question wholly, less can be more. Here are some tips to help you ace your short answers:

The Personal Essay

The majority of colleges will ask you to submit at least one personal essay as part of your application. (You can find the 2019–2020 application platform personal essay prompts here , but not all schools use an application platform. In such cases, you will find essay prompts on the school’s own application.) By reading your submission, college admissions officers become familiar with your personality and writing proficiency. Your essay, along with your other application materials, helps them determine if you would be a good fit for the school and if you would be able to keep up with the rigor of the course load. A well-written, insightful essay can set you apart from other applicants with identical grades and test scores. Likewise, a poorly constructed essay can be detrimental to your application.

To ensure that your essay is the best it can be, you will need to spend some time reviewing the essay prompt to understand the question. Not only will you need time to become familiar with the directions, but you will also want to take your time when constructing your essay. No one can sit down and write the perfect essay in one shot. These things take effort, brainpower, and a significant amount of patience. Consider these steps for producing a well-written, thoughtful response to any essay prompt:

The Three Types of Essay Questions

There are three types of personal essays: the personal statement, the school statement, and the creative or intellectual statement. These are described below.

The Personal Statement

The School Statement

The Creative/Intellectual Statement

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Good Example Of Essay On Answering Questions

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Transportation , Synthesis , Infrastructure , Vehicles , Transport , Carbon , Gradient , Actions

Words: 1300

Published: 02/20/2023


FAD is reduced to FADH2 in Succinate oxidation to fumarate through catalytic action of succinate dehydrogenase. The resulting FADH2 electrons skips the first stage of oxidative phosphorylation by moving into the electron transport chain located in CoQ. This can be illustrated as NADH -> CoQH2. Consequently, there is 2 ATP forming stages found in the electron chain from CoQ to O2 used in this course (Schwender et al, 50). Indifferent to the first scenario, oxidation of malate to produce oxaloacetate results to NADH consequently, the NADH produced electrons completes its movement in 3 ATP forming steps associated with chain of electron transport.

The nigericin aids in exchange of K+ for H+ ions, which then activates discharge of proton gradient through the inner membrane of the mitochondria. Given that electron transport generates the proton gradient and the same gradient is released by the action of ATP synthase-mediated formation, nigericin is found to uncouple the two processes (Gottlieb & Paul, 36). In which case, this means that there will be continuation of electron transport while ATP synthesis will not continue. Valinomycin does not do the same because it is not capable of transporting protons; consequently, its action will generate scanty impact on either of the processes, transport of electron or synthesis of ATP.

Free energy that is attributed to the concentration gradient when the Ph gradient is maintained at 1.4 units DpH = + 1.4 DG = - 2.303 (8.315 x 10-3 kJ/mol-K)(298K)(1.4) = - 7.99 kJ/mol

Computation of free energy that is attributed to the voltage gradient

Dym = yin - yout = - 0.14 V.DG = (1)(96.48 kJ/V-mol)(- 0.14 V) = - 13.5 kJ/mol Computation of the free energy available for 1 mole of protons’ movement starting from the cytoplasm right into the matrix considering the cellular condition will be the sum of energy calculated above. That is: DG = - 2.303 RT DpH + nFDy = -7.99 kJ/mol - 13.5 kJ/molDG = -21.5 kJ/mol

The estimated moles protons should be 3

That is = 3 moles protons per mole. when considering Hess’s law,

Atractyloside acts inhibits respiration by acting as an inhibitor to transport of materials, that is raw materials import across the inner membrane of the mitochondrion; it also hinder ATP export. The atractyloside functions by blocking the adenine nucleotide porter when it binds to the outward. In which case, their action results to inhibition of oxygen consumption in mitochondrial proximal tubule.

Antimycin site of inhibition is found in the photosynthetic and the respiratory electron transport chain located between the b and c types cytochrome (Ormerod, 34). This zone is known as plastoquinones. This reasoning is quite true since the two cytochrome are found in the location of photosynthetic action; that is photochemical –oxidizing point is located near the c-type cytochrome while the photochemical-oxidizing location is found closer to the b type cytochrome. Consequently, by acting in this zone antimycin is capable of actively inhibiting photosynthesis in the chloroplasts.

Average Calvin cycle labelling patterns should be in reliant to the elements given in question. Question 7 The C4 plants remains to thrive because it adapts well to hot and dry systems. This is therefore contributes to the fact that illumination will not affect C4 plant, while affecting C3 that is not better suited. In addition, C4 plant has significantly lower amount of photorespiration; consequently, in a sealed box where we expect O2 concentration to be high, photorespiration will act as a major aspect contributing to the dying of C3 and accommodation of C4.

a). The Ca 2+ ions activate PKC in conjunction with DAG. Increase the amounts of calcium ions are going to result in the increase in the rate of glycogen synthesis and decrease in degradation of the glycogen. b). once released the inactive catalytic subunits of PKA phosphorylate numerous substrate using the phosphate donor. This implies that increase in ATP increases the process of glycogen synthesis and reduces the rate of degradation. c). When adenylyl cyclase is activated, it catalyses the conversion of ATP to cyclic AMP, which leads to an increase in intracellular levels of cyclic AMP. Inhibiting adenylate cycles results to decrease in rate of glycogen synthesis and increase in the rate of degradation. d). Glucagon and epinephrine trigger the breakdown of glycogen. Increasing the amount of epinephrine in the blood increases the rate of glycogen degradation. The increase also results into decrease in the rate of glycogen synthesis. e). The cyclic AMP cascade highly amplifies the effects of hormones. If they amplify the effect of epinephrine then the rate of degradation of glycogen increases rapidly and the rate of synthesis also decreases rapidly.

Muscle enzyme needs a higher Vmax for strenuous muscular activity, particularly when the muscle is working under much reduced oxygen concentrations. Glycogen phosphorylase in the liver is an isozyme of the muscle enzyme, and regulated by glucose (inhibitor) as well as by hormones.

Question 10

Constant hunger and need to eat often; this is because all the energy is to be supplied to the body from external sources of glucose.

Easy bruising and nosebleeds; there is no enough energy in the body.

Fatigue; this is as a result of concentration of excess glycogen in the muscle. Irritability; the excess amount of glycogen in the body Puffy cheeks, thin chest and limbs, and swollen belly; the amount of glycogen that are not degraded results to this 11).


They both stabilize carbonionic intermediates. They do this using different mechanism. For transketolase and transaldolase, a carbanion intermediate is stabilized by resonance.


One difference is that transketolase transfers a two-carbon unit, whereas transaldolase transfers a three-carbon unit. Each of these units is transiently attached to the enzyme in the course of the reaction. In transketolase, the site of addition of the unit is the thiazole ring of the required coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate. Transketolase is homologous to the E1 subunit of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex and the reaction mechanism is similar.

In transketolase, TPP stabilizes this intermediate; in transaldolase, a protonated Schiff base plays this role.

12). During illumination, the thioredoxin disulfide is reduced to a dithiol by ferredoxin, a constituent of the photosynthetic light reaction pathway, via an enzyme Ferredoxin-Thioredoxin Reductase. The carbamate forms by reaction of HCO3- with the e-amino group of a lysine residue of RuBP Carboxylase, in the presence of Mg++. HCO3- that reacts to form the carbamate group is distinct from CO2 that binds to RuBP Carboxylase as substrate. 13). C4 and CAM plants have, over evolutionary time, evolved a different enzyme to serve in the (initial) fixation of carbon dioxide. PEP Carboxylase has a higher affinity for carbon dioxide than Rubisco and serves to fix carbon dioxide into an organic intermediate molecule. The presence of PEP Carboxylase in C4 and CAM plants reduces photorespiration (Ormerod, 46).

Gottlieb, David, and Paul D. Shaw. Mechanism of Action. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 1967. Internet resource. Ormerod, J G. The Phototrophic Bacteria: Anaerobic Life in the Light. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Print. Schwender, Jorg, Goffman, Fernando, Ohlorogge, John and Shachar-Hill, Yair. Rubisco without the Calvin cycle improves the carbon efficiency of developing green seeds. Nature 432, 779-782 (9 December 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature03145; Received 13 August 2004; Accepted 1 November 2004

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How to Answer Discussion Questions

Last Updated: December 4, 2022

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. This article has been viewed 131,709 times.

Discussion questions are a great way to explore and apply concepts with critical thinking. Despite many different wordings, the questions are specifically phrased to let you know exactly how to answer them. By breaking the questions down into parts, creating a strong response can be much easier than it seems!

Determining What is Being Asked

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Crafting a Thoughtful Response

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Polishing Your Response

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Help Breaking Down Discussion Questions and Sample Responses

answering questions on essay

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About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

To come up with a polished response to a discussion question, write out your answer like it's a mini-essay. Restate what the question asked including a thesis statement in the first few sentences. Your thesis statement is just a sentence that sums up the main points you plan to talk about. After your thesis statement, answer each question and include references to where you found your information in the text. Before you wrap things up, reread the discussion question to make sure you've answered each part of it. Then, summarize your main points in a conclusion paragraph to tie everything together. To learn how to edit your response, read more from our Education co-author! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Answers in Essay Format – How to Answer Multiple Questions in Essay Format

Answering multiple questions in essay format can be a challenge. However, it is very possible and by following this guide you will soon be able to answer many more questions than before.

Before you start, consider your basic question that you are trying to answer and then use that as your guide. There are many different ways you can tackle a question, so it is important to think about what you are trying to do before you begin to answer the questions. For example, if you were writing for your university, you would likely write an essay on the subject of philosophy. If you were writing for an employer, you would write on your job application.

After you have a basic question to answer, you will need to come up with a list of words that make up that topic. It is a good idea to use a word processor to make this process easier, but remember, your goal here is to find the best answer to your question, not necessarily to make the most sense. As an example, if you were looking for the word “courage” in a college essay, you would be looking for the best possible answers to those questions using the dictionary, or any other tools you have at hand.

The main part of this exercise is to give your reader all of the necessary information to answer their question. This is important because you want your readers to read your essay with interest, and they won’t be interested if you don’t provide them with enough information to answer their question.

Once you have your list of words, you will want to put all of those words into question form. You will also want to take care of punctuation and grammar rules. For example, in college you may use the terms “who, what, when, where, why, etc.”

Remember, if you want your essay to be successful, you will be working on it for quite some time. Be sure that you take the time to prepare each question for your essay and you will see the rewards of being more organized, especially when you are answering multiple questions in essay format.

Once you have completed your essay and are ready to move onto the next stage of this process, it is now time to write your conclusion to answer the multiple questions. Make sure you write your conclusion in the same style as your essay.

By following these steps you should soon be able to answer many more questions in essay format. Remember to practice this process until you become comfortable and confident with answering multiple questions in essay format.

After you have written your essay, you can now print out the completed draft, which can then be used as a reference for your assignments. You may also choose to submit it for publication in college publications that accept your essays.

As a result of answering multiple questions in essay format, you will have a much better chance at getting into a good college and will be in a great way to land a job after graduation. Your high school counselor may even recommend your essay to a prospective employer.

Another reason to answer questions in essay format is that the finished article will give you a great chance to write about the subjects that interest you. and providing the best possible answers to the questions you have to answer.

Finally, if you follow this simple advice you will end up with a much better chance of getting accepted to a university, and you will be able to enjoy your college experience much more. and you will have a more enjoyable college education.



a) Would you expect butterflies to bask in the sun more in tropical or temperate biomes? Why?

b) In a biome with a wide temperature range for a single day, how would you expect butterfly basking to vary within a day?

      2. A tiny plant growing on the black beaches of warm, dry North Africa is very dark green, with very small leaves that are covered in pubescence and a large root system, while its sister species on the white beaches is also tiny aboveground with a large root system, but with leaves that are larger and a very pale shade of green, but not pubescent. A third, closely related species is aquatic, found in large, fairly deep freshwater pools, and has a very small root system and much larger leaves that are just a nice medium shade of green, with no pubescence.  

a)  What are some evolutionary trade-offs demonstrated for these plants in these 3 environments? You might consider some of the different trade-offs we discussed in class: temperature, water, energy, and/or natural selection due to herbivory. 

b) Do you think these plants most likely perform C­ 3 , C 4 , or CAM photosynthesis? Why?

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Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

answering questions on essay

Writing Essays for Exams

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

While most OWL resources recommend a longer writing process (start early, revise often, conduct thorough research, etc.), sometimes you just have to write quickly in test situations. However, these exam essays can be no less important pieces of writing than research papers because they can influence final grades for courses, and/or they can mean the difference between getting into an academic program (GED, SAT, GRE). To that end, this resource will help you prepare and write essays for exams.

What is a well written answer to an essay question?

Well Focused

Be sure to answer the question completely, that is, answer all parts of the question. Avoid "padding." A lot of rambling and ranting is a sure sign that the writer doesn't really know what the right answer is and hopes that somehow, something in that overgrown jungle of words was the correct answer.

Well Organized

Don't write in a haphazard "think-as-you-go" manner. Do some planning and be sure that what you write has a clearly marked introduction which both states the point(s) you are going to make and also, if possible, how you are going to proceed. In addition, the essay should have a clearly indicated conclusion which summarizes the material covered and emphasizes your thesis or main point.

Well Supported

Do not just assert something is true, prove it. What facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point? In many cases, the difference between an A and a B as a grade is due to the effective use of supporting evidence.

Well Packaged

People who do not use conventions of language are thought of by their readers as less competent and less educated. If you need help with these or other writing skills, come to the Writing Lab

How do you write an effective essay exam?

Specific organizational patterns and "key words"

Most essay questions will have one or more "key words" that indicate which organizational pattern you should use in your answer. The six most common organizational patterns for essay exams are definition, analysis, cause and effect, comparison/contrast, process analysis, and thesis-support.

Typical questions

Q: "What is a fanzine?"

A: A fanzine is a magazine written, mimeographed, and distributed by and for science fiction or comic strip enthusiasts.

Avoid constructions such as "An encounter group is where ..." and "General semantics is when ... ."

Tools you can use

Analysis involves breaking something down into its components and discovering the parts that make up the whole.

Q: "Discuss the different services a junior college offers a community."

A: Thesis: A junior college offers the community at least three main types of educational services: vocational education for young people, continuing education for older people, and personal development for all individuals.

Outline for supporting details and examples. For example, if you were answering the example question, an outline might include:

Write the essay, describing each part or component and making transitions between each of your descriptions. Some useful transition words include:

Conclude the essay by emphasizing how each part you have described makes up the whole you have been asked to analyze.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect involves tracing probable or known effects of a certain cause or examining one or more effects and discussing the reasonable or known cause(s).

Typical questions:

Q: "Define recession and discuss the probable effects a recession would have on today's society."

A: Thesis: A recession, which is a nationwide lull in business activity, would be detrimental to society in the following ways: it would .......A......., it would .......B......., and it would .......C....... .

The rest of the answer would explain, in some detail, the three effects: A, B, and C.

Useful transition words:


Q: "Which would you rather own—a compact car or a full-sized car?"

A: Thesis: I would own a compact car rather than a full-sized car for the following reasons: .......A......., .......B......., .......C......., and .......D....... .

Two patterns of development:


Useful transition words

Process (sometimes called process analysis)

This involves giving directions or telling the reader how to do something. It may involve discussing some complex procedure as a series of discrete steps. The organization is almost always chronological.

Q: "According to Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute?, what is the best procedure for finding a job?"

A: In What Color Is Your Parachute?, Richard Bolles lists seven steps that all job-hunters should follow: .....A....., .....B....., .....C....., .....D....., .....E....., .....F....., and .....G..... .

The remainder of the answer should discuss each of these seven steps in some detail.

Thesis and Support

Thesis and support involves stating a clearly worded opinion or interpretation and then defending it with all the data, examples, facts, and so on that you can draw from the material you have studied.

Q: "Despite criticism, television is useful because it aids in the socializing process of our children."

A: Television hinders rather than helps in the socializing process of our children because .......A......., .......B......., and .......C....... .

The rest of the answer is devoted to developing arguments A, B, and C.

A. Which of the following two answers is the better one? Why?

Question: Discuss the contribution of William Morris to book design, using as an example his edition of the works of Chaucer.

a. William Morris's Chaucer was his masterpiece. It shows his interest in the Middle Ages. The type is based on medieval manuscript writing, and the decoration around the edges of the pages is like that used in medieval books. The large initial letters are typical of medieval design. Those letters were printed from woodcuts, which was the medieval way of printing. The illustrations were by Burn-Jones, one of the best artists in England at the time. Morris was able to get the most competent people to help him because he was so famous as a poet and a designer (the Morris chair) and wallpaper and other decorative items for the home. He designed the furnishings for his own home, which was widely admired among the sort of people he associated with. In this way he started the arts and crafts movement.

b. Morris's contribution to book design was to approach the problem as an artist or fine craftsman, rather than a mere printer who reproduced texts. He wanted to raise the standards of printing, which had fallen to a low point, by showing that truly beautiful books could be produced. His Chaucer was designed as a unified work of art or high craft. Since Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, Morris decided to design a new type based on medieval script and to imitate the format of a medieval manuscript. This involved elaborate letters and large initials at the beginnings of verses, as well as wide borders of intertwined vines with leaves, fruit, and flowers in strong colors. The effect was so unusual that the book caused great excitement and inspired other printers to design beautiful rather than purely utilitarian books.

From James M. McCrimmon, Writing with a Purpose , 7th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), pp. 261-263.

B. How would you plan the structure of the answers to these essay exam questions?

1. Was the X Act a continuation of earlier government policies or did it represent a departure from prior philosophies?

2. What seems to be the source of aggression in human beings? What can be done to lower the level of aggression in our society?

3. Choose one character from Novel X and, with specific references to the work, show how he or she functions as an "existential hero."

4. Define briefly the systems approach to business management. Illustrate how this differs from the traditional approach.

5. What is the cosmological argument? Does it prove that God exists?

6. Civil War historian Andy Bellum once wrote, "Blahblahblah blahed a blahblah, but of course if blahblah blahblahblahed the blah, then blahblahs are not blah but blahblah." To what extent and in what ways is the statement true? How is it false?

For more information on writing exam essays for the GED, please visit our Engagement area and go to the Community Writing and Education Station (CWEST) resources.


Home » Marquette University » What Are Five Things You Should Do When Answering An Essay Question?

What Are Five Things You Should Do When Answering An Essay Question?

Table of Contents

General Rules:

What is the most important thing to do when answering an essay question?

Read the questions and instructions carefully . Read over all the questions on the exam. If you simply answer each question as you encounter it, you may give certain information or evidence to one question that is more suitable for another. Be sure to identify all parts of the question.

How do you answer an essay question?

Answer the question according to general rules of academic writing. Use indentations; begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; support the topic sentence(s) with reasons and/or examples; use transition words to show logical organization; write a conclusion. Use correct punctuation throughout.

What makes a good essay question?

An essay question will have an instruction or action word(s) , e.g. Discuss, Explain, Evaluate, etc. You will need to think about these words and their usage, if you are writing your own question, as they will indicate what is to come in your essay.

What is the proper way to answer exam questions?

Short answer questions

How do you answer a general question paper?

Crucial Tips For General Paper (GP) Comprehension

Which questions should you answer first when taking a test?

1. Answer the easy questions first, then the harder ones. Don’t get nervous if some questions look unfamiliar. Skip them and return to them later.

How do you right a good essay?

Six top tips for writing a great essay

What is the order of a 5 paragraph essay?

The five-paragraph essay is a format of essay having five paragraphs: one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs with support and development, and one concluding paragraph . Because of this structure, it is also known as a hamburger essay, one three one, or a three-tier essay.

What is an essay question?

Definition of essay question : an examination question that requires an answer in a sentence, paragraph, or short composition .

How do you pose a question in an essay?

The question should meet the following criteria: It should, generally, ask us to determine relationships (frequently cause and effect relationships) that cannot be directly observed ; that is, it should generally ask “why” or “how,” rather than “when” or “who.”

How do you prepare for exam questions?

Practise with past test questions if possible . Don’t worry too much about timing, but get used to using strategies for working out best answers. Look out for other possible questions and answers while revising. If you have any past test questions, think about the kind of questions that are asked.

How can I cheat in exam?

5 unusual ways students cheat in exams and yet get caught

What does General paper consist of?

A General paper is set in Part IB and Part II. The paper consists of a list of topics indicated by just one word, or a brief phrase — for example ‘Necessity’, ‘Pleasure’, Knowledge of God’, ‘Nature’, ‘Mental causation’, ‘Originality’.

What is the first thing you should always do when answering multiple-choice questions?

Multiple-Choice Test Taking Tips and Strategies

Which is the recommended first step in answering an essay question on a test?

The first step in answering an essay question effectively is to understand the question by reading the directions carefully and looking for key words . The next step involves making a quick outline highlighting the main points, the beginning and ending points, and key terms to include in the essay.

When you’re writing an essay for a test what should you do first?

1. When you’re writing an essay for a test, what should you do first? Make a brief outline .

What are the 5 parts of an essay?

As a result, such a paper has 5 parts of an essay: the introduction, writer’s arguments, counter arguments, refutation, and conclusion .

What are the 5 steps to writing an essay?

What are the steps in writing an essay?

8 Steps to Writing an Essay

What are the 5 parts of an argumentative essay?

The five parts include ​ a strong introductory paragraph with a clear thesis, three body paragraphs substantiated with detailed evidence, and a compelling conclusion . ​ Students should also use transitional words and phrases to guide readers through their arguments.

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Edmund Duncan is an education expert and thought leader in the field of learning. He has dedicated his life to helping students achieve their full potential in the classroom and beyond.

Edmund's work as a teacher, administrator, and researcher has given him a unique perspective on how students learn and what educators can do to foster a love of learning in their students. He is passionate about sharing this knowledge with others, and he frequently speaks at education conferences around the world.

When Edmund isn't working or speaking, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He loves traveling and exploring new places, and he is an avid reader who loves learning about new cultures and customs.

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answering questions on essay

The Learning Strategies Center

How to Tackle Exam Questions

Learn more about how to tackle different kinds of exams and exam questions.

We cover the following topics on exam preparation on this page:

First, Let’s Think About De-Coding Different Types of Exam Questions

It’s helpful to understand the kinds of question that are asked on a exam, because the response you need to come up with depends on the type of question. Knowing about different types of exam questions can help you activate appropriate strategies for formulating answers and reduce exam-taking anxiety.

Exam questions generally fall into one of three categories: 1

“Green Light”

green light

“Yellow Light”

yellow light

red light

See this link for a pdf of  Decoding exam questions.

How to Tackle: Problem-Solving and Quantitative Questions

Study for problem-based exams by practicing (new!) problems

As you work on the problems, remember:

* You need to get your “stuck” muscles stronger so you know what to do on tests when you feel stuck.

Watch: LSC’s Mike Chen Shares “The Key to Problem-Solving Tests”

Taking problem-based exams

1. Understand the problem: Determine what you are supposed to find, what you need to find it, and what the unknown is (and if there is extra information). Consider whether drawing a sketch will help. Also – note each part of the question. Not answering each part is an easy way to lose points.

2. Determine a way to solve the problem: Write down all that is given or known. Draw a sketch when appropriate to show relations. Write down all relevant formulas.

3. Carry out the procedure you have devised: For numerical problems, try and estimate an answer first. This will help you to check your work later. Neat, careful work keeps you from making mistakes, and allows you to find them when you do make them (show your units!!). Additionally, when the instructor can see your work clearly, he or she may give you partial credit for what you do know, even if your ultimate answer is incorrect.

4. Check your Answers: This requires the same quality of thought originally used to solve the problem. Is your answer what you thought it would be in your original estimate? Is it a quantity that makes sense? Is your answer in the correct units? If your answer does not seem reasonable, rework the problem.

How to Tackle: Multiple Choice Questions

1. Read the stem: First, read the stem and make sure you understand what it is getting at. Look out for double negatives or other twists in wording before you consider the answer.

2. Try to come up with the correct answer: Before you look at the answer choices, try to come up with the correct answer. This will help you to rule out choices that are similar to the correct answer. Now read and consider each option carefully.

3. Look for clues in the stem: Look for clues in the stem that suggest the correct answer or rule out any choices. For example, if the stem indicates that the answer is plural you can rule out any answers that are singular. The basic rule is: the correct answer must make sense grammatically with the stem. Options which fail this exam can be ruled out.

4. Cross off any options you know are incorrect: As you rule out options cross them off with your pencil. This will help you focus on the remaining choices and eliminates the chance of returning to an item and selecting an option you had already eliminated.

5. Come back to items you were unsure of: Put a mark next to any questions you are unsure of. If you complete the entire exam with time to spare, review these questions – you will often get clues (or even answers) from other questions.

Take a look at some additional information on difficult “ Multiple Choice Tests ” (opens a PDF).

How to Tackle: Essay Questions

The best way to  prepare  for essay tests is to practice writing essays.

When you are  taking  essay tests:

You might want to take a look at some “ Words to Watch for in an Essay ” (opens a PDF).


1 Taffy E. Raphael, Teaching Question Answer Relationships, Revisited, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Feb., 1986), pp. 516-522.

Ellis, D. (1998). Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin: Boston

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