Writing an essay for a final exam is daunting for many students. As a word guy I never really understood that, but there it is. Most of the things that students fear can be overcome simply through an essay question preparation program. Literary ability is important, of course, but depending upon the subject for which you are writing the essay, the value varies; obviously, you will probably be expected to turn in a higher level of prose for a term paper on Shakespeare than on the scientific principles of gravity. By the time the exam arrives you should already be familiar enough with the subject to at least fake your way through. If so, therein lies the nugget of success for accomplishing far more.
The best method available for passing an essay question on a final exam starts about a month before the exam date. Take notice of when this date will arrive and be prepared to sit down and take stock of what you have learned in the course. There are three important elements to this process. One, examine those things about the subject that you are confident about, the things that you know you know. Secondly, be honest with yourself about the material related to the topic that you know something about, but really should know better. Maybe it is because you missed a class or two, or you just never really successfully comprehended the concept. And finally, be brutally honest about what totally went over your head. Look at the material that has been covered and ask yourself is there anything in there that you just are totally baffled over. This shouldn’t be a quick assessment that you do while eating lunch or working on your MySpace page; take a few hours and go over your notes until you are completely sure about your strengths, your weaknesses and your utter failures.
While doing this, take notes. Give yourself at least a page for each of the three categories of knowledge. When you enter the information about the subject material you are iffy on, write it down clearly and pointedly. This is no time to be vague. If you know the exam question is going to have something to do with 17th century British authors and you know the name Jonathan Swift, but can’t remember whether he wrote Gulliver’s Travels or Moll Flanders, it won’t behoove you to simply make the note “Jonathan Swift???” Instead, write down his name and his most famous work right next to each other. If you don’t know the information when writing these notes down, then add another note on where you think you should go for the information. Let’s say you’re pretty sure there will be an essay question on the subject of Newtonian physics and you realize you can’t quite keep apple boy’s laws straight, add to your notes if this information was specifically addressed in your textbook, or whether a simple Google search will bring back sufficient information and, if so, what sites have proven reliable previously.
After you have accomplished this, the next item on your agenda is to adapt your study schedule to allow more robust attention in the final weeks leading up to the exam and the dreaded essay question. Figure out where you can find an extra hour a day, or if necessary a bigger block of time on the weekends. If that means cutting back on parties, so be it. If it means simply giving up your hour of reruns of Seinfeld or Family Guy, so be it. (Obviously, you should not give up reruns of The Simpsons; your future is important, but come on!) Find a way to carve out at the very least an extra half-hour of study time a day and commit to filling in the blanks that information you kind of know, while at least getting up to speed on information you totally tanked.
This may sound like good advice to start a semester with, but it requires a lot of work and focus. The long weeks between getting a syllabus and getting an exam from your instructor allows for too many opportunities to get distracted and even overconfident. That last month before exams is long enough to stay focused; trying to change your habits a week or two before is just asking for trouble. Obviously, this only works if you know for certain there will be an essay question on the exam and it works most beautifully when you have one of those terrific-in my opinion-instructors who focuses on essay questions. Of course, with a little adjustment you can even use this approach for non-essay exam questions like multiple choice or short answer. But when you’ve got to have a handle on both a conceptual overview as well as specific elements, this preparation method works better.