Answering Essay Questions on Tests: Tips for High School Students

1. Read Carefully and Take Notes

Read each essay question at least twice! The first time read it through to get a general sense of what the question is asking you. The second time you read it, take notes on scrap paper or in the margins of the test about the question. Many times, essay questions will ask you for a certain number of facts or reasons or examples; it is important to make a note on how many of these you need. These questions may also ask you to compare and contrast, define, or explain. Make notes on exactly what the question is asking you to do. For example, a sample essay question may be: Compare and contrast the life cycle of a monarch butterfly to a meal worm.

On your scrap paper or in the margins of the test, you would write: compare, contrast, monarch butterfly, meal worm to begin answering the question.

2. Organize Your Thoughts

Before you write your essay question answer, organize your thoughts on scrap paper. You may have to ask your teacher for a piece of scrap paper and explain you need it to better answer the essay questions) With the above sample essay question, you would write down the stages of the monarch butterfly in one column and the meal worm in another. Then when you are writing the essay answer, you will have notes that you can refer to and cross off once you have used the information.

3. Check Your Work

It is as important to check your work on an essay test as it is on a math test. The first thing you want to do is check your notes and see if you have enough reasons or you did what the essay question asked, such as compare and contrast information. Once you have checked your notes, and you know that you have answered the essay question as completely as you could, then you should check over your answer for good grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and so on. Although many high school teachers claim mechanics don’t affect your grade on an essay test, if your answer is easier to read, flows well, and makes sense grammatically, then teachers are more likely to give you more points or a better grade.

4. Practice Ahead of Time

Many high school teachers will provide sample essay questions or a sample exam for students to practice with. If your teacher gives you a sample essay question, then make sure you answer it while studying. If you have any problems with the essay question, then you’ll need to speak to your teacher before the test.