• Do you want to learn how to effectively study for  your Essay-based exams?
  • Are you looking for new ways study to make your studying more engaging and enjoyable?
  • Do you want to know how top students study for essay-based exams?

Here is how top 10  tips on how to ace your next essay-based exam.

1. In order to prepare for essay-based exams, pre-write a set of topics & outlines.

The secret to doing well on essay-based exams is early preparation and developing a database of topics & outlines.

For these types of questions, think about what your professor or teacher mentioned in your lectures. There are certain theories that your professor may provide lots of evidence for. This is a good place for you to start creating the topics and outlines.

For essay-based questions, come up with about 10 questions that may show up in the exam. Pre-write outlines for each of these questions based on your studying and research.

Here is a sample format I used to create the outline:

  • Topic/Question: 
  • Argument:
  • Point 1:
  • Evidence:
  • Explain:
  • Link
  • Point 2: 
  • Evidence:
  • Explain:
  • Link
  • Pont 3: 
  • Evidence:
  • Explain:
  • Link

You can see how I used the PEEL method as a template to create an outline. This makes it much easier to organize your thoughts. 

You may not get the same exact questions on the exams. However, some questions will be very similar.

The mere practice of writing the outline and brainstorming concepts will help you tremendously in the exam to be calm and confident.

2. Pay careful attention to the instructions

Take time to understand what the question is really asking. This is especially important when it comes to essay questions.

For example, the essay questions may ask you to do 4 out of the 5 questions. If you proceed to answer all five questions because you misread the question, it would be a waste of time. 

In my exams,  I would underline any key details or words to get my attention as I read the questions. I make sure that I have completely read and broken down the question before proceeding to answer it.

Advanced tip: I would even rewrite the question by hand on a blank space to make sure that I fully grasp the question. This helped me really pay attention to know what the question is asking me to do.

3. Plan out your time

When you get an essay based or short answer exam, take a look at the full exam paper to see how much time you should dedicate for each question.

For example, if you have 4 questions to answer during a 2 hour exam, you have 30 minutes to dedicate for each question on the exam. 

Also, spend the first 2 minutes calmly gathering your thoughts. This will ensure you have a plan when you put pen to paper.


4. During the exam, write an outline using bullet points first

For each essay question, write an outline with points you are most excited to present. Remember, you cannot afford not to write an outline for your essay questions.

Writing outlines will help you organize your thoughts and help you stay focused and clear. Spend 5 minutes writing your outline.

Start with the most important points first.


5. Use PEEL Method to Organize Your Paragraphs

Learn and use the PEEL Method to develop your paragraphs. This technique is not only valuable for exams, it is valuable for any report or essay you would need to do for your university or high school.

What does PEEL stand for? 

PEEL simply stands for Point, Evidence, Explain, Link. It is a way to structure paragraphs for essays.

  • P = Point: Introduce the point and make your point

Start your paragraph with a clear topic sentence that establishes what your paragraph is going to be about. 

Your point should support your essay argument or thesis statement.

Stating your point in the beginning will help your instructor connect with your material easier.

Write the most important points first.

  1. E = Evidence/Example: Support it with evidence, research, references, an example or quote

Second step is to back up your point with evidence, research, references, an example or quote.

Add as many relevant facts, statistics and numbers as possible. It will help make your essay more convincing. 

Be clear with your examples and evidence. Don’t get carried away with mentioning unrelated evidence and examples.

E = Explain: 

Third step is to explain exactly how your evidence/example supports your point. 

These sentences should give further explanation to ensure that your reader understands the evidence/example’s importance.

L = Link:

Lastly, finish the paragraph off. Link the point you just made back to your essay question  or topic.

Here is a  full example:

Topic: Should Pomodoro Technique be globally encouraged among university students to increase study effectiveness?

Point: The Pomodoro Technique should be encouraged use among university students because studies show that individuals who use this technique increase focus, concentration and deter procrastination.

Evidence: According to its creator Franscico Cirillo, time blocking techniques such as Pomodoro Technique increases productivity and deters procrastination.

Explanation: The reason techniques such as Pomodoro Technique works to improve focus and concentration is because it provides finite time for our minds to concentrate. Our minds get bored if we have to endlessly continue on the same task. Also, setting duration to complete a task and completing it, gives you a sense of accomplishment once completed.

Link: Evidence suggests that using techniques such as Pomodoro Techniques can help university students improve focus and concentration. 

Remember, in the exam, everything under PEEL Method would be in one paragraph. 

Also, use only one main idea per paragraph. It will make your exam more easily readable.

6. Your instructors care about how clear you communicate, not how smart you sound. 

I have seen many students try to use complicated words and sentences to impress their professors and TAs. This is not good practice that will help your grades or your innocent instructors’ lives.

Using complicated words and sentences often leads to misunderstanding rather than clear understanding. When writing, drive for clarity rather than complexity.

Remember, professors and instructors do not care about how smart we sound. They care about how well we communicate ideas. Imagine yourself as a professor. What type of papers would you like to read? Wouldn’t you like to read papers that are clear and easy to understand? 

Your job is to make your professor’s life easier when it comes to marking your paper.

If you can help them learn something new while making it easier for them to understand your paper, even better!


7. Write short, easy-to-understand sentences

Writing shorter sentences is a lot easier to understand than larger sentences.

Each sentence should have one simple thought. More than that creates complexity and invites confusion.

As mentioned earlier, your professor cares about how clearly we communicate, not how complicated we sound. 

Making ideas shorter makes it easier to understand and read. Which increases the likelihood of you getting a better grade in your test or exam.

Let’s keep it simple so everybody understands things clearly.

8. After each paragraph, read the question to see if you are on point.

For essay exams, read the question after you write each paragraph. 

This will ensure that your answers are on point and deliver the answer that is necessary.

Also, remember to write the question number next to the answer.

Writing the question number next to the answer will help you and your marker quickly identify the question you answered.

This will help unnecessary errors from your end and make it easier for your marker to mark your paper.

If you are running out of time, write your answers in bullet points.

This is a super valuable tip to implement if you are running out of time.

If you don’t have enough time to write full sentences, write bullet points as your answers. This will help you earn at least a few marks for the question rather than nothing at all.

9. Reference your sources if your remember.

This applies regardless of whether writing an essay-based exam or writing an essay to hand in later.

Reference your sources as much as possible in the exam. 

Citing or referencing shows not only the marker you read and studied the material deeply, you went beyond to remember the reference details.

This will surely help get better grades.

This will earn you additional marks if you do it accurately. 

10. Write your conclusion at the end and only restate previously discussed points.

Your conclusion should only summarize the main points in your essay. 

Do not add additional arguments or supporting evidence in the conclusion. This will disrupt the flow and will confuse the marker.

Simply, present your marker to what you were able to demonstrate in your essay.