Last week, I gave suggestions about how to answer the three most common types of questions teachers ask on a test. This week, two other types of tests that are given in school – the essay exam and the open book test- will be reviewed.

The essay exam

Planning your time in answering essay questions is an important part of the test. The general rule is not to get carried away on one or two questions to the extent that you cannot answer the other questions in the time allotted. Read through the entire examination first to get a feel for the questions you are expected to answer paying particular attention to the directions for each question and plan your time accordingly.

When you follow directions for an essay exam, pay attention to the key words your teacher has included. Such words as "list," "describe," "compare and contrast," and "outline" have special meaning. Do not "write around" the question but answer it directly. If a question asks you to list something, do not write a narrative about it.

After scanning the list of questions to be answered, choose the ones you know most about. A good idea is to prepare an outline of your answers. The outline will help you remember important ideas and facts to be included in your response. Another technique is to do a "memory dump."

In this technique, write down everything you have memorized - facts, names, dates, ideas, and events, before you do anything else. Sometimes reading through the essay questions can distract you from what you have studied. The "memory dump" technique requires that you write down everything possible before you begin writing essay answers. This way, you are less likely to forget something important.

Finally, legible writing, and correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation are essential on essay examinations. If your cursive writing is very hard to read, then print instead. Well-written grammatically correct answers almost always receive higher grades than poorly written grammatically incorrect ones.

The open book test

Another type of test given in some classes is an “Open Book Test.” Although the words "Open Book Test" sound great, in reality, the test may be very difficult because an open book test measures your understanding of the subject, not just your memory.

Make sure that you study for an open book test. You have to be able to locate the information you need in your textbook or notes quickly. Always keep up with class readings and assignments, and make brief summaries of the major ideas or concepts taught in your notes.

For this type of test, it is a good idea to have your material organized before the test. It may help to list dates, data or formulas separately so the ideas can be retrieved quickly. Also, make sure that everything you will need for the test is marked.

Be sure to read the questions on the test carefully so you will give the answers that are needed. Do not waste your time. Answer the easier questions first then move on to the more difficult ones. Do not practice overkill. You do not have to give every fact in your head. When you finish, always read over your answers, and make any necessary corrections.


Elizabeth Hamilton holds master's degrees in education and the arts and is a teacher with 30 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner@yahoo.com with your questions or comments.

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