How to Write an Essay under Exam Conditions

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“ It’s frightening how much of life depends on exams. You spend a whole year working away, writing beautiful reports and essays, and most of it counts for close to nought. Instead, everything is decided in a few hours at the very end. It isn’t exactly fair, is it? But then, as my father loves to say, ‘the world isn’t fair’. And he’s right ″

So we better sit down and simply deal with the facts on the ground as they are. For that reason, this article is dedicated to giving you some of my insights in writing exams, which – at the risk of blowing my own horn – I’ve always done rather well at. So how do I do well?

Make sure you understand the question

It sounds so insane. And yet a lot of people stumble at this first hurdle. If you don’t read the question correctly then, however, good your work might be, it won’t matter. You’ll have answered the wrong question. That means that you’ll either have points deducted (if you’re lucky) or that you get a big fat zero (if you’re less so). So don’t let the stress of the exam deal you a fatal blow. Take your time to read the question. In fact, I often read all of them, then return to the first one.

Answer the easiest question first

In fact, I don’t necessarily return to first one. In order to reduce the stress I’m feeling, I’ll often start out by writing one of the questions that is the most obvious.
Because once you get going and you’re doing well, the stress will abate and you’ll feel a lot more confident and focused, which is exactly the state of mind you want to be in when you’re dealing with those exam questions that are harder to do.

Create an outline

You don’t start a cross-country drive without a map and you shouldn’t start an exam question without having some idea where you’re going and how you’ll end up there. So figure out what your conclusion will be and the points that will take you there.
You can do this on paper, or in your own mind. It’s completely up to you. Just as long as you do it.
Of course, if in the process of writing the answer your brain sparks and you’ve got something truly good to work with, don’t feel afraid to alter your outline. That’s the way writing works. But it’s much better if you’ve got the plan, to begin with.

The all-important introduction

That first paragraph is the most important, as it is where you bring the reader and your ideas together. Therefore, take your time on it to make sure really pops. It’s okay to use about 10% of the time allotted to that part of the exercise on getting your introduction right.
So what do you do here? You introduce the main points that are going to be discussed. You clarify important concepts and you frame the general argument that you’re going to make. Don’t go into too much detail, but give some so that the reader has a basic framework of what you’re planning to do. That will make their reading of your text that much easier.

The argument

An argument consists of three parts. The first part is where you state your argument. Don’t immediately launch into defending it as then there’s a chance that it can’t come across all that well. Instead, state it clearly and then move on to the second part. Which is, clarifying and supporting your statements. Here you take the time to really explain why your statement is right. If you’re not sure if something is completely obvious, then you should probably put it in. Here it’s better to be safe than sorry.
And step three is ‘state the counter-arguments’. The best arguments are those that anticipate and neutralize counter-arguments before the reader has even thought of them. Admittedly, this isn’t easy to do during exam conditions, but it is vital if you really want to make the best of the situation.
For this reason:

Prepare beforehand

In fact, the best way to know what the best counterarguments to the main positions are is to work on them beforehand. Team up with somebody else and take opposite positions on some of the big arguments that you’re bound to face.
You write an argument pro, they write an argument anti (or the reverse). Then compare notes and look at some of the ideas that the other person came up with that you didn’t. Alternatively, get professional help. Get a writing service like Resumes Expert to write an argument from a perspective. If you then study these professionally written essays you’ll be able to take some of the points that they’ve raised into the exam with you (in your head, not up to your sleeve).

The conclusion

The conclusion is where you take what you’ve written and summarized it into several succinct points. Don’t waffle. Get to the point. Don’t be afraid to make the strongest case you can. Don’t talk about what you believe and what you think. Instead, realize that you have to end it on a strong note. It is only in this way that you can actually convince anybody.

Write clearly

And whatever you do, write clearly. Perhaps a few weeks before the exam period comes around to start writing everything by hand so that you can practice writing again. This will help in many ways. For one thing, you’ll be able to write more clearly, for another you’ll be able to write faster and finally, you’ll be able to write far more before getting tired.
These are all very useful skills to have at hand when you’re writing an exam. So don’t let the theory completely rule. Instead, make certain that you can actually put them on paper in a clear manner so that your teachers will thank you and your essays will be understood.
As an extra bonus, they say that taking notes by hand means that you remember far more anyway. So there’s always that to consider.