Learning skills: Essay questions

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Essay questions

When answering an essay question, you want to demonstrate that you understand the question, know the facts involved and can support your position, and can demonstrate your critical thinking skills on the subject. To accomplish this goal, consider the following:

  • Read the directions carefully – you may not have to answer all of the questions (e.g., Answer two of the following five essay questions)
  • Read each question several times and make notes beside each – what were your thoughts after reading the question?
  • Plan your time
  • Start with the easiest question
  • Organize your answer by first creating an outline, even if you’re not asked to do so
  • Make sure you answer all parts of the question
  • Answer the question directly in your first sentence
  • Use your best argument first
  • Expand on your first statement and follow your outline
  • Avoid unsupported opinions
  • Write naturally; keep your sentences simple and to the point. Don’t go overboard trying to impress the instructor with big words and long, complicated sentences.
  • End with a brief conclusion that summarizes the major points of your response
  • Check grammar and spelling
  • If you have no idea how to answer the question, start by writing an outline as it may help you to recall more information.
  • If you’re still stuck, write the best answer you can. You could get partial marks for your ideas, and partial marks are better than no marks!
    (Source: Roberta Mason, RRU)

Creative Commons

Information within this guide was adapted from the University of Guelph's A Guide to University Learning and from information provided by Roberta Mason, Associate Vice-President, Student and Academic Services, Royal Roads University. These materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.