For many students, midterms are fast approaching (if not already here)! With this in mind, I thought that I would put together some tips and tricks on how to study for and take a short answer/ essay test. Often times these types of tests can present more of a challenge for students than multiple choice tests. I also come across students who study less for short answer/ essay tests simply because they don’t know how to study for this test format. Below are tips for studying/ preparing, and then tips for for taking the test.

Studying and Preparing:

  • Review discussion questions in your textbook. These questions can often be found at the end of a chapter, or at the end (or sometimes beginning) of a major section of the chapter. Don’t just look at these questions. Write down your response to them, or discuss the answer with a classmate.

  • Go through the study guide your professor gave you. If they didn’t give you a study guide, send them an email asking what kind of questions you can expect on the test.

  • Just because the test will be short answer/ essay, doesn’t mean that you can’t use flash cards. You just have to adapt how you make your flashcards. Instead of writing a vocabulary word, with the definition on the back, write down a broad concept/ idea with relevant information and examples on the back of the card.

  • Be sure that you are prepared with all the materials you need for the test:

    ~ Paper or a testing booklet

    ~ Writing utensils

    ~ Water and a snack (like crackers or a protein bar if permitted)

    ~ Your notes and textbook (some professor’s may give you the pleasant surprise of making the test be open to notes or the textbook)

Taking the Test:

  • Never leave an answer blank on a short answer or essay test. Even if you have no idea what the correct response is, just writing something (anything!) could give you some partial credit, which is better than nothing.

  • If you aren’t sure what an answer to a question is, skip it and come back to it later. Other questions further in the test may give you clues/ hints to the questions you skipped.

  • If you are really confused about a question, ask your professor for clarification. By doing this you are helping yourself and your classmates who might be just as confused as you are.

  • After you answer a question, reread the question. Often short answer/ essay questions have multiple parts to them. For example: “Describe Freud’s stages of psychosexual development, and discuss their significance in how we raise children.”

  • Be aware of how much time you have to take the test, and how many questions you have to answer in that time. You don’t want to spend half your time answering one question (unless your test has two questions).

  • Keep in mind what the motivation of your instructor is in giving a short answer/ essay format test. He or she is not trying to see how well you have memorized the information, but how well you have grasped the concepts and their meaning/ implications. With this motivation in mind, if you can’t remember a specific term, don’t sweat it. Try to describe the term, and you will probably get points for that answer.

  • Pay attention to what the question is asking you to do. For example, are you being asked compare and contrast, describe, list, summarize, analyze, identify, or a combination of these?