Writing Exams

Exam writing skills begin with your first class and assigned readings. Learning the course content week by week as you attend lectures and study your text and notes is essential. Once you have adequately prepared for a test, try the following strategies for both objective and subjective exams.

Objective Exams (Multiple Choice, Short Answer, True/False, Matching)

  • Answer the easiest questions first; then, go back to the ones you left.
  • Read multiple choice questions carefully, trying to remember the answer before you look at the possible options.
  • Answer all the questions unless the directions say not to guess. In general, if you can narrow your choices (from four to two, for instance), it's better to guess.

Subjective Exams (Essays and Paragraphs)

  • Read all the directions and skim the whole exam first. Do you have all the pages of the exam? How many questions do you have to answer?
  • Decide how much time to spend on each question, depending on how much it's worth. Be sure to leave yourself some time to read things over when you're finished writing.
  • Underline key words in the directions. Make sure you understand what's required. If it says, "Do three out of five questions," underline three out of five, so you don't get mixed up and do all five.
  • Read each question several times to be absolutely sure you understand what you're being asked and what you need to include in your answer.
  • Make a brief outline for each question. Check the questions and outlines to make sure they match. Brainstorm your ideas.
  • Use your outline to write out the answer for each question.
  • Keep your answers concise.
  • Check your answers for spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.
  • If you get your exams back, go over them to see where you did well and where you went wrong. You can learn a lot from mistakes. Remember, writing exams is a skill that you'll improve with practice.