Essay-Type Exams

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Essay-Type Exams

  • Essay-Type Exams
  • Presented by:
  • Dr Derek Richards
  • Adapated from Mark Mathews workshop

Today’s Workshop

  • How to do well
  • Structure of essay type question
  • Where marks are lost
  • Practice
  • Exam writing
  • Sources:
  • Exam Guide, SU & Student Learning
  • How to Do Badly in Examinations, Dr. Frank Bannister
  • How to Succeed in Exams.. , McMillan & Weyers
  • Grading


  • I
  • Thorough, deep understanding
  • Critical thinking, insight, creativity
  • Well written
  • Nearly all points
  • II.I
  • Good grasp of subject
  • Critical & Analytical thinking
  • Logical Clear Presentation
  • Nearly all key points


  • II.II
  • Solid Answer
  • Knowledge beyond lectures
  • Good on facts
  • Writing good, some structure
  • III
  • Knowledge Facts, but little insight
  • Narrow/ No critical thought
  • Poorly written / incoherent
  • F
  • Little Factual Content & Errors
  • How to Do Well

Answer the Question

  • Demonstrate that you understand the question
  • The structure is as important as what you know
  • More is not necessarily better
  • Understand what is being asked
  • Only answer the QUESTION
  • Do not include irrelevant material
  • Underline keywords: “Cause & Effect”
  • “Explain & Discuss”
  • “Compare & Contrast”

How to do well

  • Provide Analytical Answer (not descriptive)
  • Describe the context & situation
  • Discuss the implications (theoretical & practical)
  • Display evidence of reading/ thinking around debate
  • Do not just assert something is true, prove it. What facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point?
  • Cover all sides
  • Essay Structure

Step-by-Step Method

  • Read Question
  • Capture your ideas
  • Do quick outline
  • Start writing
  • Add new ideas to outline

Structure for essay writing

  • Introduction
  • Main body – divided into paragraphs (make one point, expand and give evidence)
  • Conclusion
  • Adapted from: Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically. 3rd ed. Boston: Heinle/Thompson Learning. Inc, 2003. Seattle University Writing Centre. For more information: Hacker, Diana. A Writers Reference. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.

Develop an Outline

  • Discuss the different services a junior college offers a community.
  • Outline:
      • Introduction
      • Body
          • Vocational education
          • Continuing education
          • Personal development
      • Conclusion


  • The introduction is about the question – not the answer
  • Restate question in your own words
  • Find and use the key words
  • Show you understand the question
      • define the key words/concepts/theories etc (see handout on key verbs).

Restate Question as Statement

  • "Discuss the different services a junior college offers a community.“
  • A junior college offers the community at least three main types of educational services: vocational education for young people, continuing education for older people, and personal development for all individuals.
  • From

Main Body

  • Develop points from outline
  • Paragraphs
    • One point per paragraph
    • Explain point
    • Evidence to support point


  • Conclude the essay by emphasising how each part you have described makes up the whole, summarise the points made,to answer the question.
  • From
  • Where marks are lost

How you lose marks

  • Re-interpreting the Question
  • Writing out the question
  • Pointless Definitions / Quotes
  • Poor English
  • Bullet Points
  • Lack of structure (aka Brain Dumping)

How you lose marks

  • Taking a long time to get to the point
  • Irrelevance
  • Repetition
  • Present what you know
  • Add Value
  • Get to the point


  • What is meant by each of the following data
  • mining terms? In each case, include a
  • simple example to illustrate your answer.
  • Decision trees;
  • Clustering;
  • Accuracy;
  • Coverage.
  • (8 Marks)


  • Decision trees are used in data mining as a way of progressively
  • breaking down data into groups. As this happens, the number in each
  • classification may be noted. A customer database may break down as
  • 70% male, 30% female. The males may be divided into those that
  • spend over €1,000 a year with us (90%) and those that do not (10%).
  • The same subdivision for female shows that only 2% of females spend
  • over €1,000 with us. The high spending males break-down into 77%
  • under 30 and 23% over 30 years of age. When females are divided
  • into high and low spending, it might be found that 80% of high spenders
  • are repeat customers and 20% are not. Low spending females, on the
  • other hand, might be 90% non repeating customers. A parallel analysis
  • of high spending male customers might show that…


  • Work breakdown structures are important. They are used in all projects including civil,
  • mechanical and electrical engineering projects as well as software projects. Work
  • breakdown structures decompose the work to be done in a project into successively
  • smaller components. The result is a hierarchical structure. This is usually done by the
  • project manager, but may be done by sub managers or engineers. Being able to prepare
  • a work breakdown is an important project management skill and needs experience.
  • Specialist engineers may be required to complete a WBS where specialised work is
  • involved. The work breakdown structure enables the project manager to estimate more
  • accurately and later on helps in controlling the project. A typical breakdown may start
  • with a project being divided into phases, stages, activities and tasks. The lowest level in
  • the breakdown is usually a task though occasionally task may be further subdivided into
  • sub-task or even steps. The number of tasks in a project can be very large. The absence of a work
  • breakdown structure can cause problems in a project as it may not be possible to estimate accurately
  • or assign work effectively. If the work breakdown structure is not complete in some way, then the
  • project is almost certain to overrun. One project manager was quoted as saying that a good work
  • breakdown structure is of ‘monumental importance’. A proper work breakdown structure is normally
  • coded with a simple numeric coding system. The work breakdown structure may also be reflected in a
  • Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a sort of horizontal bar chart used for showing the timing and duration of
  • the various stages of a project.
  • How to get from here to there
  • Practice
  • Would you sit your driving test without ever driving a car?
  • Practice makes perfect…

Practice Exam Skills

  • 50% how well you know your material
  • 50% performance in exams
  • Knowing something is not the same as being able to do it when the situation demands it.
  • You need to practice in a simulated environment.

Steps to Practice

  • Get sample exam questions
  • Practice your starting procedures
  • Practice analysing questions (5 mins)
  • Practice generating ideas (5 mins)
  • Practice developing a structure (5 mins)
  • Practice writing Introduction (5 mins)
  • Practice past exam questions (timed and un timed)
  • Mark your own answers as critically as possibly


Study preparation

  • Generate a list of major topics using your notes and past exam papers.
  • Create a chart or summary sheet of the main topics.
  • Generate ideas and plan an outline for each question
  • Follow a structure and review your essays (time spent and quality of your answers)

Not practicing leads to..

  • Poor Handwriting
  • Brain Dumping
  • Irrelevant Material
  • Poor Structure
  • Running out of time
  • Anxiety
  • Exam Writing

Equal time for equal marks

  • Leave time at beginning (to plan) and end (to check) paper.
  • Question 2
  • 40 minutes
  • Question 3
  • 40 minutes
  • Question 4
  • 40 minutes
  • Question 1
  • 40 minutes
  • Maximum gains for time are in
  • the early stages of your answer
  • Plan your time in advance
  • Rehearse producing quality
  • work in time available
  • Equal Time for Equal Marks


  • Think about your
  • examiner

Make your writing legible!!

Tour Guide

  • Use signpost words to develop your argument
  • “This is the broad area, but these are the key issues because…”
  • Headings to delineate sections

A good answer is:

  • Well Focused
      • Answers the question completely,
      • Avoids "padding."
  • Well Organized
      • Plan - outline
      • Introduction which restate the question, states the point(s) you are going to make and also, if possible, how you are going to proceed.
      • Body that makes clear, well supported, relevant points
      • Conclusion which summarizes the material covered and emphasizes your main points.
  • Well Supported
      • Use facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point.
  • Well Packaged
      • Use conventions of language in your field.
  • Adapted from
  • Remember!

Main Points to remember!

  • Rehearse– look at old exam papers
  • Practice producing quality work in time available e.g. If questions are 20 mins long, practice writing answers for 20 mins

Main Points to remember!

  • Answer the question asked – key words
  • Equal time for equal points – plan time in advance if possible
  • Do an outline as a guideline
  • Write clearly, simply and legibly

Watch out for upcoming workshops

  • Science Exam Skills – Wednesday 27 March
  • Exam Taking Strategies – Tuesday 2nd , Thursday 4th, Wed 10th April
  • Exam Nerves – how to overcome them – Tuesday 9th April

Student Learning Development

  • Phone us - 01 8961407
  • Visit our website at:
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