Gift of Gab
Landing an 'A' on Your Essay
by Jennifer Brown
Its your first semester back in college and youre
nervous enough as it is. As midterm nears you discover
your upcoming Psychology exam is going to be based on
a single essay question. You havent written anything
more comprehensive than the grocery list in years, you
have no idea what to expect, and its been way
too long since
Freshman Composition class.
What do you do? Go with your first instinct and drop
the class immediately? Better not. Over the course of
your new college career youll write enough essays
to fill a book. In fact, many colleges require a passing
grade on a writing proficiency test (aka: essay) before
graduation. Learning to write a powerful essay is
essential to your collegiate success.
If youre like most adults, the basics of essay
writing disappeared from your brain the minute you left
high school and youve tucked away those skills.
But with just a little sprucing up, your essays can
be as good as better than! they ever were.
Here are a few tips to tidying up your compositions.
Preparing for your upcoming test is key to your success.
Dont expect to walk into the classroom cold
and be able to turn out a thoughtful essay on the spot.
Even if you dont know ahead of time the question
youll be answering, you can stack the odds in your
favor with a little homework.
- Take notes. The first step to
writing a great essay is taking detailed notes
during class. If your professor says it, write it
down. If she mentions a book that might pertain to
the subject youre studying, jot it down with
the authors name. You just might use it. Ask
your professor if you can tape record her classes.
Some dont allow it, but if yours does, fire
up the recorder! Review your notes after class, clearing
up any confusing or incomplete notes youve made.
Now that you have stellar notes,
dont just tuck them away in your textbook
and forget about them. Review them within a couple
hours after class. Then review them again at least
once per week. Memorize
as much as you can, making sure to etch critical
points and handy statistics into your brain. Review
your textbook while youre at it. Do your reading,
highlight important stuff, and commit that stuff
If your essay exam is going to be open-book, organize
your notes in such a way as to make vital information
readily available. Use sticky notes, a table of
contents, a highlighter, or an outline to help keep
your notes in order. Mark pages in your textbook
Know what youre going to say.
You may not know exactly what your professor is
going to ask you to write about, but you should
have a rough idea. What is the general theme of
the material being presented? What types of questions
will you be expected to answer? What material did
the professor stress during class? Chances are those
are the things most likely to be on the test.
Pose your own essay questions, then write short
mini-essays to practice. This will get you into
writing mode and will help you organize
your thoughts for the real thing.