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The Gift of Gab
Landing an 'A' on Your Essay Exams
  • Get answers ahead of time. If you don’t understand some of the class material or your notes simply don’t make sense, be sure to get a clear explanation from your professor before sitting down to write the essay. Make a phone call, stay after class, or set up an appointment. Your professor will be more than happy to help and will appreciate your motivation to do well in his class.

  • Make use of supplemental material. Really want to wow your professor? Go outside the classroom and gather some facts to sprinkle into your essay for additional flavor. The information that you gather should have three characteristics. First, it should pertain to the subject matter at hand. Quotes or statistics that have nothing to do with the immediate subject matter will only clutter up your essay…and your brain. Second, it should be easy to remember. Don’t try to memorize Hamlet’s monologue or the top thirty causes of death in children. Simple quotes or statistics will do. Third, it should be factual. Don’t make up stuff to sound important, and don’t take everything you read on the Internet as fact. Your professor has spent a lot of years studying the subject matter at hand and will spot a phony claim right away.
Now that you’re the most prepared student in the class, how do you integrate your preparation with actual writing to create a masterful essay?
  • Hook ‘em early. Your essay should begin with a hook or introduction that will make the professor want to read on. This could be a short paragraph about something that really happened to you, a rhetorical question, or a fictional illustration of the material being discussed. Make this paragraph snappy, intriguing, suspenseful, emotional, and leave it open-ended. You can create your hook at home before you come to class for the exam. Simply tweak your hook to fit the specific subject of the essay come test time.

    This paragraph is very important, as it will color your professor’s picture of your essay right off the bat. He will read on with a positive attitude that you will have given him a thoughtful, creative piece of work.

    Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Don’t forget to end your first paragraph by telling your professor what you plan to discuss in the essay. Be clear and forthright. Use the words “First I will discuss…,” “Next, I will explore…,” “Third I will explain…,” and so on. This will show your professor that you’ve given your essay thought and that your presentation is organized.

  • Now, tell ‘em. Now that you’ve told your professor what you plan to say, don’t forget to say it in the body of your essay. Again, be clear. Restate, as your first sentence of each supporting paragraph, a repetition of what you said in paragraph one: “First, I will discuss…,” “Next I will explore…,” “Third I will explain…,” and so on. Don’t worry that this repetition will sound boring or redundant. Again, your professor will be wowed by your ability to organize your thoughts effectively.

    Don’t be afraid to use your supplemental sources here. Sneak in a statistic if it fits, or a quote. Be sure to credit the source of your information.

    Now’s a great time to use your memorized notes. Repeat your professor’s words as closely as you can remember them. She won’t be offended – she’ll be thrilled to know that someone in class was listening so closely!

    Finally, use your gift of gab. By the fifth page of the fifth essay, your professor has likely read enough “alas,” “therefore,” “however,” and “hypothetically speaking” to make her gag. Use plain language that is academic but not too formal. Leave your alas-es at home.

  • Tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Your closing paragraph or conclusion should begin by repeating those same sentences over again. “First I told you…,” “Next I explored…,” and so on. Use the same verbiage you used before and keep them in the same order. Let your professor know you can maintain systematized thoughts throughout the entire essay.

    Do not enter any new information into your closing paragraph. This is only a time to remind, sum up, and get out.

  • End with a bang. Remember I told you to leave your hook open-ended? You will use it in your closing paragraph. After you’ve told ‘em what you’ve told ‘em and summed up the paper, it’s time to leave with a bang. Revisit your hook and answer any unanswered questions. Did you leave the professor wondering if you’d ever answered the nature/nurture question about your child? Tell her in this sentence. Did you end the opening paragraph with a rhetorical question about Epistemology? Give your answer here.

Consider your essay a beautifully wrapped gift and the last sentence of the last paragraph a shiny ribbon. Tie it up and hand it over.

So your test is over and the paper is in and you have a maddening week before you’ll know how you did. How do you handle the gnawing feeling that you got it all wrong?

Post-test review. Go home and look over your notes once again. You’ll be looking at them with new eyes now that you know the focus of the essay question. You will see points you missed and points you hit dead-on. You will lay to rest any fears that you’re going to fail (since you’ve followed my suggestions, there’s no way you’re going to fail!) and you can get on with your life. Being a nervous wreck for a week is silly. Look over your material and forget about it. You’ll be just fine.

Essays don’t have to be the makers of gray hair and ulcers, though many returning students see them as such. There are clear-cut guidelines to writing the perfect essay that will be recognized and rewarded by your professor. By following the guidelines set forth here, you are sure to ace your next essay and gain your professor’s respect in the process.

See also Writing the In-Class Essay Exam and Essay Test Panic: Strategies for Success.

Jennifer Brown's award-winning poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been published in over a dozen magazines, e-zines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world. She is editor of Applecart Magazine and a book reviewer for Bookpleasures.

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