How to write essays in exams

how-to-write-essays-in-exams-fWriting essays in exams can be a bit stressful because you can’t plan and edit them for as long as you would for a coursework type essay. That said, if you approach it sensibly and make a plan it can seem easier and your essay is likely to end up being more focused than it might otherwise be. Here I will explain the system I used when I was at school for writing essays in exams.

Prepare before the exam

Besides the obvious need to revise the content of the exam beforehand, it is sensible to have made a rough plan of how you are going to approach the essays. If you know what sort of questions might come up, try to revise specific essay plans for these. For example, when I did A Level psychology, the essay questions followed a fairly standard format so I was able to make essay plans with the points and evidence I would use in advance. In addition to doing this, work out how long you will have to spend on each essay (your teacher/ lecturer should be able to help you with this). Then divide this time up so you have time to do a quick plan, write the essay, and check what you have written at the end. For example, if you have 45 minutes per essay, you might want to spend five minutes planning, 30 minutes writing, and 10 minutes checking your answer. It is a good idea to practice this time plan in advance so you feel more confident going into the exam (and get used to writing fast!).

Decide which questions to answer if needed

In some exams you get a choice of questions to answer. If this is the case you need to decide quite quickly which to answer so you don’t waste time that could be spent writing. You may decide that one of the topics is a topic you prefer, or you may decide that one type of question is easier than another. If you still can’t decide, quickly jot down key arguments for all the options and see if one of them stands out as being easier. Also, make sure you have enough evidence for whatever question you choose to answer.

Write a rough plan

If you haven’t already done so at the previous stage, now is the time to write a rough plan of the essay. This should include the different paragraphs you are going to use and any evidence you will put in them (just use bullet points or key words to save time). You should also outline your argument/ conclusion so you know what you are working towards. Make sure you read the essay question very carefully while you are doing this to ensure that you answer the question rather that just writing about the general topic. Once you have finished you plan you will hopefully be feeling confident about writing the actual essay.

Write the essay

Now you will need to actually write the essay. When you are doing this refer back to your plan often to make sure that you don’t go off topic or miss anything crucial out. In addition, look back at the essay question often to make sure that you are actually answering the question as when you are under pressure in an exam it can be easy to talk about the general topic but fail to actually answer the question!

Check your answer

It can be tempting to spend more time writing the essay and not leave time to check it but this isn’t a good idea. It is more sensible to spend a bit of time at the end making sure that what you have written makes sense, answers the question, has a logical order, and has good spelling and grammar. By doing this you will pick up, and be able to correct any mistakes you might have made which will hopefully mean you get a higher mark.


I hope this has helped you feel more confident about writing essays in exams – leave a comment to let me know how you like to approach essays in exams 🙂

Ellen Allsop

Hello! I'm Ellen Allsop, the creator of EAsy :)

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