Pasadena City College, Home of the PCC Lancers

WAC/Health Sciences

Tips on How to Take Essay Exams

Situational or Procedural Exams

Whenever you are asked to write out a response to a question, whether in a few sentences or a few paragraphs, there are a few general tips to keep in mind.

  • Read the question carefully.  Many times there is more than one question or command given in a longer-answer prompt.  Be sure you are prepared to answer all aspects of the question.
  • Pre-plan.  Take a moment or two before starting to write to organize your thoughts.  Jot down any key ideas that first come to you when you read the prompt (remember, first instincts, especially after careful studying, are often the best).
  • Prioritize your information.  Questions that ask you to apply knowledge you’ve been building up all semester will require you to determine the best material to include, rather than trying to get everything down on the paper.
  • Make sure the first sentence you write when responding to the prompt is the answer to the question.  While there may be many other key ideas you’d like to include, what the professor is most concerned with is that you have clearly read, understood, and responded to the prompt.  A good way to make sure you have done this is to directly answer the question (s) in one to two sentences before doing anything else.
  • If the question asks for it, include examples which clarify your point(s).  That way, if the professor is not entirely sure you’ve gotten the right idea, you provide him/her with an example that supports what you’ve already said.
  • Leave yourself time to proofread, making sure to check for handwriting errors.  Many times, the professor won’t be looking for perfection, but it is always a shame to lose points for leaving out important words, or not re-writing those words that are difficult to read.


Now let’s practice some of the techniques we’ve just discussed.