Writing In-Class: Five Tips for Mastering Essay Exams

As is the nature of a writing center, we typically don’t work with you on in-class essay exam questions.  On the other hand, we know that thinking through the audience, purpose, and genre works for any type of writing. Here’s our tips for mastering short and long response essay questions on your finals.

  1. Read the question and look for key words. Your professor wants different responses for terms such as: analyze, argue, describe, evaluate, reflect, or compare/contrast.
  1. Plan your response. Don’t jump in without knowing where you’re going.
  1. Structure matters. Whether you’re writing a short or long response, have an introduction (or topic sentence), body (details and support), and conclusion (say what you said).
  1. Be detailed. Don’t include irrelevant facts or filler, but it’s probably good if you feel like you’re over-explaining.
  1. Save time at the end to review and revise. After you answer all questions, go back and read each question and response. Edit and add if possible.

Good luck on the rest of your finals, Knights! green book

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Some Sessions Can be Short and Sweet

My session at the Writing Center was short and sweet. I asked for help looking at a final draft of a cover letter for a job I am applying for. I came in a couple minutes early and found my consultant reading some information on cover letters, which I found very comforting. I knew that my tutor might not know much about the genre of writing I was bringing her, so I was glad to see that she cared enough to do some research in order to help me. When I sat down she greeted me in a genuine manner and made sure that I was signed in. She then began to ask me questions about the cover letter. What was it for? Was I applying for a job? What did I want her to do to help me? She asked me to read my letter, and as I did, she took notes about things I was doing well and places that weren’t necessarily clear. When I was done reading I asked her advice about a couple of spots, and we made changes. Then she praised the things that I did well and recommended some changes I could make. Not only did she mention the spots that needed work, but she partnered with me to come to a correction. Together we working through all the problem places to tidy up my letter.

My session with my consultant made me feel much more confident about the work that I was doing. Not only did it make me feel better about writing a cover letter, but it reassured me that I was doing everything I could to obtain a position that I really wanted. This was the power of the writing center at its finest. It helped me to take a step that could change the rest of my life. I also really enjoyed the way my consultant used an equal dose of praise and suggestion in our session. It reminded me that while I have worked very hard on this letter and did a lot of things well, there are always areas where I can improve.

Since I’m a senior Education major, I know that I need to take what I have learned and use it in my future classroom. Students learn so much about how to write, but not always why it is important to write. It is important for me as a future teacher to give instruction on how to write professionally and explain skills that will help them to obtain future careers. Once they know how writing can affect their future lives, they will become better writers in the end. I also want to give my students the understanding that all writing can be improved. There is never a draft, whether it be the first or last, that is completely perfect. It was important for me to seek help from many different sources instead of seeing one and thinking my work was complete. I will encourage my students to continuously work and revise their writing in hopes that it will always become better.

Write for a change.

One summer I arrived home from college to find out my hometown had ended their curbside recycling service. No longer would our Dean’s milk cartons, Diet Coke cans, and #1 and #2 plastics be set in orange bins and emptied twice a month. I was disappointment in my town and believed this was a huge step backward from environmental sustainability. But what could I do?

Thanks to the great communication skills of my neighbors, it didn’t take long to discover that many agreed they were frustrated at the end to recycling. Many even agreed that they would be willing to pay for the service.

This leads me to the next suggestion for summer writing projects: a petition. If you see something you would like to have changed, work to change it by mobilizing communities through a petition. That’s what I did. Instead of sitting around whining, I gathered formalized the neighborhood’s complaint in the form of a petition letter and presented it to someone who could do something about it.

How do you start? Just like any other writing project, think about your audience and purpose. Purpose should be easy if you have something specific you want to propose, something you want to happen. Yet, targeting your audience is just as important. For instance, the website change.org allows you to create an online petition to reach a digital audience. Though, in my recycling program example, an online campaign wasn’t my best bet because I didn’t know how to access only my town via an online platform. My neighborhood didn’t have a facebook page (unlike the ever informative facebook page for Louisville’s Germantown-Schnitzelburg).

I drafted my letter addressed to the town council, a proposal to reinstate the recycling program, printed it out, and physically circulated my neighborhood for signatures. After collecting the signatures, I mailed it off to the town council.

Do I know that my petition made a difference? Honestly, I don’t know. I didn’t receive a response. However, my story does have a happy ending. The recycling program was reinstated and my hometown now has weekly pick ups!

Resources for Petitioning

New York State provides a Citizen’s Guide to Petitioning the local government. This might even be helpful if you aren’t in NY.

Change.org’s How to Write a Petition

Dosomething.org’s tips for writing a petition