In most college courses, final exams account for at least half the final grade. Many college exams require students to answer essay questions in addition to multiple choice and short-answer questions. Since essays often constitute a majority of the total exam grade, professors recommend taking the time to prepare for them.

Daily Preparation

The best way to prepare for essay exams is by studying every day throughout the semester. Go to lectures, participate in discussions, take notes and do the readings. If a concept in the readings or lectures is confusing, clarify it with the professor well before the exam. Professors can give better attention to students who prepare early because, as the exam date approaches, more students will want to see the professor when there is less time for detailed explanations.

Working with the Study Guide

Although professors usually provide study guides, for most classes, anything covered during the semester can show up on the exam. If the student has been preparing throughout the semester, she will be better able to answer unexpected questions. Nevertheless, still read the study guide several times to understand what questions might appear. If the study guide contains confusing or difficult questions, discuss them with the professor.

Other Effective Study Methods

Rewriting class notes is one of the most effective study methods. Essay exams require students to explain and argue concepts in their own words. However, the notes that students take in class are usually in the professor’s words. Another effective study method is to memorize key terms or review important readings and find the connections between them. Map out your responses to the essay questions in the study guide and use key terms and important readings to support your essay.

During the Exam

Organization and focus are key to composing a well-written, persuasive essay. Plan your answer before writing. If it's allowed, bring in scratch paper, or tear out a page from the blue book and use it to outline your essay. Since there is limited time, bring a watch and decide how to budget your time. Budget more time to essay questions that are worth the most points. Although professors understand that, due to time constraints, students cannot write perfect essays, they do expect legible work, so proofread your essay exam before submitting it.