The Exam & Essay Cheat Sheet

Everything you ever wanted to knows about essays and exams but were afraid to ask

by Chirag Patel

Previously published as The Guide to Writing.

The Guide To Writing: How To Read

by Chirag Patel | The Guide to Writing: Everything you always wanted to know about essays and exams but were afraid to ask

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For a few years, I ran a student support service at a university. Over that time, I discovered that most students were tripping up for easily avoidable reasons, and came in with the same problems each time. Contained herein are solutions for the most common student difficulties, being:
1. Preparation
1.1 How should I prepare to write my essay? How much time should I leave?
1.2 General tips

2. The Question
2.1 What am I being asked to do? Shouldn’t I Just read everything I can and then start?
2.2 What is the difference between a claim and an argument? What counts as evidence?
2.3 What does the question mean?
2.4 What does critically analyse mean?
2.5 What’s the difference between objective and subjective? Why does it matter?
2.6 What resources will I need?
2.7 Why is it important to define my terms, and how should I do it?

3. Structure
3.1 How do I structure my essay?
3.2 How long should paragraphs be?
3.3 What is a topic sentence?
3.4 What makes a good introduction?
3.5 How do I write my conclusion?
3.6 What does a completed essay structure look like?

4. Language & Style
4.1 How do I sound academic? Just using the words and phrases without understanding them is getting me in trouble…
4.2 How do I avoid using or showing my opinion?
4.3 What language can’t I use?
4.4 How do I make my writing formal and impersonal?
4.5 How do I link paragraphs together?

5. Reading
5.1 How should I read? I don’t understand what these people are saying…
5.2 Why shouldn’t I read every word?
5.3 What kinds of reading are there?
5.4 How and why should I take notes?

6. Referencing
6.1 Why can’t I use just anything I find on the internet? How do I know what’s okay?
6.2 Why do I keep losing marks for referencing?
6.3 How do I reference?
6.4 How do I avoid accidental plagiarism, or being accused of plagiarism?

7. Exams
7.1 How should I prepare before the exam?
7.2 How should I manage my time?
7.3 What do I do when my mind goes blank?
7.4 How do I prepare for lots of different topics, or questions I can’t anticipate?
7.5 How should I approach essay questions?
7.6 How do I answer multiple choice questions?
7.7 Why do I lose marks on multiple choice questions?

8. General advice
8.3 What to do if you have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
8.1 Points to remember in writing
8.2 What should I be checking while I’m writing?