Preparing for an Essay Exam Help

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Updated on Sep 6, 2011

Introduction to Preparing for Essay Exams

Essay exams are stressful. You have to come up with a well-written piece under a strict time restraint in a room crowded with other students. How can you alleviate some of that stress and walk into the testing room with confidence? The answer is preparation.

Writing an essay in an exam situation, with the clock ticking, is very different from other types of essay writing. Of course, the fundamentals of good writing don't change (which is why Sections 1—3 apply to any type of essay).What changes is your approach. When you have just 25 minutes (SAT), 30 minutes (ACT), or an hour (many state tests, such as Regents'), you must use your time wisely. Every minute counts.

The way to take full advantage of every minute is to prepare; gather all available information about the test beforehand, checking the resources in the Additional Resources section of this book, as well as your exam's website. Understand the type of prompt you'll find on the test, know how to organize your thoughts, and be able to expand prewriting notes into paragraphs. Take timed practice exams not only to get used to the situation, but also to identify your strengths and weaknesses. When you take a timed essay exam, preparation can mean the difference between a great score and a poor one.

Types of Exams

Spend time learning the general features of the essay you'll be taking. Understand the topics and what scorers will be looking for. Study the instructions for your essay carefully (they're all online)—think of how much time you'll save during the exam if you don't have to read them. Finally, visit the test website to get the most up-to-date information about topics and any changes made to the tests.


The ACT Plus Writing Test is optional. Some schools require the test, so check with those you plan on applying to before you make your decision to register for it. The essay is written in response to a prompt concerning an issue of relevance to high school students. You'll need to take a stand on that topic, support your point of view, and present a counterargument.

Here's a sample prompt:

In an effort to reduce juvenile violence and crime, many towns have chosen to enforce curfews on minors under the age of eighteen. These curfews make it illegal for any minor to loiter, wander, stroll, or play in public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, playgrounds, or other public places between the hours of 10:00 P.M. and 5:00 A.M. These curfews also make it illegal for parents or legal guardians to allow minors to congregate in certain public places unsupervised. Those who support these curfews believe they would reduce community problems such as violence, graffiti, and drugs, and would force parents and guardians to take responsibility for their children's whereabouts. Those who oppose curfews for minors claim these laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment rights of life and privilege for U.S. citizens. They also believe that such curfews stereotype minors by presupposing that citizens under the age of eighteen are the only people who commit crimes.

In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this topic. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.

Two trained readers will score your essay on a scale of 1–6; the highest possible score is a 12, and the lowest is a 2. Those readers will evaluate how well you:

  • supported your position
  • maintained focus on the topic
  • developed and organized your position logically
  • supported your ideas
  • adhered to the rules of standard written English

For the latest information about the test, check

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