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Academic Resource Center (ARC)

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Ace the Essay

  • Write legibly. Grading essay questions is, in large part, a subjective process. Sloppy, difficult to read handwriting might actually lower your grade.
  • Be brief. Avoid filler and sentences that say nothing.
  • Use a pen. Ink is easier to read than pencil.
  • Write on one side of the paper. Writing on the back page will show through and may make it harder to read.
  • Write from an outline.

Words commonly found in essay questions

  • Analyze: Break into separate parts and discuss, examine, or interpret each part.
  • Compare: Show likenesses.
  • Contrast: Show differences. Set in opposition.
  • Criticize: Make judgments. Evaluate comparative worth. Criticism often involves analysis.
  • Define: Give the meaning, usually a meaning specific to the course or subject. Determine the precise limits of the term to be defined. Explain the exact meaning. Definitions are usually short.
  • Describe: Give a detailed account. Make a picture with words. List characteristics, qualities, and parts.
  • Discuss: Consider and debate or argue the pros and cons of an issue. Write about any conflict.
  • State: Explain precisely.
  • Summarize: Give a brief, condensed account with conclusions. Avoid unnecessary details.
  • Explain: Make an idea clear. Show logically how a concept is developed. Give the reasons for the event.
  • Evaluate: Give your opinion or cite the opinion of an expert. Include evidence to support the evaluation.
  • Prove: Support with facts (especially facts presented in class or in the text).
  • Relate: Show a connection between ideas or events. Provide a larger context.