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Key Study Skills

Answering essay questions in exams

Writing an essay in an exam is similar in many ways to writing an essay for an assignment: It needs to be clearly structured, and your ideas need to be linked and supported by evidence.

Essay questions in exams

  • Read the question through carefully to make sure you are answering what has been asked.  Missing one part of a question can cost you a lot of marks.
  • Make a quick plan of the points you want to include in your answer.
  • Use essay structure: introduction, points, conclusion.  But if you run out of time, it can be a good idea to write notes.
  • Get right to the point from the beginning.  Use the words from the question to write your first sentence. For example:

Question: What do you think is the most important intercultural communication issue in New Zealand?
First sentence: At present in New Zealand the most important intercultural communication issue is...

  • Remember to include one idea per paragraph, and to begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence.
  • Make sure your writing is legible.
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling are not as important as in an assignment but should still be of a good standard.

Answering case study questions

Exam questions that ask you to anlayse case studies (also called scenarios) are usually designed to test your ability to relate theories and concepts to real-world situations.

Preparing for case studies before the exam:

  • Start by identifying the theories and concepts covered in your course.  Organise and review the information you have on these theories/concepts so you understand them.
  • Practice reading case studies and identifying relevant information. It's probably useful to practice doing this with a time limit as you will have one in your exam.
  • Practice relating concepts and theories to real-world situations: ask lecturers and check textbooks for practice examples. It is also worth checking past exams for your course to see if there are examples of case study questions.

During the exam

  • Take time to plan: Have a clear idea of how much time you have to answer the question. Then plan to spend some time reading the exam question, the case study and planning your answer.
    Take time to make sure you have understood the case study and know what the exam question is asking you to do:
  • Read the exam question(s)
  • Then skim read the case study to get the general idea. Highlight or underline key points
  • Reread the question to make sure you understand it and to focus your attention when you reread the case study.
  • Reread the case study carefully. Make a note of any ideas that you think of.
  • Answer the question linking relevant theories and concepts to specific information from the case study. Usually you will need to write your answers in clearly formed paragraphs which have a clear topic that is well-supported with evidence and examples.
  • Instead of simply describing or restating information from the case itself, use specific details or examples to support the points you are trying to make. This is where you link theory to the facts from the case study.