Saint Louis University


Everyday preparation

1. When reading through the textbook and homework, write out questions to the margin. While completing the reading or homework, attempt to answer these questions. These questions will become great practice problems for the future.

2. When taking notes, date each page and mark key concepts that the professor emphasized during class. What the professor emphasizes will often be good questions for essay exams.

  • You will know when a professor is emphasizing something because he or she will...
    • Say, "This is important."
    • Spend significant time on the concept.
    • Write the concept or idea on the board.

3. Review your notes and previous homework throughout the week. By having your notes dated, you'll be able to see patterns develop throughout class discussions and homework.

When a test is approaching

1. Write out a study plan. Expect to spend a couple of days reviewing concepts and preparing potential essay questions. Then, prepare to spend 7 to 15 hours for 3 days organizing and memorizing.

2. See what resources the professor has or is willing to provide. For essay exams, some professors will allow you to see previous essay questions or a study guide of relevant terms. Other professors will provide nothing. The only way to know is ask.

3. Choose the topics to study by identifying what the professor emphasized, chapter titles, notes, etc. It may help to form a small study group so that you can discuss ideas with peers.

4. Write a complete essay on each topic using your notes and textbook. If the test requires 3 essays, prepare for 5-6 essays.

5. Reduce the essay to outlines and then to key words. Memorize the key words.

6. Make certain that you can reproduce the complete essay using the key words. Attempt to complete these essays using the time you'll have for the exam (for example, 50 minutes).

7. Know the difference between direction words used in essay tests (e.g. discuss, explain).


During the exam

1. Survey the entire exam (especially the directions). Budget time.

2. Write memorized key words to each question. This becomes your outline.

3. Include a brief introduction. This should mention the topics described in the question and a thesis that directly responds to the question. 

4. Leave space between each paragraph so that you may go back and add information.

5. Write legibly.

6. Re-read your responses before returning the exam.

After the exam

1. Look at the exam and the professor's feedback to determine if lost points resulted from lack of information, organization, or writing technique skill.

2. Determine what study habits need to be adjusted for future exams.