Monday, December 3, 2012

Prewriting for an Essay Exam Almost Feels Like Cheating

Finals week is almost here, and that means many students will experience hand cramps as they work diligently on in-class writing exams.

In-class writing is often viewed as the hardest writing to accomplish well effectively. Add that difficulty to the pressures of finals, and what you have is a mountain of stress.
I am all too familiar with In-class essay exams. In fact, I am doing another one tomorrow. So, I thought I would share my strategy.
In most cases, professors will give the class a good idea of what to expect. The first step is to pay attention at this critical moment and take as detailed notes as possible. The objective here is to take a close look at what the professor is hinting at and try to speculate what kind of response the professor is looking for.
For example: Many professors will use a phrase such as, “I don’t want a summary.” In this case, which is often the case, it is the students’ job to discuss the details of the subject matter, but more importantly develop a discussion that speaks to the main theme of the subject.
The main theme of the subject is usually closely tied to the main theme of the class. This theme undoubtedly has been brought up in class discussion throughout the semester. It is a good idea to consider and identify this theme before going to the final.
If students are lucky, the professor has pinpointed the subject matter of which the essay question will surround.  In this case, get to work!
Being prepared for an in-class writing exam is the best feeling to have. In contrast, having nothing to say during the exam is one of the worst feelings to have.
Therefore, prewriting is essential to preparing for an in-class writing exam.
For example: Today I will refresh my memory on the topic and hints my professor had given me. Then I will write everything I know on the subject almost exactly as if I were to write a paper and turn it in for a grade. Most of the time, by doing this prewriting at home, I almost feel as though I am cheating.  
In fact, I usually don’t mind essay questions as finals because I can write the answer before class. I just cannot bring that answer with me. However, looking at it this way, an in-class writing final is more like a take home exam. All students need to do is reread their own prewritten essay in order to remember significant chunks of what they had written.
Provided that students accomplish this prewriting exercise thoroughly a day or two before the exam, remembering the highlights of the prewriting exercise will come naturally.
Once in class, the most difficult task for me is starting the writing process. I tend to experience writer’s block the moment after I read the essay question.
To combat this writer’s block, I usually try to remember the first word phrase of my prewriting exercise. If the word phrase fits into the question contextually, I use it. If not, then remembering the first word phrase I wrote at home will help me to trigger the memory of the information that comes after.
After that, I tend to experience a sort of flow of information spilling out on the essay exam.  At this point I know I have prepared well. 

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