Academic Success in College – On Essay Exams, Raise Your Grade by Outlining Answers and Being Neat

Most professors like to see students outline their answers on discussion and essay exams. A good outline will not only help you remember and organize all the points you want to make, it can earn you points by itself, especially if you run out of time to complete your answer.

If a professor tells you not to write in the margin, then don’t. Put your outline somewhere else, such as just beneath the question itself, written small.

Otherwise, outline your answers in the margin, and be NEAT. Write your outline as neat as you do your answer.

Here’s what I do, but you should do whatever works for you. I form a column by putting a dash in front of each point I want to make. Imagine that I was asked to discuss Edgar Allan Poe and his connection with Charleston, South Carolina. I would start my outline this way:

– Mother performed Dock Street Theatre

Consider erasable ink for exams. I took all my exams with erasable ink. It gave me the authority of ink but the ability to change an answer at will, and still be neat. Erasable ink pens are inexpensive and have an ink eraser on the tip, like a pencil. You can find them anywhere.

Erasable ink is fine for a single blue book exam, but I didn’t like it for anything else. It can smudge.

One final thing to reiterate: on essay exams, always write things down as they occur to you. If you think you will simply remember something later, you are wrong. You won’t.

This is true, too, about great ideas that occur to you in life. Write them down and date them the moment you think of them. If you don’t, you’ll lose most of them.

Copyright 2009, Gene H. Kizer, Jr.

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