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 Answering long essay questions
taking an exam

Brinda Raymahasay from India, who is a first year undergraduate student of English Literature at Calcutta University asks:

I would like to know how to answer long, essay-type questions. I would also like to know how to write the introduction, the body of the answer and the conclusion. How long should such an answer be?


Roger replies:more questions

It is essential, Brinda, that you have all your ideas well organised in order to provide good answers to questions like these. This means thoroughly sorting out all your resources and materials in advance, checking through any notes you have made, and then, most importantly, constructing mind maps or spidergrams in order to organise your thoughts or ideas. This will enable you both to condense and signpost your notes.

If you have thoroughly memorised your mind maps, you should be able to retrieve all the relevant items or sections quite easily and transfer them to paper when it comes to answering the essay question.


Before you begin, remember to read the questions carefully and underline the key instruction words, such as compare and contrast or discuss and justify, so that you know exactly what you have to do in relation to the topic.
For the introductory section, it depends upon the custom in each individual country to some extent, but, generally speaking, the introduction need not be very long, perhaps one or two paragraphs, setting the scene for what is to follow or saying what you are intending to do. This will then be clear, both to you and the reader.
For the body of your answer, you can then retrieve from your mind map those elements or sections which will enable you to develop the argument. The way you structure your arguments is important, and may change from institution to institution. Whilst you are developing your arguments in this section, at the back of your mind the conclusions that you can draw should be taking shape.
When you have fully developed your topic in the main body of your answer, it may be useful to pause and read through what you have written before you write your concluding paragraphs which will not need to be very extensive if your arguments in the main body of the answer are well developed.
As to overall length of your answer, there should be information on this somewhere in the exam instructions. Have a look at Tony Buzan's advice on taking exams.

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