Essay Exams

Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II. Source:

This is a full analytical essay, which is written under exam conditions. In this kind of task, you will be required to give a response to a question or statement, using sources provided by your teacher.


You will be required to demonstrate a whole gamut of skills. You will need to:


Whilst this seems like a lot to complete in an exam, planning will help accomplish most of this. Most essay exams provide you with 10 minutes of perusal time. Use this time to plan out your hypothesis, topic sentences and what quotes from the sources you are going to use in each of your body paragraphs. If you use this time well, your essay writing will remain clearly structured.

An Example Planning Structure



Your three main points that your body paragraphs will focus on


Paragraph 1

Topic Sentence

Sources chosen

Analysis and evaluation of sources

Paragraph 2

Topic Sentence

Sources chosen

Analysis and evaluation of sources


Paragraph 3

Topic Sentence

Sources chosen

Analysis and evaluation of sources



Restate hypothesis

Restate three main points that your body paragraphs focused on

Understand the Key Question/Statement

The question or statement will not be provided before the test (therefore, the question is ‘unseen’). Therefore, it is imperative that you take the time to read and understand what the statement or question is asking you to do before you begin planning your response.


Essay questions use a variety of terms and it is essential you understand what each of these mean if you are to answer properly. Here is a list of the most common terms and what they mean:  

Key Word or Phrase


Account for

Give reasons why


Determine the value or significance


Examine and note similarities


Judge and come to an opinion


Emphasise the differences


Offer reasons for

To what extent

Quantify the importance (to a great extent? a limited extent?)


Explain the motives, reasons or causes


Explain the process, steps or key events


What stayed the same and what changed


What continued unchanged, or stayed the same


What things led to or caused the historical event


What happened as a result of the historical event


Why it is important


The reasons people provided for their actions

Time Management

Managing the use of your time in an exam is crucial to doing well. Divide the time to make sure you have enough time to write each paragraph. However, make sure you give yourself time at the end to check your work and proofread your writing.


For example:

If you have a 100-minute exam: 10 mins planning, 20 mins for Intro and Conclusion, 20 mins for each three Body Paragraphs, and 10 mins proofreading.