Essay Exams

Cathedral and Campanary - Pisa 2014
"Cathedral and Campanary - Pisa 2014" © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0. 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 Explanation
Account for Give reasons why
Analyse Examine to explain meaning, relationships, similarities or differences
Argue Give reasons for or against
Assess Determine the value or significance
Causes What things led to or caused the historical event?
Change What was different as a result of this event or person?
Compare Examine and note similarities
Consequence What happened as a result of the historical event or person
Consider Judge and come to an opinion
Continuity What continued unchanged, or stayed the same?
Contrast Emphasise the differences
Discuss Examine by argument, considering for and against
Explain Offer reasons for
How Explain the process, steps or key events
Motive The reasons people provided for their actions
Significance Why is it important?
To what extent Quantify the importance (to a great extent? to a limited extent?)
Why Explain the motives, reasons or causes

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.