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College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Answering Essay Questions

Comprehensive Exams


  1. Read the question twice.
  2. Underline/highlight various portions of the question that must be answered by labeling them “a,” “b,” “c,” etc.
  3. Treat each portion as a distinct question and answer each to the fullest extent that time will allow.


  1. Break your answer down into a relatively thorough list of relevant points you wish to make.
  2. Determine how you will support those points with facts, details, data, etc., and list those, as well.
  3. For each point you make, consider including an example to illustrate what you mean. Examples help clarify your comments and suggest an understanding of the concepts discussed.
  4. Follow your outline when you begin writing, improving it as you go.


    1. Be very clear and thorough in your answers; make no broad assertions or generalizations without support (a citation, an example, etc.).
    2. Assume that each statement you make (generally) will be questioned by the scorer in the following manner:

a. “What do you mean by that?”
b. “How is that true?”
c. “Is there another way that this could be stated to make it clearer?”
d. “What support can you offer for this?”
e. “What doesn’t this mean?”
f. “What would happen if you didn’t do this?”

  1. Summarize what you have said reiterating your key points.


  1. Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! It is easy to get caught up in what you are saying while you are writing. In your haste to get things down, you may forget points, leave out words, etc. There is no excuse for having easily correctable mistakes in your writing. They will count against you and they are avoidable.
  2. Use, to the very best of your ability, correct grammar, correct spelling, appropriate punctuation, correct word choices, parallel structure (listing, etc.), subject/verb agreement, transitions, etc., etc.
  3. Scorers will take into account that this is an “in-class” effort. However, every attempt should be made to write in a clear, direct, and coherent manner.




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 Last Modified 9/11/18