October Horrors: Long Answer Responses

October is a month of horrors in more ways than one. Yes, we have the typical ghost stories circulating around, where we masochistically devour them and subsequently jump at every single porcelain doll in sight, but we also have . . . EXAMS (cue screams of horrified university students). More specifically, some of us have exams that include long answer responses. Having done many of these, yielding to both disasters and successes, I’ve found that a few tips to consider while flipping through my exam booklet have never let me down; hopefully you might find guidance in some of them, too.

1. Plan out your time.

It helps to write out the amount of time you plan on taking for each section, regardless of whether or not you prefer to write the long answer portion of a test before or after doing the rest of the questions, in case you end up working too long on one part and end up with only a sliver of time to hastily finish the other one.

2. Read the long answer prompt carefully and follow instructions.

The last thing you want to happen after writing a response is to realize you never actually answered the prompt. To avoid getting stuck in situations like this, where you end up sweating buckets and praying for the magical appearance of a nearby TARDIS, make sure you understand what your prompt is asking for, and follow any other instructions it includes, such as word count minimum/maximum, to avoid losing points unnecessarily.

3. Outline. 

Though it takes time to outline, it will be worth it. Having your thesis statement and your points in front of you before you start writing ensures you have a direction for your response. Without an outline, you might end up digressing from the prompt or even run out of ideas due to a weak thesis.

4. Skip the pretty intro and get to the point.

I get it. I really do. If you’re asked to write a dry 1000-word analysis about the significance of a character’s name, you might just be tempted to write an introduction involving your profound love for pearl milk bubble tea. Unfortunately, that might not be the brightest idea to do during a timed response. Though your profs might find creative openings amusing, they’re ultimately searching for whether or not you provided a good response to the prompt and penned your ideas clearly. So refrain from writing poetic openings with similes linking your favourite drinks to 19th century novels and instead spend the time developing your response points, inputting relevant evidence, and writing well.

Chatime bubble tea and two of the books I am currently reading.
“Resist the urge to relate everything to your love of bubble tea” is what I tell myself every time I write something.

5. Proofread and revise.

As humans, we make careless mistakes when we write. I, myself, have caught myself almost handing in a short story with the sentence, “The geek’s honks take me back to lonely evening walks under bruised skies,” when I meant to write ‘geese.’ Needless to say, in a setting where you’re writing under pressure, you’re much more likely to make silly (and sometimes horribly embarrassing) mistakes. Leave about 15 minutes for every 500 words to proofread and revise your work to ensure your response doesn’t have glaring spelling or grammatical errors.


My French test with the glaring Franglais mistake: "Par example."
Indeed, I have also committed one of the most reviled of all Franglais mistakes on my recent timed French essay . . . by writing the dreaded “Par example.”

All in all, when you deal with long answer reponses, keep a cool head. Don’t dive into writing without planning because you risk creating a disorganized composition. You’ve studied for this, and you know your stuff; all you have to do is make sure you transfer the right knowledge onto paper and make it readable.

And so, to all of you who still have to brave some October Horrors, may the odds be ever in your favour the odds will be in your favour if you believe in yourself and study because studying kind of helps.


What do you consider when writing long answer responses? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

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