Timed Essay (DBQ, Midterm, & Final Exam) Help

(Updated on June 20, 2018 by Michelle Williams)


Writing a timed essay can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly if you aren't comfortable with writing or if you aren't good in testing situations.  In order to complete a good essay every time, however, you can follow this "magical formula."

The easiest way to start an essay is to ask the reader a question, which can be done by simply turning the topic you have been provided into a question.  For example, if you're to complete an essay comparing dogs to cats, you might ask, "Have you ever wondered about what dogs and cats have in common?"  By starting your document off with a question, you can quickly and easily grab your reader's attention.

In addition to the question in your introductory paragraph, you'll also need to develop a thesis.  Since you don't have a great deal of time to develop the perfect thesis, just come out and say what the report will be about.  In this example, you might say something like "Cats and dogs have many traits in common, though they do have their differences, as well."  You can then go on to briefly summarize what you'll discuss in your document, so as "Although both cats and dogs are animals, their personalities and methods of care are quite different."

Timed Essay (DBQ, Midterm, & Final Exam) HelpAfter writing your introduction, you should then write three paragraphs for the body.  Each paragraph should introduce one topic that supports your thesis statement and should contain additional sentences to support that topic sentence.  Be sure each of these paragraphs supports what you have stated in your introductory paragraph.

Your last paragraph is your conclusion.  When writing under pressure, you should simply make the first sentence of your last paragraph a re-statement of your thesis.  In this example, you might simply say, "There are many characteristics that dogs and cats share, though they're still different in several ways."  Then write one sentence that summarizes each paragraph you wrote for the body of your document.  In other words, the second sentence of your conclusion should summarize the second paragraph, the third sentence should summarize the third paragraph, and the fourth sentence should summarize the fourth paragraph.  

After completing this very basic essay, you should go back and reread it in order to check for clarity and errors.  Since you're writing under a restricted amount of time, you want to be certain to give yourself plenty of time to check for these errors.  In addition, check for logical flow.  Add transitional sentences and additional details to increase interest in your document.  If time still permits, try to find a final sentence to add to your conclusion in order to leave a lasting impression on the reader while still tying into the introductory paragraph.  Something simple can suffice, such as "Although these animals have many differences, they both make great pets and companions for those who love them."

DBQ Essays

DBQ stands for "document-based questions" and DBQ essays require learners to write document-based research papers.  DBQ essays are becoming more popular in high schools and universities to test students' writing abilities and understanding of course content.  This new writing tool is now being used in many academic institutions as a testing instrument as well as a general writing assignment.

A DBQ essay is completed by the student based on documents provided by the course instructor, or, in the case of an exam that uses a DBQ essay as a grading tool, the exam creators.  The task of completing a DBQ essay requires students to write based on the facts present within the documents rather than what might be in the history books.  The idea is to get students to think like historians and gather facts, analyze them, and present them to others within a well-written DBQ paper.  Students are required to think outside of the box rather than merely restate what a textbook or history book tells them.

DBQ essays are generally just one part of a writing assignment that combines questions about documents with a complete essay project.  Such an intense writing assignment is obviously intended to gauge a student's critical thinking and analytical skills as well has his/her writing ability.  The first part of a DBQ essay project is usually short-answer essay questions.  Students are required to sift through the documents they've been presented with and answer each question as thoroughly as possible.  The DBQ report itself is a longer writing assignment intended to supplement the short-answer portion of the assignment.

A DBQ essay is scored on a variety of criteria including the student's ability to evaluate the facts present within the document(s), address the historical perspective of those facts, and argue how the facts prove his/her viewpoint.  In order to write the best DBQ essay possible, it's important that students correctly identify the historical period represented by the documents, as well as identify the historical terms, names, and events highlighted in them.  Students should also be able to separate main events and names from those that have little or nothing to do with the questions being asked.

Just like any writing assignment, a DBQ report should be presented as a well-written project with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Students should also pay attention to using the proper format indicated by the instructor.  DBQ essays are an exciting new way to require learners to think critically while writing creatively.

Final Exam Essay Writing

A final exam is the last assessment in a course of academic study.  It is frequently a comprehensive exam, meaning that it covers aspects of the entire course.  As such, final exams often feature a writing component.  This writing component sometimes takes the form of short essay questions via which a student is asked to respond to an open-ended inquiry in a few paragraphs.  More frequently, final exams require an essay or set of essays.  A final exam essay is a short text that presents the writer's individual, informed thoughts on a specific essay prompt.  Such compositions are common on final exams because they require learners to integrate various types of knowledge in one, synthesized text.

An essay completed for a final exam will be quite different from a formal essay that a student writes outside of class.  This is because a final exam essay must be composed within the span of the allotted test time.  Most formal essay assignments are intended to demonstrate a student's thoughtful consideration and original thinking on a certain topic.  Final exam essays should also demonstrate thoughtful consideration and original thinking, but because they must be fully executed in a brief amount of time, they're typically shorter than normal essays and often more informative than they're insightful.

To adequately and successfully complete the types of reports found on final exams, the student should spend some of his/her allotted time planning his/her assignment.  The prompt should be read carefully multiple times.  It is imperative to know exactly what the prompt is asking in order to respond to all of its components.  Next, the student should devote a few minutes to creating a concise outline.  A final exam will not allow time for a detailed plan of the report; however, a general idea of the points the writer wishes to address and the evidence that will be presented will assist greatly in the composition of a fully-developed essay.

The student should present his/her thesis, which should be in direct response to the question prompt, in the first paragraph.  The thesis should identify the writer's position on the topic and briefly describe the three or four points that he/she will make in defending that position.

The body should devote a paragraph to each of the three or four points mentioned in the thesis statement.  Each paragraph should define the point being made, and then proceed to present supporting examples.

The essay conclusion shouldn't be a summary of the body, but should comment on how the point and evidence presented proves or bolsters the position the writer has taken.

Finally, the student should reserve a few minutes for proofreading the essay for grammar and style errors.

Examination Papers

An examination is a formal process in which a student is asked a variety of queries related to the course that he/she is taking.  The student then has to answer those questions with facts that he/she learned from the course.  The answers to the questions are then tallied and the student is assigned a grade for the course based on the number of correct responses.  However, there are many ways to take an examination, though the former explanation is a traditional explanation.  For some courses, such as a history or English course, learners will have to complete an examination paper.

Students who are required to complete examination papers are generally informed well in advance.  Therefore, learners can make sure that they research not only facts, but that they also understand facts and their connections to one another.  While many examinations require ROTE memorization skills, examination papers require analysis and critical understanding skills.  ROTE memorization means remembering information so that students can repeat it verbatim, such as the capitol of Nebraska.  

If a student is going to have a examination paper as part of his/her exam, he/she should be prepared to go to the class with extra paper or a blue book, which is a small notebook that many schools require learners to purchase for exams.  The student should also take a pencil so that he/she can erase anything he/she writes.  Students may also want to take a stop watch in order to keep track of time.  

When a student has to complete an examination paper, the examination paper is very similar to a research paper or report.  However, instead of being formally named a research or term paper, the examination paper is given the name of its purpose: to assess the level of understanding that a student has come by during the course.  

An examination paper is also different from a term paper or a research paper because students are often given just one topic about which to write for the examination paper.  Students also may not be able to perform research on the topic.  In most cases, examination papers must be completed in class using only the student's recollection of information that they learned.  However, term papers and research papers are completed over a long period of time and turned into the professor; they aren't completed in class or researched.

Mid-Term Exam Essays

Most students expect to have a mid-term exam in their college or graduate courses.  Mid-term exams force students to assimilate and internalize the knowledge that they have been presented with through the middle of the course.  That provides students with a strong foundation on which to approach the remainder of the course material (which will often be more complex).  A mid-term exam is different from a final exam only in that it's typically worth less in the scheme of the course grade.  Otherwise, mid-terms and finals are the same: both require the student to demonstrate that they have learned and synthesized the information that has been presented in the course up to a certain point.

Though some professors give mid-term exams that are multiple choice or short answer tests, many professors prefer essay exams.  This is because an essay requires a learner to not simply regurgitate facts, but to demonstrate that he/she can apply what he/she has learned in practical and creative ways.  Even if a professor presents an exam that includes some multiple choice or short answer questions, it's likely that the exam will feature at least one full-length paper.  Therefore, students must be prepared to write in their exams, and to write under the pressure of limited time.  

The best way to prepare for midterm exams that will require writing is to (1) become intimately familiar with the information presented in the course and (2) to practice.  The first component requires the student to study extensively and intensively over the course of several weeks in order to become familiar with the course material.  Once a student has done this, he/she should begin practicing timed writing using topics or questions that may be possible on the exam.  Of course the student has no way of knowing what the exact exam questions will be; however, a student can often anticipate the general areas of knowledge that such questions will test by looking over his/her notes and noting areas that the teacher particularly emphasized.  Teachers often decide to test their students on the concepts they feel are most important; therefore, a good way to anticipate what exam questions may be is to focus attention on the areas the teacher most emphasized in class lectures.  Students should compile a list of all the possible topics an essay question might touch on, and then practice writing essays in these general areas.

To practice timed writing, students need to know how much of their exam will be devoted to essays and how long the student has to take the exam.  Professors are typically very forthcoming with this information.  Once a student knows the exact time he/she will have for each question, he/she can practice writing within that time restriction.  For instance, if a midterm exam is scheduled to last an hour and a half and consists of three essay questions, the learner will have 30 minutes to answer each question.  Therefore, he/she should practice writing 30-minute essays on questions he/she generates from the list of possible topics.  To budget time for a timed exam, a student should devote several minutes to planning and outlining, the majority of the time to writing the draft, and a few minutes at the end to proofread.

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