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100 IELTS Essay Questions

Below are practice IELTS essay questions and topics for writing task 2. The 100 essay questions have been used many times over the years. The questions are organised under common topics and essay types. IELTS often use the similar topics for their essays but change the wording of the essay question.

In order to prepare well for writing task 2, you should prepare ideas for common topics and then practise applying them to the tasks given (to the essay questions). Also see model essays and tips  for writing task 2.

Below you will find:

  • Essay Questions By Topic
  • Essay Questions by Essay Type

Please also note that my new Grammar E-book is now available in my store along with my Ideas for Essay Topics E-book and Advanced Writing Lessons. To visit store, click here: Liz’s Store

1) Common IELTS Essay Questions

IELTS practice essay questions divided by topic. These topics have been reported by IELTS students in their tests. Essay questions have been recreated as accurately as possible.

  • Art   (5 essay questions)
  • Business & Money   (17 essay questions)
  • Communication & Personality   (20 essay questions)
  • Crime & Punishment   (12 essay questions)
  • Education   (17 essay questions)
  • Environment   (12 essay questions)
  • Family & Children   (8 essay questions)
  • Food & Diet (13 essay questions)
  • Government (6 essay questions)
  • Health   (9 essay questions)
  • Housing, Buildings & Urban Planning (8 essay questions)
  • Language (6 essay questions)
  • Leisure (1 essay question)
  • Media & Advertising   (12 essay questions)
  • Reading  (5 essay questions)
  • Society   (10 essay questions)
  • Space Exploration (3 questions)
  • Sport & Exercise   (6 essay questions)
  • Technology  (6 essay questions)
  • Tourism and Travel   (11 essay questions)
  • Transport  (7 essay questions)
  • Work (17 essay questions)

2) IELTS Essay Questions by Essay Type 

There are 5 main types of essay questions in IELTS writing task 2 (opinion essays, discussion essay, advantage/disadvantage essays, solution essay and direct question essays). Click on the links below to see some sample essay questions for each type.

  • Opinion Essay Questions
  • Discussion Essay Questions
  • Solution Essay Questions
  • Direct Questions Essay Titles 
  • Advantage / Disadvantage Essay Questions


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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Essay Exams

What this handout is about.

At some time in your undergraduate career, you’re going to have to write an essay exam. This thought can inspire a fair amount of fear: we struggle enough with essays when they aren’t timed events based on unknown questions. The goal of this handout is to give you some easy and effective strategies that will help you take control of the situation and do your best.

Why do instructors give essay exams?

Essay exams are a useful tool for finding out if you can sort through a large body of information, figure out what is important, and explain why it is important. Essay exams challenge you to come up with key course ideas and put them in your own words and to use the interpretive or analytical skills you’ve practiced in the course. Instructors want to see whether:

  • You understand concepts that provide the basis for the course
  • You can use those concepts to interpret specific materials
  • You can make connections, see relationships, draw comparisons and contrasts
  • You can synthesize diverse information in support of an original assertion
  • You can justify your own evaluations based on appropriate criteria
  • You can argue your own opinions with convincing evidence
  • You can think critically and analytically about a subject

What essay questions require

Exam questions can reach pretty far into the course materials, so you cannot hope to do well on them if you do not keep up with the readings and assignments from the beginning of the course. The most successful essay exam takers are prepared for anything reasonable, and they probably have some intelligent guesses about the content of the exam before they take it. How can you be a prepared exam taker? Try some of the following suggestions during the semester:

  • Do the reading as the syllabus dictates; keeping up with the reading while the related concepts are being discussed in class saves you double the effort later.
  • Go to lectures (and put away your phone, the newspaper, and that crossword puzzle!).
  • Take careful notes that you’ll understand months later. If this is not your strong suit or the conventions for a particular discipline are different from what you are used to, ask your TA or the Learning Center for advice.
  • Participate in your discussion sections; this will help you absorb the material better so you don’t have to study as hard.
  • Organize small study groups with classmates to explore and review course materials throughout the semester. Others will catch things you might miss even when paying attention. This is not cheating. As long as what you write on the essay is your own work, formulating ideas and sharing notes is okay. In fact, it is a big part of the learning process.
  • As an exam approaches, find out what you can about the form it will take. This will help you forecast the questions that will be on the exam, and prepare for them.

These suggestions will save you lots of time and misery later. Remember that you can’t cram weeks of information into a single day or night of study. So why put yourself in that position?

Now let’s focus on studying for the exam. You’ll notice the following suggestions are all based on organizing your study materials into manageable chunks of related material. If you have a plan of attack, you’ll feel more confident and your answers will be more clear. Here are some tips: 

  • Don’t just memorize aimlessly; clarify the important issues of the course and use these issues to focus your understanding of specific facts and particular readings.
  • Try to organize and prioritize the information into a thematic pattern. Look at what you’ve studied and find a way to put things into related groups. Find the fundamental ideas that have been emphasized throughout the course and organize your notes into broad categories. Think about how different categories relate to each other.
  • Find out what you don’t know, but need to know, by making up test questions and trying to answer them. Studying in groups helps as well.

Taking the exam

Read the exam carefully.

  • If you are given the entire exam at once and can determine your approach on your own, read the entire exam before you get started.
  • Look at how many points each part earns you, and find hints for how long your answers should be.
  • Figure out how much time you have and how best to use it. Write down the actual clock time that you expect to take in each section, and stick to it. This will help you avoid spending all your time on only one section. One strategy is to divide the available time according to percentage worth of the question. You don’t want to spend half of your time on something that is only worth one tenth of the total points.
  • As you read, make tentative choices of the questions you will answer (if you have a choice). Don’t just answer the first essay question you encounter. Instead, read through all of the options. Jot down really brief ideas for each question before deciding.
  • Remember that the easiest-looking question is not always as easy as it looks. Focus your attention on questions for which you can explain your answer most thoroughly, rather than settle on questions where you know the answer but can’t say why.

Analyze the questions

  • Decide what you are being asked to do. If you skim the question to find the main “topic” and then rush to grasp any related ideas you can recall, you may become flustered, lose concentration, and even go blank. Try looking closely at what the question is directing you to do, and try to understand the sort of writing that will be required.
  • Focus on what you do know about the question, not on what you don’t.
  • Look at the active verbs in the assignment—they tell you what you should be doing. We’ve included some of these below, with some suggestions on what they might mean. (For help with this sort of detective work, see the Writing Center handout titled Reading Assignments.)

Information words, such as who, what, when, where, how, and why ask you to demonstrate what you know about the subject. Information words may include:

  • define—give the subject’s meaning (according to someone or something). Sometimes you have to give more than one view on the subject’s meaning.
  • explain why/how—give reasons why or examples of how something happened.
  • illustrate—give descriptive examples of the subject and show how each is connected with the subject.
  • summarize—briefly cover the important ideas you learned about the subject.
  • trace—outline how something has changed or developed from an earlier time to its current form.
  • research—gather material from outside sources about the subject, often with the implication or requirement that you will analyze what you’ve found.

Relation words ask you to demonstrate how things are connected. Relation words may include:

  • compare—show how two or more things are similar (and, sometimes, different).
  • contrast—show how two or more things are dissimilar.
  • apply—use details that you’ve been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a particular situation.
  • cause—show how one event or series of events made something else happen.
  • relate—show or describe the connections between things.

Interpretation words ask you to defend ideas of your own about the subject. Don’t see these words as requesting opinion alone (unless the assignment specifically says so), but as requiring opinion that is supported by concrete evidence. Remember examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research and use them in your interpretation. Interpretation words may include:

  • prove, justify—give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why something is the truth.
  • evaluate, respond, assess—state your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two, with examples and reasons (you may want to compare your subject to something else).
  • support—give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe).
  • synthesize—put two or more things together that haven’t been put together before; don’t just summarize one and then the other, and say that they are similar or different—you must provide a reason for putting them together (as opposed to compare and contrast—see above).
  • analyze—look closely at the components of something to figure out how it works, what it might mean, or why it is important.
  • argue—take a side and defend it (with proof) against the other side.

Plan your answers

Think about your time again. How much planning time you should take depends on how much time you have for each question and how many points each question is worth. Here are some general guidelines: 

  • For short-answer definitions and identifications, just take a few seconds. Skip over any you don’t recognize fairly quickly, and come back to them when another question jogs your memory.
  • For answers that require a paragraph or two, jot down several important ideas or specific examples that help to focus your thoughts.
  • For longer answers, you will need to develop a much more definite strategy of organization. You only have time for one draft, so allow a reasonable amount of time—as much as a quarter of the time you’ve allotted for the question—for making notes, determining a thesis, and developing an outline.
  • For questions with several parts (different requests or directions, a sequence of questions), make a list of the parts so that you do not miss or minimize one part. One way to be sure you answer them all is to number them in the question and in your outline.
  • You may have to try two or three outlines or clusters before you hit on a workable plan. But be realistic—you want a plan you can develop within the limited time allotted for your answer. Your outline will have to be selective—not everything you know, but what you know that you can state clearly and keep to the point in the time available.

Again, focus on what you do know about the question, not on what you don’t.

Writing your answers

As with planning, your strategy for writing depends on the length of your answer:

  • For short identifications and definitions, it is usually best to start with a general identifying statement and then move on to describe specific applications or explanations. Two sentences will almost always suffice, but make sure they are complete sentences. Find out whether the instructor wants definition alone, or definition and significance. Why is the identification term or object important?
  • For longer answers, begin by stating your forecasting statement or thesis clearly and explicitly. Strive for focus, simplicity, and clarity. In stating your point and developing your answers, you may want to use important course vocabulary words from the question. For example, if the question is, “How does wisteria function as a representation of memory in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom?” you may want to use the words wisteria, representation, memory, and Faulkner) in your thesis statement and answer. Use these important words or concepts throughout the answer.
  • If you have devised a promising outline for your answer, then you will be able to forecast your overall plan and its subpoints in your opening sentence. Forecasting impresses readers and has the very practical advantage of making your answer easier to read. Also, if you don’t finish writing, it tells your reader what you would have said if you had finished (and may get you partial points).
  • You might want to use briefer paragraphs than you ordinarily do and signal clear relations between paragraphs with transition phrases or sentences.
  • As you move ahead with the writing, you may think of new subpoints or ideas to include in the essay. Stop briefly to make a note of these on your original outline. If they are most appropriately inserted in a section you’ve already written, write them neatly in the margin, at the top of the page, or on the last page, with arrows or marks to alert the reader to where they fit in your answer. Be as neat and clear as possible.
  • Don’t pad your answer with irrelevancies and repetitions just to fill up space. Within the time available, write a comprehensive, specific answer.
  • Watch the clock carefully to ensure that you do not spend too much time on one answer. You must be realistic about the time constraints of an essay exam. If you write one dazzling answer on an exam with three equally-weighted required questions, you earn only 33 points—not enough to pass at most colleges. This may seem unfair, but keep in mind that instructors plan exams to be reasonably comprehensive. They want you to write about the course materials in two or three or more ways, not just one way. Hint: if you finish a half-hour essay in 10 minutes, you may need to develop some of your ideas more fully.
  • If you run out of time when you are writing an answer, jot down the remaining main ideas from your outline, just to show that you know the material and with more time could have continued your exposition.
  • Double-space to leave room for additions, and strike through errors or changes with one straight line (avoid erasing or scribbling over). Keep things as clean as possible. You never know what will earn you partial credit.
  • Write legibly and proofread. Remember that your instructor will likely be reading a large pile of exams. The more difficult they are to read, the more exasperated the instructor might become. Your instructor also cannot give you credit for what they cannot understand. A few minutes of careful proofreading can improve your grade.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in writing essay exams is that you have a limited amount of time and space in which to get across the knowledge you have acquired and your ability to use it. Essay exams are not the place to be subtle or vague. It’s okay to have an obvious structure, even the five-paragraph essay format you may have been taught in high school. Introduce your main idea, have several paragraphs of support—each with a single point defended by specific examples, and conclude with a restatement of your main point and its significance.

Some physiological tips

Just think—we expect athletes to practice constantly and use everything in their abilities and situations in order to achieve success. Yet, somehow many students are convinced that one day’s worth of studying, no sleep, and some well-placed compliments (“Gee, Dr. So-and-so, I really enjoyed your last lecture”) are good preparation for a test. Essay exams are like any other testing situation in life: you’ll do best if you are prepared for what is expected of you, have practiced doing it before, and have arrived in the best shape to do it. You may not want to believe this, but it’s true: a good night’s sleep and a relaxed mind and body can do as much or more for you as any last-minute cram session. Colleges abound with tales of woe about students who slept through exams because they stayed up all night, wrote an essay on the wrong topic, forgot everything they studied, or freaked out in the exam and hyperventilated. If you are rested, breathing normally, and have brought along some healthy, energy-boosting snacks that you can eat or drink quietly, you are in a much better position to do a good job on the test. You aren’t going to write a good essay on something you figured out at 4 a.m. that morning. If you prepare yourself well throughout the semester, you don’t risk your whole grade on an overloaded, undernourished brain.

If for some reason you get yourself into this situation, take a minute every once in a while during the test to breathe deeply, stretch, and clear your brain. You need to be especially aware of the likelihood of errors, so check your essays thoroughly before you hand them in to make sure they answer the right questions and don’t have big oversights or mistakes (like saying “Hitler” when you really mean “Churchill”).

If you tend to go blank during exams, try studying in the same classroom in which the test will be given. Some research suggests that people attach ideas to their surroundings, so it might jog your memory to see the same things you were looking at while you studied.

Try good luck charms. Bring in something you associate with success or the support of your loved ones, and use it as a psychological boost.

Take all of the time you’ve been allotted. Reread, rework, and rethink your answers if you have extra time at the end, rather than giving up and handing the exam in the minute you’ve written your last sentence. Use every advantage you are given.

Remember that instructors do not want to see you trip up—they want to see you do well. With this in mind, try to relax and just do the best you can. The more you panic, the more mistakes you are liable to make. Put the test in perspective: will you die from a poor performance? Will you lose all of your friends? Will your entire future be destroyed? Remember: it’s just a test.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Axelrod, Rise B., and Charles R. Cooper. 2016. The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing , 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Fowler, Ramsay H., and Jane E. Aaron. 2016. The Little, Brown Handbook , 13th ed. Boston: Pearson.

Gefvert, Constance J. 1988. The Confident Writer: A Norton Handbook , 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Kirszner, Laurie G. 1988. Writing: A College Rhetoric , 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Woodman, Leonara, and Thomas P. Adler. 1988. The Writer’s Choices , 2nd ed. Northbrook, Illinois: Scott Foresman.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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How to Write a Good Answer to Exam Essay Questions

Last Updated: March 17, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Tristen Bonacci . Tristen Bonacci is a Licensed English Teacher with more than 20 years of experience. Tristen has taught in both the United States and overseas. She specializes in teaching in a secondary education environment and sharing wisdom with others, no matter the environment. Tristen holds a BA in English Literature from The University of Colorado and an MEd from The University of Phoenix. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 645,668 times.

Answering essay questions on an exam can be difficult and stressful, which can make it hard to provide a good answer. However, you can improve your ability to answer essay questions by learning how to understand the questions, form an answer, and stay focused. Developing your ability to give excellent answers on essay exams will take time and effort, but you can learn some good essay question practices and start improving your answers.

Understanding the Question

Step 1 Read the question carefully.

  • Analyze: Explain the what, where, who, when, why, and how. Include pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  • Compare: Discuss the similarities and differences between two or more things. Don't forget to explain why the comparison is useful.
  • Contrast: Discuss how two or more things are different or distinguish between them. Don't forget to explain why the contrast is useful.
  • Define: State what something means, does, achieves, etc.
  • Describe: List characteristics or traits of something. You may also need to summarize something, such as an essay prompt that asks "Describe the major events that led to the American Revolution."
  • Discuss: This is more analytical. You usually begin by describing something and then present arguments for or against it. You may need to analyze the advantages or disadvantages of your subject.
  • Evaluate: Offer the pros and cons, positives and negatives for a subject. You may be asked to evaluate a statement for logical support, or evaluate an argument for weaknesses.
  • Explain: Explain why or how something happened, or justify your position on something.
  • Prove: Usually reserved for more scientific or objective essays. You may be asked to include evidence and research to build a case for a specific position or set of hypotheses.
  • Summarize: Usually, this means to list the major ideas or themes of a subject. It could also ask you to present the main ideas in order to then fully discuss them. Most essay questions will not ask for pure summary without anything else.

Step 3 Ask questions if anything is unclear.

  • Raise your hand and wait for your teacher to come over to you or approach your teacher’s desk to ask your question. This way you will be less likely to disrupt other test takers.

Forming Your Response

Step 1 Follow the instructions.

  • Take a moment to consider your organization before you start writing your answer. What information should come first, second, third, etc.?
  • In many cases, the traditional 5-paragraph essay structure works well. Start with an introductory paragraph, use 3 paragraphs in the body of the article to explain different points, and finish with a concluding paragraph.
  • It can also be really helpful to draft a quick outline of your essay before you start writing.

Step 3 Choose relevant facts and figures to include.

  • You may want to make a list of facts and figures that you want to include in your essay answer. That way you can refer to this list as you write your answer.
  • It's best to write down all the important key topics or ideas before you get started composing your answer. That way, you can check back to make sure you haven't missed anything.

Step 4 Begin your answer by rephrasing the essay question as a statement.

  • For example, imagine that your essay question asks: "Should the FIFA World Cup be awarded to countries with human rights violations? Explain and support your answer."
  • You might restate this as "Countries with human rights violations should not be awarded the FIFA World Cup because this rewards a nation's poor treatment of its citizens." This will be the thesis that you support with examples and explanation.

Step 5 Make sure that your answer has a clear point.

  • For example, whether you argue that the FIFA World Cup should or should not be awarded to countries with human rights violations, you will want to address the opposing side's argument. However, it needs to be clear where your essay stands about the matter.
  • Often, essay questions end up saying things along the lines of "There are many similarities and differences between X and Y." This does not offer a clear position and can result in a bad grade.

Step 6 Pay attention to your grammar and punctuation.

  • If you are required to write your answer by hand, then take care to make your writing legible and neat. Some professors may deduct points if they cannot read what you have written.

Staying Calm and Focused

Step 1 Stop and take a deep breath if you get too anxious.

  • If you get to a point during the exam where you feel too anxious to focus, put down your pencil (or take your hands off of the keyboard), close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Stretch your arms and imagine that you are somewhere pleasant for a few moments. When you have completed this brief exercise, open up your eyes and resume the exam.

Step 2 Use your time wisely.

  • For example, if the exam period is one hour long and you have to answer three questions in that time frame, then you should plan to spend no more than 20 minutes on each question.
  • Look at the weight of the questions, if applicable. For example, if there are five 10-point short-answers and a 50-point essay, plan to spend more time on the essay because it is worth significantly more. Don't get stuck spending so much time on the short-answers that you don't have time to develop a complex essay.

Step 3 Write as quickly as you can.

  • This strategy is even more important if the exam has multiple essay questions. If you take too much time on the first question, then you may not have enough time to answer the other questions on the exam.

Step 4 Stay on topic.

  • If you feel like you are straying away from the question, reread the question and review any notes that you made to help guide you. After you get refocused, then continue writing your answer.
  • Try to allow yourself enough time to go back and tighten up connections between your points. A few well-placed transitions can really bump up your grade.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • If you are worried about running out of time, put your watch in front of you where you can see it. Just try not to focus on it too much. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you need more practice, make up your own questions or even look at some practice questions online! Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

Tips from our Readers

  • Look up relevant quotes if your exam is open notes. Use references from books or class to back up your answers.
  • Make sure your sentences flow together and that you don't repeat the same thing twice!

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About This Article

Tristen Bonacci

To write a good answer to an exam essay question, read the question carefully to find what it's asking, and follow the instructions for the essay closely. Begin your essay by rephrasing the question into a statement with your answer in the statement. Include supplemental facts and figures if necessary, or do textual analysis from a provided piece to support your argument. Make sure your writing is clear and to the point, and don't include extra information unless it supports your argument. For tips from our academic reviewer on understanding essay questions and dealing with testing nerves, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Tackle Exam Questions

Learn more about how to tackle different kinds of exams and exam questions.

We cover the following topics on exam preparation on this page:

  • Quantitative Questions
  • Multiple Choice Questions
  • Essay Questions

First, Let’s Think About De-Coding Different Types of Exam Questions

It’s helpful to understand the kinds of question that are asked on a exam, because the response you need to come up with depends on the type of question. Knowing about different types of exam questions can help you activate appropriate strategies for formulating answers and reduce exam-taking anxiety.

Exam questions generally fall into one of three categories: 1

“Green Light”

green light

  • Go right ahead!
  • These are factual questions, and the answers are straight-forward. You either know the answer or you don’t; it’s right there in your head or it’s not.
  • Some green light questions can be very difficult, and your ability to recall details is often tested with this typeof question.
  • Study for this type of question by using recitation, making flash cards, quizzing yourself or a study partner, etc.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a green light question right away, circle it and move on; often the answer will pop into your head later on during the exam.

“Yellow Light”

yellow light

  • These questions are more detailed than green light questions, but are based on the same idea: you either know the answer or you don’t.
  • Often you’ll have to put multiple or “green light” details together.
  • Similar strategies work for yellow and green questions, but with yellow light questions you’ll need to recall many ideas, concepts, formulas, etc., just to answer one question.

red light

  • These questions ask you to make inferences or apply your knowledge to new situations, which is sometimes called “critical thinking”.
  • You need to know the material being covered to answer these questions at the “green light” level, but the exam question is not asking you to simply regurgitate it. You will need to take what you know and use it in ways you have not yet used it.
  • This type of question sometimes flummoxes students, because they are surprised to they are being asked a question that wasn’t exactly covered in class. Remember that with red light questions you are not supposed to already know the answer. You have to come up with the answer yourself, it is not already in your head. (You will need to know the basic information, though, to be able to answer this type of question.)
  • Red light questions are asked more frequently in college than in high school.
  • To study for red light questions, make diagrams or concept maps that link ideas or topics from the course together. Think about how what you’re learning relates to what you’ve learned in other classes. Sit down with friends or classmates and talk about how one might use information from the class in a job setting.

See this link for a pdf of  Decoding exam questions.

How to Tackle: Problem-Solving and Quantitative Questions

Study for problem-based exams by practicing (new!) problems

As you work on the problems, remember:

  • DO let yourself be stuck.* (yes, we mean that!)
  • DON’T sneak a peak at the answer if you get stuck. (keep trying!)
  • Check your answer only after you’ve put something–anything–down. Think partial credit, which is better than no credit if you freeze when you get stuck on hard problems on the test.

* You need to get your “stuck” muscles stronger so you know what to do on tests when you feel stuck.

Watch: LSC’s Mike Chen Shares “The Key to Problem-Solving Tests”

Taking problem-based exams

1. Understand the problem: Determine what you are supposed to find, what you need to find it, and what the unknown is (and if there is extra information). Consider whether drawing a sketch will help. Also – note each part of the question. Not answering each part is an easy way to lose points.

2. Determine a way to solve the problem: Write down all that is given or known. Draw a sketch when appropriate to show relations. Write down all relevant formulas.

3. Carry out the procedure you have devised: For numerical problems, try and estimate an answer first. This will help you to check your work later. Neat, careful work keeps you from making mistakes, and allows you to find them when you do make them (show your units!!). Additionally, when the instructor can see your work clearly, he or she may give you partial credit for what you do know, even if your ultimate answer is incorrect.

4. Check your Answers: This requires the same quality of thought originally used to solve the problem. Is your answer what you thought it would be in your original estimate? Is it a quantity that makes sense? Is your answer in the correct units? If your answer does not seem reasonable, rework the problem.

How to Tackle: Multiple Choice Questions

1. Read the stem: First, read the stem and make sure you understand what it is getting at. Look out for double negatives or other twists in wording before you consider the answer.

2. Try to come up with the correct answer: Before you look at the answer choices, try to come up with the correct answer. This will help you to rule out choices that are similar to the correct answer. Now read and consider each option carefully.

3. Look for clues in the stem: Look for clues in the stem that suggest the correct answer or rule out any choices. For example, if the stem indicates that the answer is plural you can rule out any answers that are singular. The basic rule is: the correct answer must make sense grammatically with the stem. Options which fail this exam can be ruled out.

4. Cross off any options you know are incorrect: As you rule out options cross them off with your pencil. This will help you focus on the remaining choices and eliminates the chance of returning to an item and selecting an option you had already eliminated.

5. Come back to items you were unsure of: Put a mark next to any questions you are unsure of. If you complete the entire exam with time to spare, review these questions – you will often get clues (or even answers) from other questions.

Take a look at some additional information on difficult “ Multiple Choice Tests ” (opens a PDF).

How to Tackle: Essay Questions

The best way to  prepare  for essay tests is to practice writing essays.

  • Anticipate questions : Make outlines of possible essay topics using your course materials so you know you’ve got a good grasp of what might be on the test. Then recreate your outlines from memory (unless it’s an open-notes test).
  • Practice writing  at least one full essay; be mindful of the time you spend practicing and think about how much time you will have during the exam. It is also important to think about  how  you are organizing the information you are including in your essay — for example, if you are asked to compare and contrast two theories as they relate to an issue, you might want to define each of them, describe the issue, and then compare and contrast them.
  • If your exam is closed book,  memorize key events, facts, and names  that you will need to support your argument. If it is open-notes, then make sure you develop good outlines.

When you are  taking  essay tests:

  • Manage your time  well. As with all exams, if there are multiple essay questions, be sure to look at them all at the beginning (taking note of the points each is worth), and prioritize the order you answer the questions.
  • Read the directions  carefully. Ask yourself honestly: are you answering the  actual  question on the test, or the question you  want  to be on the test?  (tip: instructors know when you aren’t really answering the exact question, so make sure you are addressing the actual question and don’t just write random information that is unrelated to the question.)
  • Before you write the essay,  decide on your argument  and  quickly list your supporting evidence  (it is ok to do a brain dump of all the important information that you want to include so that you have it handy when you begin writing).
  • Make a quick outline  of what you are going to write to organize your thoughts and arguments.
  • Write! And, make your point right away – you don’t want to get to the end of a timed essay test with your amazing argument still unmade!
  • If you have time, go back and quickly  proof-read  your essay for errors.

You might want to take a look at some “ Words to Watch for in an Essay ” (opens a PDF).


1 Taffy E. Raphael, Teaching Question Answer Relationships, Revisited, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Feb., 1986), pp. 516-522.

Ellis, D. (1998). Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin: Boston

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Writing Essays for Exams

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What is a well written answer to an essay question?

Well Focused

Be sure to answer the question completely, that is, answer all parts of the question. Avoid "padding." A lot of rambling and ranting is a sure sign that the writer doesn't really know what the right answer is and hopes that somehow, something in that overgrown jungle of words was the correct answer.

Well Organized

Don't write in a haphazard "think-as-you-go" manner. Do some planning and be sure that what you write has a clearly marked introduction which both states the point(s) you are going to make and also, if possible, how you are going to proceed. In addition, the essay should have a clearly indicated conclusion which summarizes the material covered and emphasizes your thesis or main point.

Well Supported

Do not just assert something is true, prove it. What facts, figures, examples, tests, etc. prove your point? In many cases, the difference between an A and a B as a grade is due to the effective use of supporting evidence.

Well Packaged

People who do not use conventions of language are thought of by their readers as less competent and less educated. If you need help with these or other writing skills, come to the Writing Lab

How do you write an effective essay exam?

  • Read through all the questions carefully.
  • Budget your time and decide which question(s) you will answer first.
  • Underline the key word(s) which tell you what to do for each question.
  • Choose an organizational pattern appropriate for each key word and plan your answers on scratch paper or in the margins.
  • Write your answers as quickly and as legibly as you can; do not take the time to recopy.
  • Begin each answer with one or two sentence thesis which summarizes your answer. If possible, phrase the statement so that it rephrases the question's essential terms into a statement (which therefore directly answers the essay question).
  • Support your thesis with specific references to the material you have studied.
  • Proofread your answer and correct errors in spelling and mechanics.

Specific organizational patterns and "key words"

Most essay questions will have one or more "key words" that indicate which organizational pattern you should use in your answer. The six most common organizational patterns for essay exams are definition, analysis, cause and effect, comparison/contrast, process analysis, and thesis-support.

Typical questions

  • "Define X."
  • "What is an X?"
  • "Choose N terms from the following list and define them."

Q: "What is a fanzine?"

A: A fanzine is a magazine written, mimeographed, and distributed by and for science fiction or comic strip enthusiasts.

Avoid constructions such as "An encounter group is where ..." and "General semantics is when ... ."

  • State the term to be defined.
  • State the class of objects or concepts to which the term belongs.
  • Differentiate the term from other members of the class by listing the term's distinguishing characteristics.

Tools you can use

  • Details which describe the term
  • Examples and incidents
  • Comparisons to familiar terms
  • Negation to state what the term is not
  • Classification (i.e., break it down into parts)
  • Examination of origins or causes
  • Examination of results, effects, or uses

Analysis involves breaking something down into its components and discovering the parts that make up the whole.

  • "Analyze X."
  • "What are the components of X?"
  • "What are the five different kinds of X?"
  • "Discuss the different types of X."

Q: "Discuss the different services a junior college offers a community."

A: Thesis: A junior college offers the community at least three main types of educational services: vocational education for young people, continuing education for older people, and personal development for all individuals.

Outline for supporting details and examples. For example, if you were answering the example question, an outline might include:

  • Vocational education
  • Continuing education
  • Personal development

Write the essay, describing each part or component and making transitions between each of your descriptions. Some useful transition words include:

  • first, second, third, etc.
  • in addition

Conclude the essay by emphasizing how each part you have described makes up the whole you have been asked to analyze.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect involves tracing probable or known effects of a certain cause or examining one or more effects and discussing the reasonable or known cause(s).

Typical questions:

  • "What are the causes of X?"
  • "What led to X?"
  • "Why did X occur?"
  • "Why does X happen?"
  • "What would be the effects of X?"

Q: "Define recession and discuss the probable effects a recession would have on today's society."

A: Thesis: A recession, which is a nationwide lull in business activity, would be detrimental to society in the following ways: it would .......A......., it would .......B......., and it would .......C....... .

The rest of the answer would explain, in some detail, the three effects: A, B, and C.

Useful transition words:

  • consequently
  • for this reason
  • as a result


  • "How does X differ from Y?"
  • "Compare X and Y."
  • "What are the advantages and disadvantages of X and Y?"

Q: "Which would you rather own—a compact car or a full-sized car?"

A: Thesis: I would own a compact car rather than a full-sized car for the following reasons: .......A......., .......B......., .......C......., and .......D....... .

Two patterns of development:

  • Full-sized car


  • Compact car

Useful transition words

  • on the other hand
  • unlike A, B ...
  • in the same way
  • while both A and B are ..., only B ..
  • nevertheless
  • on the contrary
  • while A is ..., B is ...
  • "Describe how X is accomplished."
  • "List the steps involved in X."
  • "Explain what happened in X."
  • "What is the procedure involved in X?"

Process (sometimes called process analysis)

This involves giving directions or telling the reader how to do something. It may involve discussing some complex procedure as a series of discrete steps. The organization is almost always chronological.

Q: "According to Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute?, what is the best procedure for finding a job?"

A: In What Color Is Your Parachute?, Richard Bolles lists seven steps that all job-hunters should follow: .....A....., .....B....., .....C....., .....D....., .....E....., .....F....., and .....G..... .

The remainder of the answer should discuss each of these seven steps in some detail.

  • following this
  • after, afterwards, after this
  • subsequently
  • simultaneously, concurrently

Thesis and Support

  • "Discuss X."
  • "A noted authority has said X. Do you agree or disagree?"
  • "Defend or refute X."
  • "Do you think that X is valid? Defend your position."

Thesis and support involves stating a clearly worded opinion or interpretation and then defending it with all the data, examples, facts, and so on that you can draw from the material you have studied.

Q: "Despite criticism, television is useful because it aids in the socializing process of our children."

A: Television hinders rather than helps in the socializing process of our children because .......A......., .......B......., and .......C....... .

The rest of the answer is devoted to developing arguments A, B, and C.

  • it follows that

A. Which of the following two answers is the better one? Why?

Question: Discuss the contribution of William Morris to book design, using as an example his edition of the works of Chaucer.

a. William Morris's Chaucer was his masterpiece. It shows his interest in the Middle Ages. The type is based on medieval manuscript writing, and the decoration around the edges of the pages is like that used in medieval books. The large initial letters are typical of medieval design. Those letters were printed from woodcuts, which was the medieval way of printing. The illustrations were by Burn-Jones, one of the best artists in England at the time. Morris was able to get the most competent people to help him because he was so famous as a poet and a designer (the Morris chair) and wallpaper and other decorative items for the home. He designed the furnishings for his own home, which was widely admired among the sort of people he associated with. In this way he started the arts and crafts movement.

b. Morris's contribution to book design was to approach the problem as an artist or fine craftsman, rather than a mere printer who reproduced texts. He wanted to raise the standards of printing, which had fallen to a low point, by showing that truly beautiful books could be produced. His Chaucer was designed as a unified work of art or high craft. Since Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, Morris decided to design a new type based on medieval script and to imitate the format of a medieval manuscript. This involved elaborate letters and large initials at the beginnings of verses, as well as wide borders of intertwined vines with leaves, fruit, and flowers in strong colors. The effect was so unusual that the book caused great excitement and inspired other printers to design beautiful rather than purely utilitarian books.

From James M. McCrimmon, Writing with a Purpose , 7th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), pp. 261-263.

B. How would you plan the structure of the answers to these essay exam questions?

1. Was the X Act a continuation of earlier government policies or did it represent a departure from prior philosophies?

2. What seems to be the source of aggression in human beings? What can be done to lower the level of aggression in our society?

3. Choose one character from Novel X and, with specific references to the work, show how he or she functions as an "existential hero."

4. Define briefly the systems approach to business management. Illustrate how this differs from the traditional approach.

5. What is the cosmological argument? Does it prove that God exists?

6. Civil War historian Andy Bellum once wrote, "Blahblahblah blahed a blahblah, but of course if blahblah blahblahblahed the blah, then blahblahs are not blah but blahblah." To what extent and in what ways is the statement true? How is it false?

For more information on writing exam essays for the GED, please visit our Engagement area and go to the Community Writing and Education Station (CWEST) resources.

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Writing Tutorial Services

Taking an essay exam.

You may often be asked in college to take essay exams. In certain ways, the same principles for writing good out-of-class essays apply to writing good in-class essays as well. For example, both kinds of essays are more successful when you take into consideration your purpose, audience and information; when you develop a thesis with support; when you prove your assertions with evidence; when you guide your readers with transitions, etc.

However, there are some differences to keep in mind as you prepare to write. The most important one is the purpose for writing. Usually you write a research paper, for example, to learn more about your selected topic; however, you write essay exams to demonstrate your knowledge. You are not only conveying information, but also proving to your audience--the examiner--that you have mastered the information and can work with it. In other words, your purpose is both informative and persuasive. Keeping this purpose in mind will help you both prepare for and write the essay.


Study connections between ideas. Your instructor is not looking for a collection of unrelated pieces of information. Rather, he or she wants to see that you understand the whole picture, i.e., how the generalizations or concepts create the framework for the specific facts, and how the examples or details fill in the gaps. So, when you're studying, try to think about how the information fits together.

Prepare practice questions. Try to prepare for questions that are likely to be asked. If your instructor has given you the questions themselves or a study sheet in advance, practice answering those questions. Otherwise, try to anticipate questions your instructor is likely to ask and practice those. At the very least, outline how you would answer the test questions; however, it's better to actually write out the answers. That way, you will know where you need to study more.


Again, while you're taking the exam, remember that it's not simply what you say or how much you say, but HOW you say it that's important. You want to show your instructor that you have mastered the material.

Plan your time. Although you will be working under pressure, take a few minutes to plan your time. Determine how many minutes you can devote to each answer. You will want to devote most of your time to the questions that are worth the most points, perhaps answering those questions first. On the other hand, you might want to answer first the questions that you are best prepared for.

Read the questions thoroughly. Take a few minutes before writing your essay to read the question carefully in order to determine exactly what you are being asked to do. Most essay exam questions, or "prompts," are carefully worded and contain specific instructions about WHAT you are to write about as well as HOW you should organize your answer. The prompt may use one or more of the following terms. If you see one of these terms, try to organize your essay to respond to the question or questions indicated.

classify: Into what general category/categories does this idea belong? compare: What are the similarities among these ideas? What are the differences? contrast: What are the differences between these ideas? critique: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this idea? define: What does this word or phrase mean? describe: What are the important characteristics or features of this idea? evaluate: What are the arguments for and against this idea? Which arguments are stronger? explain: Why is this the case? identify: What is this idea? What is its name? interpret: What does this idea mean? Why is it important? justify: Why is this correct? Why is this true? outline: What are the main points and essential details? summarize: Briefly, what are the important ideas? trace: What is the sequence of ideas or order of events?

Plan your answer. Jot down the main points you intend to make as you think through your answer. Then, you can use your list to help you stick to the topic. In an exam situation, it's easy to forget points if you don't write them down.

Write out your essay, using good writing techniques. As was said earlier, essay exams are like other essays, so use the same good writing strategies you use for other kinds of writing. Keep in mind that your purpose is to persuade your reader—the examiner—that you know the material.

First, create a thesis for your essay that you can defend. Often, you can turn the questions stated or implied on the exam into an answer and use it as your thesis. This sentence also functions as an introduction.

For example, suppose you are given the following prompt in your psychology class:

Define "procedural knowledge" and describe its relationship to the results of studies of amnesic patients.

The implied question is:

What is "procedural knowledge" and how is it related to the results of studies of amnesic patients?

Note how you can turn the answer to that implied question into the thesis of your exam essay. This paragraph might serve as your introduction.

"Procedural knowledge" is knowing how to perform a task, such as tying a shoe or driving a car, and studies of amnesia have shown that this type of knowledge or memory is often retained by amnesic patients. Even in amnesic patients who have lost most of their declarative memory capacity, the ability to form new procedural memories is often intact...

Then, proceed immediately to explain, develop, and support your thesis, drawing upon materials from text(s), lectures, and class discussions. Be sure to support any and all generalizations with concrete evidence, relevant facts, and specific details that will convince your reader that your thesis is valid. Make your main points stand out by writing distinct paragraphs, and indicate the relationship between them with transitions.

For example, in response to this prompt from a social work class,

Identify and give an example of four alternative solutions available in cases of family conflict.

a student wrote the following paragraph. Note the transition phrase and the generalization supported by specific evidence.

. . . The fourth alternative open in cases of family conflict is violence, and this is not an uncommon response. 25% of all homicides in the U.S. involve one family member killing another; half of these are spouse homicides. Violence usually takes one of two forms: explosive or coercive. Explosive violence is not premeditated. When the son takes and crashes the family car, for instance, the father may explode and beat him. Coercive violence, on the other hand, is pointed and intentional; it has the goal of producing compliance or obedience. Thus, a blow delivered with a threat not to repeat certain behaviors would be coercive. . . .

Finally, sum up your argument with a brief conclusion that lends your essay a clear sense of closure.

Finishing the Exam

Proofread your answer. Reserve a few minutes after completing your essay to proofread it carefully. First, make sure you stick to the question. Always answer exactly the question asked without digressing. If you find you have digressed, neatly cross out the words or paragraphs. It's better to cross out a paragraph that is irrelevant (and to replace it with a relevant one if you have time) than to allow it to stand. In this context at least, quality is always preferable to quantity. Also check sentence structure, spelling and punctuation.

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  • AWELU contents
  • Writing at university
  • Different kinds of student texts
  • Understanding instructions and stylesheets

Understanding essay/exam questions

  • Peer review instructions
  • Dealing with feedback
  • Checklist for writers
  • Research writing resources
  • Administrative writing resources
  • LU language policy
  • Introduction
  • What characterises academic writing?
  • The heterogeneity of academic writing
  • Three-part essays
  • IMRaD essays
  • How to get started on your response paper
  • Student literature review
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Three versions of the RA
  • Examples of specificity within disciplines
  • Reviews (review articles and book reviews)
  • Popular science writing
  • Research posters
  • Grant proposals
  • Writing for Publication
  • Salutations
  • Structuring your email
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  • Language tips for email writers
  • Writing memos
  • Meeting terminology
  • The writing process
  • Identifying your audience
  • Using invention techniques
  • Research question
  • Thesis statement
  • Developing reading strategies
  • Taking notes
  • Identifying language resources
  • Choosing a writing tool
  • Framing the text: Title and reference list
  • Structure of the whole text
  • Structuring the argument
  • Structure of introductions
  • Structure within sections of the text
  • Structure within paragraphs
  • Signposting the structure
  • Using sources
  • What needs to be revised?
  • How to revise
  • Many vs. much
  • Other quantifiers
  • Quantifiers in a table
  • Miscellaneous quantifiers
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  • Singular noun phrases connected by "either/or"
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  • Indefinite pronouns and agreement
  • Sums of money and periods of time
  • Words that indicate portions
  • Uncountable nouns
  • Dependent clauses and agreement
  • Agreement with the right noun phrase
  • Some important exceptions and words of advice
  • Atypical nouns
  • The major word classes
  • The morphology of the major word classes
  • Words and phrases
  • Elements in the noun phrase
  • Classes of nouns
  • Determiners
  • Elements in the verb phrase
  • Classes of main verbs
  • Auxiliary verbs
  • Primary auxiliary verbs
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  • Meanings of modal auxiliaries
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  • More on adverbials
  • The order of subjects and verbs
  • Subject-Verb agreement
  • Hyphen and dash
  • English spelling rules
  • Commonly confused words
  • Differences between British and American spelling
  • Vocabulary awareness
  • Useful words and phrases
  • Using abbreviations
  • Register types
  • Formal vs. informal
  • DOs & DON'Ts
  • General information on dictionary use
  • Online dictionary resources
  • What is a corpus?
  • Examples of the usefulness of a corpus
  • Using the World Wide Web as a corpus
  • Online corpus resources
  • Different kinds of sources
  • The functions of references
  • Paraphrasing
  • Summarising
  • Reference accuracy
  • Reference management tools
  • Different kinds of reference styles
  • Style format
  • Elements of the reference list
  • Documentary note style
  • Writing acknowledgements
  • What is academic integrity?
  • Academic integrity and writing
  • Academic integrity at LU
  • Different kinds of plagiarism
  • Avoiding plagiarism
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In some disciplines, take-home exams and open-book exams consist of so-called essay questions. In order to succeed with such assignments, it is vital that you understand what you are expected to do.

Essay questions demand answers with an element of reasoning. This means you are not only expected to present facts but also to provide an interpretation, argument, or reflection which shows that you have understood the course content. The information below is of a general nature; as a student, you must make sure that you understand what the requirements are in your course and in your field.

Understanding the exam/essay question

Read instructions carefully: they are intended to help you complete the assignment, and how well you adhere to instructions will affect your grade. Essay questions often consist of three elements:

1.    an informative part that provides some background and context 2.    a directive part that tells you how to approach the task 3.    an instructional part with instructions on how the text is to be written

You may find that not all elements are provided in each exam question. For instance, some information may be given in an introductory passage that applies to all questions. Such general instructions often stipulate the required format of the answers as well as what resources (if any) may be used.

Instructional verbs

Even though you may very well know what the instructional verbs that you come across in exams mean in general language use, they sometimes have a more specific meaning in exam questions.

Some instructional verbs in exams ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of something (e.g. list , give examples of ) or to show that you have understood something (e.g. explain , compare ). Still other verbs indicate that you need to show that you can use your knowledge (e.g. apply , demonstrate , illustrate ) or that you are able to show your skills in critical thinking (e.g. examine, create, design, justify ).

Although verbs like the ones listed above may be almost synonymous in everyday speech, as instructional verbs in written assignments they require different actions. In the list below, you will find some common instructional verbs and their definitions. Note that some verbs may have a more specific meaning in your field.

To pick up on what instructional verbs may mean in your specific field, read textbooks and scholarly articles carefully, paying attention to how instruction verbs are used.

Composing your answer

In addition to what is said above, the following advice might be useful when you write your answers to exam and essay questions:

Show that you understand the question

If you are asked to apply a theoretical concept or to discuss something from a particular perspective, make sure your answer shows that you understand the issue at hand and that you know how to use the concept. How to do this will depend on your discipline: In some areas, it might be relevant to define terms as you use them in an argument, and in other areas it may be essential that you demonstrate your ability to carry out some kind of calculation.

Stay on track

Students are examined based on how well their answers respond to the stated question. This means you need to provide relevant information and present an on-topic discussion; it also means that information that is not relevant will usually not be assessed.

Check that you have answered the question

Before submitting the exam, go through your answers. Double-check that you have understood the question and the instruction verbs.

University of York Library

  • Subject Guides

Academic writing: a practical guide

Examination writing.

  • Academic writing
  • The writing process
  • Academic writing style
  • Structure & cohesion
  • Criticality in academic writing
  • Working with evidence
  • Referencing
  • Assessment & feedback
  • Dissertations
  • Reflective writing
  • Academic posters
  • Feedback on Structure and Organisation
  • Feedback on Argument, Analysis, and Critical Thinking
  • Feedback on Writing Style and Clarity
  • Feedback on Referencing and Research
  • Feedback on Presentation and Proofreading

Examination writing is an essential element of most degree programmes. The resources on this page provide advice and guidance to help to ensure examination success. 

Types of examinations

An examination is: 

  • an assessment of academic ability that contributes to the overall grades in a module within a degree.
  • a test of a student's abilities in controlled conditions.
  • a part of most degree programmes.
  • an experience that few enjoy!
  • a type of assessment that has many iterations and question types.

The information on this page will help you think through and make decisions about how you can succeed in university-level examinations.

Let's start by considering the different types of exams you may encounter: 

Types of Examinations [Google Slides]

Examination writing styles

There are many types of examination questions. They differ by subject area, where the exam is completed and according to what exactly is being examined. 

Each question type requires different techniques. You should always check the guidance issued within your module and department . The advice and guidance on this page is generic and does not replace that in your department. 

The main types of exam questions are explored in the resources below: 

Short answer questions [Google Slides]

Essays in examinations [Google Slides]

Using evidence in examinations

Using evidence in examinations is different to using it in reports, essays, dissertations and projects . This is because many exams are completed under controlled conditions there the student must rely on memory and so directly using evidence, with citations, is difficult. The amount and types of evidence required in exams varies considerably, and is obviously greater in an open book exam. 

The resources below offer generic advice and guidance on using evidence in exams. Please find the specific guidance within your modules. 

Using evidence in closed book examinations

In a closed book examination , the only information you have available is what you have learned and what you can remember. Therefore, there is a more limited expectation to cite specific sources of evidence. 

Many areas of knowledge, particularly the sciences expect you to remember a large number of facts and the relationship between the facts. For example, in a physics or engineering exam you might be expected to know what the second law of thermodynamics is; the emphasis is on what it is and how you use it, not citing a source you learned it from. 

See the resources below for ideas on how to prepare for using evidence in closed book examinations.

Google Slides Icon

Using evidence in open book examinations

In open book examinations you are allowed to take materials that may be notes, books, articles or other named materials into the examination room. Or, this could be an examination that is completed at a distance where you have all possible information available.

Due to you having the information available, there is often an expectation that you will cite your sources, much as you do in assignments and reports. The guidance for each exam will specify the type of referencing required and exactly which sources are permitted and not allowed.

Using pre-released materials

Using evidence in exams that have pre-released materials is arguably the most difficult type of evidence use in exams . It is expected that you will have engaged with the materials, and there is often guidance on what you should do with them in advance. This means that when you answer the questions in the exam itself, you are expected to use the evidence provided and whatever you have gathered independently to support your argument, justify your thinking, and link to key theories/ideas in the questions.

Each exam will have guidance on how you should refer to the materials, be it by formal referencing, or directing the reader to ideas and facts derived from the materials, or other sources. Read the guidance carefully.

See the resources below for ideas on how to prepare for using evidence in exams involving pre-released materials.

Using evidence in exams completed remotely

In almost all cases that you complete an exam remotely (24 hour examinations for example) there is no limit to the information you have access to. There may however be limits to the sources you are allowed to cite and use in the exam. You must check the guidance for each exam carefully.

Due to you having access to materials, there is often an expectation that you cite sources. The assessment is also often focussed on how you use information, not what you can remember. This means that in essays the quality of your argument is even more important than in closed book exams, whilst in short answer questions/problem questions, your ability to apply methods and concepts is what is being assessed.

See the resources below for ideas on how to prepare for using evidence in exams completed remotely.

Also see our dedicated Criticality page for more information on using evidence to construct arguments:

writing exam essay questions

What does the exam question want me to do?

A crucial part of success in examinations is to understand what the question is asking you to do. Within each question there are instructions and there may be ideas, theories, concepts and details. To succeed you have to unpack the exam question to determine what is and is not required. 

The resources below provide advice and guidance on how to unpack and explore different types of exam questions. As with all sections of this guide, please find the specific guidance within your module and/or programme. This is generic guidance. 

Instruction words in examinations

Instruction words in examination questions tell you the sort of answer you need to give. List or explain? Summarise or compare? Define or evaulate? Be descriptive or critical?

The resources below explore what each instruction word is asking you to do. You can practice your ability to follow the instructions by completing past papers, where available. 

writing exam essay questions

Decoding examination questions

It is important to spend time dissecting and decoding examination questions, particularly those that require an essay-style answer. You need to be clear what exactly is being asked of you and what you need to include if you are to achieve high marks. 

The resources below are designed to offer support and guidance that is generic, to establish basic approaches that can be applied in all subject areas. But, it is very important that you check the guidance and advice in your department and in each specific module, to ensure that you are fulfilling what is expected by the particular exam you are sitting. 

Assessing exam answers

A crucial element of success in all examinations is knowing how they are marked. There are a few simple things that you can do to familiarise yourself with the mark schemes and styles for your exams. 

  • Find past examinations in your subject area, ideally with mark schemes. They may be in your module VLE, the Library exam archive , or in some other departmental repository. If you cannot find them, speak to your academic supervisor, module tutor or programme leader. 
  • Attend all preparation lectures, workshops, seminars, labs, tutorial sessions and/or problem classes. Often hints and tips are given and you have the chance to learn what is required. 
  • Ask people in higher years what they know about the exam.  But, check that the exam has not changed for this year! A good source can be students that lead peer support classes, GTAs, or your assigned college and course buddies. 
  • Ask your module tutors how the exams are assessed.  Many will tell you anyway, but if not, do ask. The more you know about the marking, the better able you will be to provide what the examiner is looking for. 
  • Ask for feedback when you have completed an exam or mock exam . It may be available and it can be really useful to see exactly where you gained marks and where you went wrong. 
  • Talk through past papers with your fellow students. This can cause you to look more closely and ask more questions about what is required that you can then ask your tutors, or check support materials to find answers. 
  • Don't assume that an new exam is the same as one you have already done. There may be similarities, but it is safer to assume each is unique and that you have to learn what is required. 

Concise writing

All examinations have a time limit. As a result, it is essential that you write concisely. This means writing using the minimum number of words required to convey the meaning required, at the level of detail that will gain maximum marks. This is a skill that requires practice. The resources below are designed to help you develop your ability to be concise. 

writing exam essay questions

Other support for exam writing

The university has lots of guidance available in relation to examinations. The links below point to some web pages. Please also check your departmental handbooks, VLE sites and other information sources for information specific to your degree and modules. 

writing exam essay questions

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writing exam essay questions

50 Recent IELTS Essay Questions

Hey! It is so important that when you sit down to practice IELTS writing, you only use questions that are “genuine”. This means using either questions that come from the IELTS Cambridge 1 – 15   series or those that have been created by an exam writer like those in my 100 IELTS essay question blog post.  However, many students like to practice recent IELTS essay questions i.e. topics that have been reported by recent test-takers.

I understand why students want to do this – knowing what the recent IELTS essays questions are and checking that you can answer them is reassuring. However, unfortunately, test-takers rarely (if ever) manage to accurately remember the wording of the question that they had in their test.

Can they remember the general topic? Sure.

Can they remember the exact wording? Definitely not!

Sadly, changing even one word in a test can change the focus of a question and, therefore, make it impossible to answer! So, every month, I collect 50 recent IELTS essay questions from students in  My IELTS Classroom  , and edit them so that they are as close to perfect as possible.

Plus, I divide the questions into Academic and General Training (so you can be sure you are tackling the right type of questions) and have highlighted the main topic of each question for you.

This page is updated monthly and is now showing questions from 2021. If you want to see exam questions that reportedly appeared earlier in 2021, then you can look at our 2021 archive .

writing exam essay questions

As always, these questions are provided so that you can check that you have ideas for the nw topics. If you are preparing with a teacher or want high-quality feedback on your  writing  then you should always use a question from the original IELTS Cambridge Series .

Academic IELTS Essay Questions (February 2021 – September 2021)

1. Some people think that criminal behaviour has genetic causes . Others believe that it is circumstances that lead people to commit a crime. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

2. Some people think that new houses should be built in the same style as older houses in an area. Others believe that local councils should allow people to choose different designs for their houses. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

3. Some people say that the best way to teach children to behave well is to punish them. Others argue that rewarding and praising children is a better way to teach them the difference between right and wrong. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

4.  Some people believe that women should be able to join their country’s army and police forces . Others think that only men should be allowed to work in these areas. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

5.  In some countries, there are not enough medical or educational facilities in rural areas. Therefore, some people believe newly graduated teachers and doctors should be sent to work in rural areas for some time. Others think that people should be free to choose where they work after graduation. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

6. A lot of research has shown that overeating can have a number of negative effects on the body. Some people therefore believe that the advertising of certain foods should be banned in the same way that some countries have banned advertising cigarettes. Do you agree or disagree?

7 Some people think that parents should teach their children about the importance of recycling . Others believe recycling should be taught in schools. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

8. The media has the right to publish information about the personal life of celebrities . To what extent do you agree or disagree?

9. Some people say that instead of preventing climate change, we need to find a way to live with it. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this view?

10. Young people today mostly learn by reading books or watching movies and TV shows , rather than personal experience. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

11. Big companies should provide sports and social facilities for the local communities where they operate. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

12. Some people argue that thanks to the widespread accessibility of the internet, libraries are no longer necessary. Do you agree or disagree?

13. If asked to choose between a life without work and a life that involves working most of the time, people will always choose not to work. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

14. Eighteen is the appropriate age for children to finish school. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

15. Schools should stop using books to teach and use films, TV and computers in the classroom instead. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Writing a good IELTS essay doesn’t have to be difficult. Follow our step-by-step guide to every type of essay to find out what the examiner expects and exactly what you can do to satisfy the band descriptors in our Task Two course. The first three lessons are free!

16. Nowadays foreign visitors show more interest in the museums of a country than its local residents do. Why is this? What can be done to attract more local residents to visit museums in their country?

17 Many companies sponsor sports teams and events to advertise their products or service . What advantages and disadvantages does this bring for the teams and individuals that these companies sponsor?

18. Most information today is available online whereas in the past it was stored in books or on paper. Do you think the advantages of this development outweigh the disadvantages?

19. The difference between countries is becoming less and less evident as people all over the world wear the same fashions, watch the same TV channels, use the same brands, and have similar eating habits. Do you think that the advantages of this trend outweigh the disadvantages?

20. Nowadays many people get the news online instead of reading it in newspapers or watching it on TV. Is this a positive or negative development?

21. In many countries today the proportion of older people in the population is higher than the proportion of younger people . Do you think this is a positive or a negative development?

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writing exam essay questions

22. More and more tasks in the home and at work are being performed by robots . Why do you think this is the case? Is this a negative or positive development?

23. Nowadays tourists and scientists are allowed to travel to remote natural environments . Do you think the advantages of this development outweigh the disadvantages?

24. Due to population growth many people these days live in apartments with limited space and no outdoor areas. Do the advantages of this trend outweigh its disadvantages?

25. Every country in the world has its own road rules , but many drivers don’t obey them. What do you think are the reasons for this? What can be done to solve this problem?

BONUS In many countries, shopping is now one of the most popular types of leisure activity . Why do you so many young people like shopping? Is this a positive or a negative development?

What are the current Aacdemic writing trends?

My observation of the most recent IELTS essay questions from 2021 is that there have been A LOT of Discuss Both Sides and To What Extent questions. In fact, this is more or less all that I have seen in the first month of the new year, so be sure that you are ready to answer these.

writing exam essay questions

GT IELTS Essay Questions (February 2021 – September 2021

1. Some people believe that individuals who earn a lot of money are the most successful in life . Others say that the individuals who contribute to the society (such as scientists or teachers) are more successful. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

2. It is universally accepted that eating too much  sugar has a negative effects on people’s health . Therefore, some believe that the government should control the amount of sugar people consume. Others think that it is the responsibility of an individual to monitor their sugar intake. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

3. Some people say that the development of technology means that people no longer need to learn the skill of handwriting . Others believe that it is still necessary for people to learn how to write by hand. Discuss both these views and give your opinion.

4. Some people believe that individuals over 65 should not be allowed to continue working . Others think that people should be allowed to work for as long as they choose. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

5. Some people think that it is a good idea for parents to help their children with their homework. Others believe that children should do their homework on their own. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

6. Some people think that the government should spend money on cultural activities such as music or art. Others think this is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

7. Some people think that children should be taught how to become good parents at school . Do you agree or disagree?

8. Many mothers stay at home to take care of their family and don’t go out to work . Some people believe these mothers should be paid by the government. Do you agree or disagree?

9. In many countries, it is common for people to consume fast food. However, some people believe that fast food has too much influence on our lifestyle and diet. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

10. Some people say that playing sports helps to prepare children for their future jobs . Do you agree or disagree?

11. Some people say that the Olympic Games no longer play a role in the 21st century . Do you agree or disagree?

writing exam essay questions

12.   People’s behaviour (for example, their table manners and they way they dress) varies from country to country. When traveling to a different country, people should copy the behaviour and habits of the inhabitants of the country they  visit. Do you agree or disagree?

13.  The best way to increase road safety is to make car drivers retake their driving test every year. Do you agree or disagree?

14.  Some people believe that family is more important than friends . What do you think?

15.  The Internet is the best place to find information . Do you agree or disagree?

16.  In many countries traditional customs are being lost.  Why do you think this is? What can parents and schools do to keep traditional customs alive? 

17.  People who are learning a foreign language can face a number of difficulties. What are some of these problems? In your opinion, what are the best ways to overcome these difficulties?

18. Young people today are often less polite and show less respect than previous generations . Why do you think this is? What can be done to solve this problem? 

19. Developments in technology mean that more and more machines are being used in the workplace instead of human employees. Does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages?

20. In some countries, young people choose to move from their parents’ home to their own house at an early age. In other countries, young people stay with parents for a longer time. Do you think young people who leave their parent’s home at a younger age have more advantages or disadvantages than those who stay?

21. In many parts of the world, more and more large supermarkets are opening and smaller local shops are closing down. Does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages for local people?

22. In some countries it is illegal to stop people applying for a job because of their age . Is this a positive or a negative development?

 23.  In many countries, people are earning more money today than in the past, so they are able to buy more things. Is this a positive or a negative development?

24. Nowadays, people prefer to shop at large shopping centres rather than in local shops or markets. Why is this? Is this a positive or negative development?

25. Nowadays in many countries traditional customs are becoming less popular than in the past . Do you agree or disagree? What can parents and teachers do about this?

BONUS –  Playing team sports at school can teach students a number of lessons that are useful outside of sport. What values can students learn from playing team sports? How can they apply these values in the future? 

What are the current GT writing trends?

So far this year, I have noticed two main trends for the recent IELTS essay questions for General Training students. First, there continue to be more 2-part questions than in the Academic test, and the topics seem to be more and more diverse.

Also, the test writers seem to making small changes to the wording of questions, which don’t actually change what you are expected to do, but may confuse some students. For example, in the past, you were always asked “Is this a positive or negative trend?” but recently the same question has been phrased as:

  • Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
  • Do you think this is right or wrong?
  • Do you think this this a good or bad use of public money?

If you enter the exam room and feel confused by the question, my advice is always to simply answer the question that you have been given.

Yes, there are question types that repeat, but if you are given a direct essay question or a type of question that is unfamiliar, simply focusing on answering the question/s you have been given clearly is always the best approach!

Looking for an IELTS school run by native speakers who have a proven track record of helping students achieve their potential in IELTS? Then come join the students at  My IELTS Classroom  who are using our unique video courses, live lessons and marking service to maximise their scores. 

OK – those are the 50 most recent IELTS essay questions. I will try to do this every month so that you can be sure you have ideas for every possible IELTS question in your exam. Well, maybe not to every question, but at least by practicing with these, you will have sharpened your idea-generation skills . Plus, you can help me by adding any questions that you can remember from a recent IELTS exam in the comments below 🚀

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writing exam essay questions

20 Essay Writing Topics/Questions | C1 Advanced (CAE)

writing exam essay questions

How to write an C1 Advanced (CAE) essay?


More than practice tests, c1 advanced (cae) essay: example topics / questions.

Below is a sample list of academic essay writing topics/tasks for C1-level (advanced) students. You can use them to practice writing English essays or to simplyy prepare for the Cambridge exam

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 1 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has attended a panel discussion on the subject of TV shows that feature members of the public, such as reality TV shows and talent competitions. You have made the notes below.

Aspects of reality and talent TV shows

  • entertainment for viewers
  • influence on young people
  • effect on participants

Some opinions expressed in the discussion:

‘These programmes are just harmless entertainment and there is nothing wrong with them.’ ‘The influence these programmes can have on young people can be very bad indeed.’ ‘People who take part in these programmes can be damaged by the experience.’

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the aspects in your notes. You should explain which aspect you think is the most important regarding these TV shows and provide reason s to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 2 | Advanced (CAE)

You have watched a documentary about what causes young people to start committing crimes. You have made the notes below.

Reasons why young people commit crimes

  • lack of control by parents
  • absence of opportunities in life
  • influence of friends

Some opinions expressed in the documentary:

‘Without firm discipline from parents, some children are likely to get into trouble.” ‘It’s not surprising that young people who feel they have no chance of a good life turn to crime.” ‘The bad influence of people they mix with can cause some young people to take up crime.’

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the reasons in your notes. You should explain which cause you think is the most important for young people committing crimes and provide reasons to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 3 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has attended a panel discussion on what are the greatest advantages of digital and computer technology for people in their everyday lives. You have made the notes below.

Advantages of digital and computer technology in everyday life

  • communication
  • access to information
  • shopping and services

‘Being able to contact anyone at any time in any place is obviously the greatest advantage.’

‘The fact that people can instantly look up something and find out about it, or learn something new, is the greatest advantage.’

‘You don’t need to go out or spend a long time buying or paying for things and that’s the greatest advantage.’

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the advantages in your notes. You should explain which advantage you think is the greatest for people in their everyday lives and provide reasons to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 4 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has been discussing whether school/college leavers should be forced to do unpaid work if no paid jobs are available. You have made the notes below:

Arguments for and against forcing young people into jobs that are not paid:

  • it gives young people the chance to gain valuable work experience.
  • it would benefit society if more young people worked for the local community.
  • companies would be exploiting young people as a cheap source of labour.

Some opinions expressed during the discussion:

“If the job needs doing the company should be prepared to pay for someone’s labour.” “Such a scheme would build confidence in young people who would otherwise be idle” “It would force young people into dead-end jobs”

Write an  essay  discussing two of the arguments made for and/or against making young people do unpaid work. You should explain which argument is more important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 5 | Advanced (CAE)

You class has watched a documentary about the need for nations to fund space exploration. You have made the notes below:

Advantages of spending public money on space exploration:

  • countries work together to further our understanding of the universe
  • we may discover raw materials.
  • possible new living space for the world’s growing population.

“It’s human nature to want to understand where we come from.” “We should stop exploiting natural resources.” “The world’s growing population needs further space to live.”

Write an  essay  discussing two of the advantages given for space exploration in your notes You should  explain which reason is most important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

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C1 - essay topic / question 6 | advanced (cae).

Your class has had a discussion about the importance of the Internet in our lives. You have made the notes below:

Reasons why the Internet has become so important:

  • the opportunity it offers to buy and sell online.
  • the ease with which we can keep in contact with friends or relations.
  • its use as a study tool.

“Social media allows me to stay in contact with family members all over the country.” “You can shop around, read reviews and get good bargains on the web.” “The Internet offers me an enormous library to help with my studies.”

Write an essay discussing two of the reasons given for the importance of the Internet. You should explain which reason is most important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 7 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has had a discussion about the negative effects of globalisation on local culture. You have made the notes below:

Effects of globalisation:

  • the dominance of the western music/film industry.
  • the loss of national identity.
  • the undermining of values of local culture.

“We don’t want to see the same culture wherever we travel.” “People are free to enjoy whichever music, films or fashion they wish.” “Young people are losing the sense of values their parents had.”

Write an essay discussing two of the effects listed in your notes. You should explain which effect is more important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 8 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has watched a documentary about the decline in the number of local buildings with historic interest. You have made the notes below: Factors behind the decline include:

  • a lack of space within inner cities for commercial and residential developments.
  • the fact that these buildings are not seen as worthy of preservation by town planners.
  • insufficient public funds to support the preservation of these buildings.

“We need to preserve old buildings for future generations.” “Buildings with a local historical interest can be good for tourism.” “Some of these buildings no longer serve a purpose and should be replaced with modern alternatives.”

Write an essay discussing two of the reasons given for the decline in such buildings in your notes. You should explain which factor is more important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 9 | Advanced (CAE)

You attended a debate at a local community centre at which a proposal to launch a new local TV station was discussed. You have made the notes below:

What would be the benefits of a new local TV station?

  • community events
  • local businesses

Some opinions expressed during the debate:

“TV is dying. Everyone uses the internet.” “Will younger people engage with local television?” “TV service can’t just become a vehicle for wall-to-wall advertising!”

Write an essay , discussing two of the benefits in your notes. You should explain which benefit you think would be most important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 10 | Advanced (CAE)

You attended a college debate that discussed ways of encouraging more people to be more environmentally friendly in their energy use and production. You have made the notes below:

How can individuals protect the environment through their home energy policy?

  • Subsidised solar panels
  • Free insulation
  • Replacement heating system

“Governments should be doing this, not individuals!” “Heating old, cold buildings helps nobody.” “Solar panels take decades to pay for themselves!”

Write an essay , discussing two of the ideas in your notes. You should explain which idea would help protect the environment most, giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 11 | Advanced (CAE)

You attended a lecture at a local business centre where the advantages of working from home were discussed. You have made the notes below:

How can working from home be beneficial?

  • Effects on traffic
  • Less office space required
  • Happier employees

Some opinions expressed during the lecture:

“People working alone at home go crazy!” “Face-to-face meetings are crucial.” “Will everybody have this privilege?”

Write an essay , discussing two of the benefits in your notes. You should explain which benefit would be most important , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 12 | Advanced (CAE)

You attended a debate at the town hall which discussed how new government money for the town should be spent. You have made the notes below:

How should the new government money be spent locally?

  • Reduce local taxes by 1%
  • More sports facilities
  • New books and teachers for schools

“We pay too much tax, a tax cut helps everyone!” “Having a healthier local population is more important than money.” “I don’t play sports, what’s in this for me?”

Write an essay , discussing two of the proposals in your notes. You should explain which proposal would help the town most , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 13 | Advanced (CAE)

You attended a meeting at a local school where possible new additions to the curriculum were discussed. You have made the notes below:

What subjects can we add to our school curriculum?

  • computer programming
  • home decoration and repair

Some opinions expressed during the meeting:

“We need to consider those who won’t go to university.” “Learn Latin and you’re halfway to learning any other language.” “We need to prepare our children for the modern world they live in!”

Write an essay , discussing two of the subjects in your notes. You should explain which subject would help students most , giving reasons in support of your answer.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 14 | Advanced (CAE)

You have listened to a radio discussion programme about what can be done to increase participation in sports by people of all ages. You have made the notes below.

Ways of increasing participation in sports

  • advertising
  •  famous sportspeople

“Campaigns involving famous sportspeople are very effective because they are role models for young people.” “If people know what is available to them, more of them might take facilities” “What people need to get started in sports is enough free or cheap up sports.”

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the ways in your notes. You should explain which way you think is likely to be the most effective for increasing participation in sports and provide reasons to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 15 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has attended a lecture on what governments could do to minimise the use of fossil fuels, You have made the notes below.

Methods of minimising the use of fossil fuels

  • increasing taxes on petrol
  • increasing use of nuclear energy

“Is the technology for recycling adequately developed?” “Increased taxation will not be a sufficient deterrent.’ “Nuclear energy is too risky.”

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the methods in your notes. You should explain which method you think is more important for governments to consider, and provide reasons to support your opinion.

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Get Your (FCE) Essay Checked!

C1 - essay topic / question 16 | advanced (cae).

You recently heard a discussion about the benefits of school uniforms. These are the notes you took.

Pros and Cons:

  • Shared identity.
  • Expensive for parents.
  • Discrimination

Notes on Opinions expressed:

  • Could give students a positive identity boost.
  • Some parents may not be able to afford them.
  • Students with cheaper uniforms could face discrimination

Write an  essay  discussing  two  of the ideas in an appropriate style. You should  explain   which  idea you think is  more   important , giving reasons to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 17 | Advanced (CAE)

You recently heard a discussion about the behavioural problems of some children. These are the notes you took.

  • Stricter teachers.
  • Parental responsibility.
  • Government action.
  • Teaching is difficult if too strict.
  • Parents should exercise control.
  • Government should introduce Laws to make parents liable for their children.

Write an  essay  discussing  two  of the ideas in an appropriate style, using 220 – 260 words. You should  explain   which  idea you think is  more   important , giving reasons to support your opinion.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 18 | Advanced (CAE)

You recently heard a discussion about the low level of reading skills in schools. These are the notes you took.

  • Extra reading work at school.
  • Reading time with parents.
  • Special teachers.
  • No extra time available at school.
  • Parents have very busy lives.
  • Difficult to organise.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 19 | Advanced (CAE)

Your class has attended a panel discussion about the ‘race to space’ and who should be funding it. You have made the notes below:

Who should be funding the race to space?

  • private companies
  • the government
  • we should not spend money on this
  • In the future, we will need a new planet to live on
  • The race to space is important for scientific development
  • It’s a waste of money to explore space.

C1 - Essay Topic / Question 20 | Advanced (CAE)

You recently heard a discussion about bullying at school. These are the notes you took.


Notes on opinions expressed:

  • Teachers should control their environment.
  • Students should be taught about the dangers
  • The police should offer protection.

Practice, Write & Improve

C1 advanced (cae) essay: download (pdf).

Download C1 Advanced (CAE) Essay: Questions (PDF)

Practice Tests Online

Would you pass c1 advanced (cae).

The Writing Guide

  • The First Thing
  • Step 1: Understanding the essay question
  • Step 2: Critical note-taking
  • Step 3: Planning your assignment
  • Step 4a: Effective writing
  • Step 4b: Summarizing & paraphrasing
  • Step 4c: Academic language
  • Step 5: Editing and reviewing
  • Getting started with research
  • Working with keywords
  • Evaluating sources
  • Research file
  • Reading Smarter
  • Sample Essay
  • What, why, where, when, who?
  • Referencing styles
  • Writing Resources

Exams and Essay Questions

Exam points, essay questions under exam conditions, revision for exams, finding past exams, exam study tips, exam preparation books, exams and essay questions           .

Before the exam :

  • Write a " cheat sheet " - if you were going to cheat on this exam and "sneak in" a single page of notes, what would be on that page?
  • You'll want to fit as much information as you can on the smallest sheet of paper possible, so try to reduce your notes to memory joggers.
  • Then burn that sheet of paper, and write another one.
  • Then burn that one, too, and write one more.
  • By the time you've prepared to cheat on your exam three times, you probably won't need to.
  • Talk about your notes and the major topics from over the course of the semester. 
  • Talk about them to your classmates, but also talk to people who don't know anything about the subject - introduce them to the concepts and ideas.
  • Write a reflective piece complaining about the ideas you struggle with - a blog post or a diary entry, or a letter to a friend.
  • Find resources that talk about different types of exam questions and what strategies can be used for each.
  • Look at Past Exams and make sure you can find something in your notes to help you answer every question.  If there's a question you can't answer, you'll know where to focus your revision/study/research.

During the exam:

  • Breathe .  It's not life or death, and the worst thing that can happen is you'll get it wrong.  If you start catastrophising the exam questions just ask yourself: "If I can't answer this question correctly, will someone blow up a bus full of nuns and puppies in a prep-school playground?"  If the answer is "No", then just answer the question to the best of your ability and hope for the best.
  • An exam exists to see how well you can pull on what you have learnt to work without notes. 
  • Use the questions as an excuse to show off your knowledge and your ability to make connections between ideas.
  • Use the strategies you've read about - answer the exam questions on purpose.

After the exam:

  • Celebrate.  Even if you have another exam to sit that day, take a moment to mark the passing of a milestone.
  • File your notes - don't destroy them or throw them away.  You may want to use them in the next subject.  (If you haven't used them after a few years, feel free to burn them).
  • Write one last reflective piece touching on three points:
  • What did you hope to learn in that subject (and did you learn it?)
  • What new and exciting things did you discover as a result of doing the course?
  • What connects with things you've learnt in other subjects?

writing exam essay questions

It's all about thinking on your feet, and this is where a solid understanding of the essay structure can really help.

Start with:

  • A plan.  Show them what your essay will look like, and you may still get marks for it even if you don't finish.
  • your thesis (your answer to the question in one sentence)
  • The three points you will argue to prove your theses (these will be your paragraphs)
  • The break down of your three paragraphs - what three things will you say about each point?
  • What will you "conclude" in your conclusion? ("Thus it can be seen that A and  B are directly responsible for the demise of C ...")

First priority:

  • After you've written your plan, you should be able to write a paragraph that can adequately summarise your whole argument.  A good introduction will be your essay in miniature, and can be the most important part of an exam essay.
  • An introductory sentence to set the context for the essay
  • A summary of the points you will discuss in the body
  • A thesis statement (your answer to the question in one sentence).
  • You should have three things to say about each major point, which will form the sentences in your paragraphs.
  • Try to aim for one paragraph per major point, but also remember that a paragraph should deal with a single concept.  If your major point logically leads to more than one concept, write more than one paragraph.
  • Make sure you follow the proper paragraph structer of Topic Sentence (introduce the idea) -- Body (consisting of your argument) -- Clincher Sentence (why is this information relevant to your answer?).
  • Paragraphs should follow on from each other in a logical order.
  • Your plan, introduction and first few paragraphs will show that you can right in the essay style
  • It is more important to show what you know and how you can think of coherent, logical arguments than to write perfect paragraphs and conclusions.
  • BUT - don't forget the conclusion. Plan for it, and make sure you have at least one final sentence that shows how your argument proves your thesis.  Make sure you only summarise arguments you've already made - don't add new information in a conclusion

To prepare:

  • If you can mention actual theories and the names attached to them, it can help you.
  • In your exam prep, make sure you remember three major ideas and the people who thought of them.  You will probably be able to use at lease one in your essay.
  • Practise saying things like:  "According to Smith and Wesson the meaning of life is..."
  • Have a look at Past Exam papers and practise answering the essay questions. 
  • If there aren't any Past Exam papers for your subject, look at some of the study questions raised in the lectures or readings and use them instead.
  • Essay exams

writing exam essay questions

Five minute revision guide

  • Revise the day after learning something
  • Revise it again a week later
  • One month after that second revision, revise it for a third time
  • Do a forth and final revision at the end of the term to ensure the knowledge is permanently embedded in your mind.

Each revision takes about 5 minutes.

Active methods of Revision

  • Summarising material on index cards means saying it all over again with less words.
  • Annotating your texts with notes and summaries helps you digest their meaning
  • Mind Mapping: a visual and creative way of remembering
  • Repeating out aloud, simply explaining it to others (family members, study groups) it will help you gain a better understanding of the material
  • Working through past exam papers.  See if yours are available on our Past Exams page (please note, exams will only be available if the lecturer for the subject has released them to the library).

"I like work: I think it's fascinating.  I can sit and stare at it for hours ." Jerome K. Jerome

  • Organise your time .  This means setting time limits.  For instance, set a finish time rather than a whole evening with no start or finish time.
  • Time-tabling is essential .  Work out a comprehensive list of what you have to do and what time you have to do it.
  • Organise your work .  You can save a lot of time by being systematic about where you keep your papers. Pick a drawer or a tray, don't spread them around so that you waste time having to look for them.
  • Keep TO DO lists , keep them in the same place and add items as soon as you think of them. Make sure you prioritise.

Aim to work well, NOT hard

  • I will work well , rather than work hard
  • I will learn what's worth learning , rather than learn every detail
  • I will set myself deadlines , rather than sit at my desk until the work's all done
  • I will take regular breaks , rather than not have free time unless I've earned it.

Adapted from Eileen Tracy, Student's Guide To Exam Success (McGraw Hill Education).

  • The information above is from The Student's Guide to Exam Success

writing exam essay questions

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Acknowledgement of Country


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