Created: October, 2000 (J. Crimando).
Answering Essay Questions in Science Classes
Writing well takes practice. Answering essay questions requires more than just simply knowing the answer to the question. Good writing in science requires that you are mentally organized, have a firm understanding of the material and of course, solid English grammar skills.
One of the keys to good writing is exposing yourself to plenty of good reading. The more you read from a variety of quality sources (good books, journals & periodicals) the more you'll begin to reflect the style and quality of good writing in your own works.
In my BIO201/202 classes, I assign short takehome essay questions as part of their regular exams (a week ahead of time) so students can have plenty of time to organize their thoughts, plan their answers and proofread their work. I consider these short essays to be a showcase opportunity for students, a chance for students to show the very best work they can. It's a chance for students to shine as brilliantly as possible through their work without all of the hurried stress associated with doing in-class tests and assignments.
These are some keys to answering essays that I think will help many students show their best work:
1. READ THE QUESTION.
Read it again carefully.
Pay attention to these directives:
2. PLAN YOUR ANSWER.
Decide on the appropriate format for your answer based on the directives in the question.
* Short statements of fact
* Detailed description
* Discussion of concepts, applications or viewpoints
* Similarities & differences
3. DON'T HURRY YOUR ANSWER.
Take your time.
Consider what information is presented and what information you need.
Plan your answer.
4. ANSWER THE QUESTION POSED.
This requires that you understand the question first.
If you don't carefully read the question, you may end up wasting time answering a question that was not even asked and never get around to actually answering the question posed. Think before you answer.
5. BE CLEAR & ACCURATE.
Make sure your answer is...
6. DON’T RAMBLE.
Include only information relevant to the question.
Don't regurgitate EVERYTHING about the subject. Be discerning. Be concise.
7. DON'T WRITE FICTION OR POETRY.
Do not write a “story”. This is not creative writing. Be factual and to the point.
8. NO OPINIONS OR FEELINGS.
Unless you're explicitly asked to state your opinion in the question, don’t write about how you “feel”.
Don’t write ANYTHING about YOU. This is not an occasion for introspection.
The instructor is evaluating your understanding of the material not your feelings.
9. RE-READ THE QUESTION.
When you've "finished" writing, re-read the question.
Check off specific directives in the question and be sure that you've thoroughly addressed them in your answer.
Be sure that you’ve actually answered all points in the question.
10. PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD.
Proofread for spelling and grammar. Don’t rely on the word processor spellchecker alone.
DO NOT turn in your first draft!
Proofread again a day later - starting with the original question. Get a fresh look at your work.
The next day you’ll often find “train of thought” errors that you miss while you’re still deep in your writing mode.