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COMMUNICATION IN THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Department of Biology

ANSWERING ESSAY AND SHORT ANSWER EXAM QUESTIONS


GOOD STRATEGIES TO ALWAYS EMPLOY MISTAKES TO ALWAYS AVOID INTERPRETING KEYWORDS LONG ESSAYS SHORT ESSAYS GOOD STRATEGIES TO ALWAYS EMPLOY 1. Understand the question Example 1 -- A long question with a short answer Example 2 -- When highlighting does not work. A short question with a long answer. 2. Plan out your answer before you start writing Example 1 -- A long question with a short

Read the question carefully. Be sure to distinguish between the relevant information and the extraneous information. Underline or highlight the key points in the question. This is particularly important for essay questions that ask you to address several points.

This may seem like a waste of your time. However, it is a greater waste of time to write unnecessary information or to erase and rewrite. Jotting down a quick outline will remind you of

answer. Example 2 -- A short question with a long answer. 3. Convey your thoughts in an organized manner Example 1 -- A long question with a short answer. Example 2 -- A short question with a long answer. 4. Use relevant technical terminology to answer the question Example 1 Example 2

the key points that you want to make. Making a quick diagram can also help you focus your thoughts.

The key points to your answer should be clearly stated and be the focus of your answer. The key points should be obvious to the reader and not buried amongst peripheral material. Do not include extra information if it does not directly support your answer.

Correctly use the relevant biology and science terms that you learn from your courses. Technical terms are highly specific and reduce the total number of words that you will need to write. Using technical terms to communicate will be essential in your professional life.

5. Cause and effect relationships should be made obvious Example 6. Making a drawing can often assist you in your answer Example 1 Example 2 7. Support your answer with evidence and/or

Do not expect the instructor to make these connections for you.

However, your written answer must explain what is in the drawing.

A hallmark of a good scientist is that they support statements with evidence.

examples from class lectures and reading Example

Some instructors and styles of tests require thorough descriptions of examples that were discussed in detail in the course. Check with your instructor to see if thorough examples are required on essay questions.

MISTAKES THAT YOU SHOULD ALWAYS AVOID 1. Do not write too much Example

Do not try to write everything that you have ever heard related to the question. Answer the question directly, without excess information.

2. Do not write a good answer to the wrong question Example 3. Do not expect the instructor to figure out what you mean Example 1 Example 2 Example 3

In other words, make sure that you answer the question that is asked and not something else on the related topic.

Do not just make a drawing and expect the instructor to figure out what you were thinking from this. (Unless the question only asks you to make a drawing.) Do not expect the instructor to find the relevant information in a sea of irrelevant information. Do not expect the instructor to read between the lines and make connections that you should be making.

INTERPRETING KEYWORDS IN ESSAY QUESTIONS "Compare and Contrast"

The question will always involve two or more

related items. Example

"Compare" means that you should explain the similarities between the two items. Ordinarily, instructors do not want you to simply list the similar characteristics, but explain the characteristics and/or how they are similar. "Contrast" means that you should explain the differences between the two items. Typically, a comparison of the similarities and differences between the two items highlights some major concepts in the topic at hand. Be sure to try to address these in your answer. This type of question usually involves the use of specific examples from class.

"Describe" or "Discuss" or "Explain" "Define"

These words alert you that the instructor wants a fair amount of explanation. Do not simply list terms or concepts. Write out sentences and complete thoughts.

Provide a definition similar to that you would find in the glossary to your textbook. A thorough explanation is usually not required.

"List"

Here, a simple list of concepts or terms should be sufficient. Anything more and you might be treading in the too much information category.

"Interpret"

Put the data or figure into words. In other words, write an explanation of the meaning of the data or figure.

"Diagram" or "Draw" or "Illustrate"

Make a drawing. Keep it simple. Labels should be used whenever possible.

ADVICE SPECIFIC TO LONG ESSAY QUESTIONS Write logically organized paragraphs.

Because you will probably be given more time for these types of questions, your instructor will probably expect higher quality in your writing. Start with a relevant topic sentence. Either state the key point that you will support in the rest of the paragraph or state the part of the question that you will address in that paragraph. In general, instructors will usually be lenient with minor problems in sentence structure or punctuation on a timed exam. However, the organization of your ideas is paramount for earning a good grade.

Use complete sentences with a subject and verb. ADVICE SPECIFIC TO SHORT ESSAY QUESTIONS Organize your ideas in a logical manner, but do not worry so much about proper sentence and paragraph construction.

You will have less time and space for this type of answer. The most important thing is to convey the answer clearly. Sometimes logically organized lists of sentence fragments can achieve this goal as well as well-constructed paragraphs.

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