How to Understand the Essay Question

How to Understand the Essay Question

“But I wrote a nice essay and it didn’t work. I got a low grade not because it wasn’t good, but because my professor didn’t like it.”

This is a misunderstanding that most students are guilty of. They believe that professors grade essays based on their personal preference. That’s not the case. If you expose believable arguments and you support them with facts while staying on topic, you’ll get a good grade. There’s no question about it.

But sometimes it’s hard for students to stay on topic. They make digressions. Do you know why? – They didn’t understand the essay question in the first place.

It’s time to change that.

Tips: How to Understand the Essay Question

  1. Understand the Verb

Your professor sets an essay question based on a verb. These are the usual verbs they use:

  • Analyze – When you’re asked to analyze a particular topic, it means that you should tackle its features, elements, or parts that make it a whole. If, for example, you’re asked to analyze a particular poem, you will observe the composition, stylistic elements, theme, and every other element.
  • Discuss – The professor expects you to construct a solid argument and support it with facts. You’ll need to evaluate different claims, point out to opinions opposite of yours, and use various sources to prove your stand.
  • Compare and contrast – In this case, the essay question involves two or more topics that you’ll need to compare and contrast. When you compare, you’ll find and discuss the similarities between them. When you contrast, you’ll expose the differences.
  • Express – This type of essay doesn’t usually require extensive research, although you might need to use few sources to support your opinions. The focus is on your own reasoning.
  1. Focus!

When you get an essay question, you need to pay attention to every single word in it. Make sure you understand what the professor wants you to do with this question. At this point, it might be necessary for you to do some brainstorming, while the impressions of the question are still fresh. You can note down your ideas and choose the most relevant ones.

  1. Outline the Essay

Even if you understand the essay question, it’s easy to start make digressions as soon as you start writing. You’ll get an idea, and then another idea will come up, and then you’ll continue writing as you follow your inspiration. By the time you’re done with the essay, you’ll realize that you didn’t completely answer the question.

An outline prevents straying off. It keeps you within the limits of the answer you’re supposed to deliver.

Remember: before you start writing the essay, it’s important to understand what the question calls for!

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