Sunday, July 17, 2005

How to Answer an Essay Question

How to Answer an Essay Question

Essay questions require special care. Before you try to write a good answer for one, you must be careful to decide exactly what information the question is looking for.
Does the question need:

1. An explanation of something?
2. Your opinion about something?
3. A definition of something?
4. An analysis of something perhaps asking why something happened or how it happened?
5. A restatement of facts or information you should know?
6. Something else?

Once you have decided what the question is asking, you need to decide how to frame your answer.
1. What do the directions say?
2. Should you write a one sentence answer, a paragraph answer, or a short essay of several paragraphs?
3. Does the question have more than one part? You need to answer all parts of a question.
4. For example, here is an essay question:

In the story, John solved a mystery. How did he solve the mystery and why did he solve the mystery?

There are two parts to this question.

One part asks “How?” and the other part asks “Why?” If your answer just explains how John solved the mystery but does not tell why he solved it, you have only completed half of the question. (On the HSPA, an open ended question half answered earns no points at all.)


Look at the following essay questions.
In a short sentence tell whether the essay answer should be an explanation, an opinion, a definition, an analysis, or a restatement of facts you should know.

1. What are five details about George Washington’s life that make him a famous American?
2. What is a right triangle?
3. What happens when water and oil are mixed together?
4. Why do you think Hamlet took so long to get revenge?
5. Why did the Confederate States finally decided to secede from the Union?

The Opening Sentence

The easiest way to start your essay answer is to make a statement clearly telling exactly what question you are answering.

This is especially true if your essay answer is a short answer of just a sentence or two. The reader of your answer should be able to figure out what the question was by reading your answer. This is a good skill to practice.

For example:
Question :
Why did the water in the lake look turquoise?
The lake water looked turquoise because the stirred up sediment reflected and refracted the rays of light from the sky.

Write one sentence answers for each of these questions making sure your answer clearly shows the question.

1. What is your favorite food?
2. What is one place you might use math in real life?
3. How many stripes are on the United States flag?
4. What is the chemical formula for water?
5. What ocean lies on the East Coast of the United States?

To see how well you can answer a basic essay question partner up with a classmate for this exercise.


1. Write 5 essay questions of your own.
2. In a separate file, write an answer for each question you have written.
3. Give the file to your classmate.
4. Have your classmate check your answers by writing the question being answered.


Go on with the exercises below to learn more about paragraphs and essay answers.