Tools for TAs and Instructors
Back to Helpful HandoutsoWriting Center Home PageBefore the Exam: Prepare and Practice
Writing a good essay requires synthesis of material that cannot be done in the 20-30 minutes you have during the exam. In the days before the exam, you should:
- Anticipate test questions. Look at the question from the last exam. Did the question ask you to apply a theory to historical or contemporary events? Did you have to compare/contrast theories? Did you have to prove an argument? Imagine yourself in the role of the instructor--what did the instructor emphasize? What are the big ideas in the course?
- Practice writing. You may decide to write a summary of each theory you have been discussing, or a short description of the historical or contemporary events you've been studying. Focus on clarity, conciseness, and understanding the differences between the theories.
- Memorize key events, facts, and names. You will have to support your argument with evidence, and this may involve memorizing some key events, or the names of theorists, etc.
- Organize your ideas. Knowledge of the subject matter is only part of the preparation process. You need to spend some time thinking about how to organize your ideas. Let's say the question asks you to compare and contrast what regime theory and hegemonic stability theory would predict about post-cold war nuclear proliferation. The key components of an answer to this question must include:
- A definition of the theories
- A brief description of the issue
- A comparison of the two theories' predictions
- A clear and logical contrasting of the theories (noting how and why they are different)
Many students start writing furiously after scanning the essay question. Do not do this! Instead, try the following:
- Perform a "memory dump." Write down all the information you have had to memorize for the exam in note form.
- Read the questions and instructions carefully. Read over all the questions on the exam. If you simply answer each question as you encounter it, you may give certain information or evidence to one question that is more suitable for another. Be sure to identify all parts of the question.
- Formulate a thesis that answers the question. You can use the wording from the question. There is not time for an elaborate introduction, but be sure to introduce the topic, your argument, and how you will support your thesis (do this in your first paragraph).
- Organize your supporting points. Before you proceed with the body of the essay, write an outline that summarizes your main supporting points. Check to make sure you are answering all parts of the question. Coherent organization is one of the most important characteristics of a good essay.
- Make a persuasive argument. Most essays in political science ask you to make some kind of argument. While there are no right answers, there are more and less persuasive answers. What makes an argument persuasive?
- A clear point that is being argued (a thesis)
- Sufficient evidenct to support that thesis
- Logical progression of ideas throughout the essay
- Review your essay. Take a few minutes to re-read your essay. Correct grammatical mistakes, check to see that you have answered all parts of the question.
Essay exams can be stressful. You may draw a blank, run out of time, or find that you neglected an important part of the course in studying for the test. Of course, good preparation and time management can help you avoid these negative experiences. Some things to keep in mind as you write your essay include the following:
- Avoid excuses. Don't write at the end that you ran out of time, or did not have time to study because you were sick. Make an appointment with your TA to discuss these things after the exam.
- Don't "pad" your answer. Instructors are usually quite adept at detecting student bluffing. They give no credit for elaboration of the obvious. If you are stuck, you can elaborate on what you do know, as long as it relates to the question.
- Avoid the "kitchen sink" approach. Many students simply write down everything they know about a particular topic, without relating the information to the question. Everything you include in your answer should help to answer the question and support your thesis. You need to show how/why the information is relevant -- don't leave it up to your instructor to figure this out!
Back to helpful
Political Science 12: Sample Midterm/Final Exam Questions
The following questions are typical of the questions asked on the midterm and final exams for this class. All these questions have been asked on previous exams. I will not know the exact number of questions or the points assigned to questions until I make up the exam. Please note that you will be offered choices about which essay question to answer, but you must answer all the questions in the other sections.
* * *
Midterm Multiple Choice Questions
1. According to Carmines and Stimson in the 1960's the issue of race transformed the American party system with:
a) The Republican Party embracing racial liberalism
b) The Democratic Party embracing racial conservatism
c) The Republican Party embracing racial progressivism
d) The Democratic Party embracing racial indifference
e) The Democratic Party embracing racial liberalism
2. Which of the following expanded free speech in politics?
a) Plessy v. , and Brown v. Board of Education
b) v. , and v. Johnson
c) The Espionage Act and the Sedition Act
d) Miranda v.
e) None of the above
3. An example of a controversial issue dealing with material scarcity is:
a) Prohibition of school prayer
b) Adequate funding for public housing
c) Homosexuals in the military
d) Passage of anti-discrimination laws
e) Term limits
4. Which of the following does NOT affect the likelihood of voter turnout?
a) The closing date, or number of days before the election by which a voter must register in order to vote in an upcoming election
d) Literacy tests required to be allowed to register to vote
e) All of the above affect voter turnout
Final Exam Questions
Note: The final exam will have multiple choice questions, short answer questions, and an essay.
Short Answer Questions:
1. Would abortion better be described as a "prospective" issue or as a "retrospective" issue?
2. Does liberalism on economic issues increase or decrease with education?
3. In the last few decades, did the number of organizations represented by lobbyists in increase, decrease, or remain the same?
4. Explain the spatial model of elections and the median voter hypothesis.
5. According to Dunlap (in the Lester Book), what is the "issue-attention cycle"?
6. Explain the difference between ’s concept of “instrumental self-interest,” and Stone’s concept of “cost-benefit self-interest.”
Part III. Please answer one of the two following essay questions. Develop your answer carefully, using evidence and citing class readings and lectures to support your statements wherever possible. In writing your essay, remember that you should be trying to answer in a way that demonstrates what you have learned in this course. For example, if part of your answer is about Congress, you should tell us about how Congress is organized, how the committee and party systems work, etc.
Note: The following question was asked when the theme of the course was civil rights.
A. Suppose you were a political consultant assigned the task of designing a strategy to deal with a proposal to expand civil rights in an area that the American public regards as controversial—Drug use, HIV/AIDS, obesity, or sexual preferences. Write an essay in which you describe and then analyze either: (a) a strategy to expand civil rights in the area, or (b) a strategy to resist expansion of civil rights in the area. You need not address all the major areas discussed in this class--public opinion, parties, interest groups, Congress, the President, the bureaucracy, and the courts--but you should address two or more of them. In your essay, be sure to analyze your strategy as well as describe it. That is, explain why it should work using theories.