Essay exams may cause stress and confusion.  The REDOER strategy may be part of an overall plan to help you to avoid anxiety and produce essays that get results.

Read--read the questions; read them at least twice.  Make sure you understand the questions; if you do not, ask the teacher or proctor for help.  Sketchy reading may lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities.  One of the saddest things for a teacher is to see an otherwise good question that leaves off part of the answer, answers the wrong question, or misses the point in some other way.  Read the question; read ALL the question.

Evaluate: Evaluate the question: look for key words in the question.  Are you asked to discuss, explain, describe, argue, prove, dispute, disprove, justify, analyze?   Each of these terms denotes a different approach to the question and will mean a different approach when you write your essay.

Determine--if you are being given your choice of questions (for example, to answer two out of three questions), determine which question(s) you will answer.  Think about the questions you can answer best;  go with your best knowledge.  Don't rush into the first question you're given; don't spend time on a question that will lead to a dead end later.

Organize your paper.  Write a brief scratch-paper outline--phrases, words, ideas--not too long, but enough to give you a path through the paper and make you feel like you know what you will do. Don't spend too long on this, but give yourself an idea of the beginning, middle, and end.  You may change your structure part of the way through, but you'll at least have started with a plan.

Execute--execute your plan; write the paper.  Start from the beginning and write from beginning to end.  If you remember something you want to include later, then jot it down on scratch paper and keep going on; you can add it in later (see Revise, below). Stop if your hand hurts, to stretch, or to  take a deep breath and relax a bit; don't stop for too long.  Don't go back too often to check spelling; this comes later.

Revise the paper.  Save at least five, maybe a few more, minutes at the end of the exam period to straighten things up.  If you need to add more information, do it now; write it in the margin or in space you may have left for that purpose.  Be neat; neatness often does count, for an instructor cannot give credit for something she or he cannot read.  If you must strike words out, one or 2 lines will do; correcting fluid may take too much time to apply and dry.  If you must draw arrows to rearrange items; do them neatly; sometimes a note at the end of the essay explaining how things should be read can help.
Read the paper through at least once, pronouncing the words "in your head" with your inner voice; look at your typical spelling challenges and comma challenges.  Look for run-ons and fragments.  Don't be in a hurry to leave; use all the time that your instructor gives you.

Good luck, and good writing!

Click here to hear an .mp3 audio version of this webpage.



Text and audio versions opyright 1998, 2002 Robert D. Whipple, Jr.  All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to use this material for educational purposes as long as credit is given to the copyright holder.  If presented in print form, this entire Web page must be printed AS IS, with no alterations.

whippl@creighton.edu * mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/whipple

402.280-2534 * FAX 402.280-2143

Creighton University English Department

2500 California Plaza * Omaha, Nebraska 68178