How Long Should An Essay Question Response Be

Extended-response or essay questions take care and thought, but they are nothing to fear. In fact, the more you show what you know about a topic, the more credit you are likely to receive on a test.

How To Do It

Good extended-response answers have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

The first paragraph introduces your main idea or position. It begins with a topic sentence. The topic sentence states plainly the point you intend to make in your answer. Often it simply restates the question.


The second paragraph provides information, examples, and details to support your main idea or position. This is where you show in detail what you know or think about the topic. If the answer calls for a great deal of information, you may need more than one paragraph.


The final paragraph sums up your main idea or position. It restates your topic sentence, this time with more feeling.

Now You Try

Work through these steps as you answer the question below. Write your answer on a separate piece of paper.

Step 1 Read the question carefully. Take a moment to think about it. What exactly is it asking? Are you being asked to argue a position or to show what you know about a subject? Be sure you know what you are being asked to do before you begin writing.

Many cities around the world are located near large rivers and lakes, or near an ocean. Why do you think this is so? Provide three or more important advantages that waterways offer cities, and explain why each advantage is important. Give examples.

Step 2 Decide on your main idea or position. You might simply want to restate the question. Write it down. This will be your topic sentence. Then add any extra information that will help explain your topic. That's your first paragraph.

Step 3 Now think. How can you fully explain your idea or position? What details and examples support your main idea? Choose the most convincing details and examples. Write them in separate sentences. Try to write the most important information first.

Step 4 Take a moment to review what you've written. Does it fully answer the question? Do you need to add any more information? Add what you need to and then move on. (Don't worry too much about grammar or spelling. Your answer will be graded on content rather than style. However, do be sure that your writing is neat!)

Step 5 You can breathe easily now: your final paragraph will be a snap! Write a sentence that summarizes your main point or position. The sentence should restate your topic sentence. This time, however, give it some zest. Then add any information that emphasizes what you've written. That's your final paragraph. You're done!

Review and Reflect

Peer review -- having another student comment on your written response or essay -- can be a good way to help you reflect on your work.

Trade your answer with another student. Read the other student's paper carefully. On the back, write your comments.

  • Did the student fully answer the question?
  • Is there a beginning, a middle, and an ending?
  • Could more information be added?
Now trade papers with another student. Comment on the new paper in the same way. When you're finished, return the paper to its writer and get your own back. Read the comments on the back. How could you improve your answer? Did other students have ideas or write answers that show you other ways you might respond to the question?

    edHelper's suggested reading level:  high interest, readability grades 4 to 6
    Flesch-Kincaid grade level:  3.76

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     Here it comes; the test is almost over. But you know what that means. You've come to the dreaded essay questions. You've nailed the multiple choice and the true and false questions. You're even pretty sure of your short answers. But the essays always seem to bring your grade down. How can you write a good answer to an essay question?
     Good writing begins with good reading. First, read the directions carefully. Do they tell you how long your answer should be? How many points is each part worth? Do you have to answer all the questions, or can you choose to answer only a certain number? Find the answers to these questions in the directions.
     Next, read each essay question carefully. If possible, highlight the verbs in the question. They will tell you what the question is asking you to do. For example, if it says to define something, it means to give the meaning of it. "Explain" means to describe, give examples, or give reasons for something. "Illustrate" means to give examples and show how they relate to the topic. To summarize means to briefly cover important ideas about the subject. Make note of these verbs so that you will answer the question correctly.
     Next, make note of keywords about the topic. You will need these keywords for your topic sentence. For example: Name and define the key steps in the process of mitosis. For this question, a good topic sentence could be, "There are four key steps in the process of mitosis." You have used keywords from the question in the topic sentence of your answer. The reader now knows that you understand the question. Now you can go on to name and define the steps.
     Make note of how many parts there are to the question. If possible, number them in the question. How many parts are in this question? Which battle of the Civil War do you think was most important? Describe this battle and tell which side won. How might the outcome of the war have been different if the other side had won this battle? If you said there are four parts, you are right!
     Here are the four parts:
     1. Which battle do you think is the most important?
     2. Describe the battle.
     3. Which side won?

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