Kids don’t usually love them. Some actually hate them. There’s seldom anything in between about essay tests. Where objective tests are tests of recognition—all a student has to do is identify the correct answer or whether a statement is true or false–essay tests, require complete recall. A child must remember all of the information, write about it coherently, and proofread carefully. And, while grading them can be a time-consuming task, essays offer a truer measure of learning than, say, multiple choice, and kids should welcome them. Here’s why:

1. You can’t be tricked by a partially true statement, one of those none-of- the-above items, or unevenly matched columns.

2. Essays allow you to include all the information you’ve learned about a topic—not just the specifics targeted on an objective test.

3. Bluffing is possible—jotting down everything picked up in class, read, or recorded in notes.

4. There’s time to sort through all the information and present it as you please.

5. Partial credit is usually offered when an answer is not completely wrong.

Now for the BUT . . . Success depends in large measure on writing skills, how well ideas and facts are organized and expressed, and familiarity with direction words, such as contrast and justify. Get these on flash cards for memorizing:

Compare: show similarities between two things
Define: state the exact meaning
Describe: tell or write about in some detail
Explain: make clear or understandable
Justify: show to be right/reasonable; to give the reasons for something
Show: present so as to be “seen”
Summarize: make a short statement of the main points
List: arrange in a numbered series
Contrast: emphasize differences while perhaps mentioning similarities
Criticize: examine and judge, presenting both negative and positive points
Discuss: examine a topic in as much detail as time permits
Prove: show to be true with facts and reasons

Essaying is an art premised on preparation and self-testing. Then on test day, directions must be followed carefully. For instance, sometimes every item must be answered; sometimes choices can be made. Also remind your child to adhere to the requirements of the direction words as cited above and to pace himself, deciding in advance how much time to devote to each question. He should also think a question through and either quickly outline his response in logical order or map it, including details and examples.

Once ready to begin the actual writing, the question itself can be rewritten as a statement and presented as the introductory sentence, thus insuring that the topic and main idea lead the way. Everything that follows must then be related to those in some way. No wavering allowed, no unrelated information slipped in. And if, as sometimes happens, your child is unsure about an item, tell her to leave it for last and then just start writing. She’ll seldom be asked about a topic she knows absolutely nothing about–and she may very well receive at least partial credit. It certainly beats leaving a blank! Finally, legible handwriting is a must, as is studying returned essays to determine weaknesses and learn from mistakes. As William James once said, “If you care enough about the result, you will most certainly attain it.”