By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student
“I’m Ready! I’m Ready! I’m Ready!” This is probably one of Spongebob’s most popular lines and it is how I wish I felt every time I enter an essay exam. Writing an essay during an exam is actually very different from how you would write one at home, and so this guide will show the different approaches students take when writing these exams. But like making a Krabby Patty, you will see that some approaches work better than others. So if you have an essay exam coming up and enjoyed watching Spongebob when you were little, then this guide is for you!
The Sandy Cheeks Approach
Sandy is hands down probably the smartest creature living in Bikini Bottom. She is always conducting science experiments and does thorough research before presenting her ideas. If Sandy were to make a Krabby Patty, it might just taste better than the original formula! Similarly, if Sandy went to Queen’s, her essay would include lots of contextual evidence to support her thesis and she would provide the most detailed analysis of quotations. She would create an outline and take the time to ensure every paragraph is perfect right down to her transition sentences. While Sandy’s style of essay writing is guaranteed to earn you an A+ on a take-home essay, her strategies are too difficult and risky to implement during an essay exam. In the exam, you will not have your books to gather textual evidence, nor will you have time to locate a quote if you are allowed to use your books. It is all right to be broader when covering themes and events in your book rather than trying to cover every single detail like Sandy. Sandy’s methods are too time-consuming and may cause you to risk spending more time on the introduction than your argument paragraphs. Sandy may make a good Krabby Patty, but her customers would probably get frustrated and leave before she finished! A part of the Sandy approach that will be useful in an exam setting, though, is the importance she places on the creation and organization of blueprints. You should spend the first 10 minutes of your essay creating an outline since this will make it easier to write the essay and your professor will be able to follow your ideas, and possibly give you part marks, if you don’t finish writing. To learn more on how to develop an outline, please read the following blog: https://sass.queensu.ca/some-further-thoughts-on-the-importance-of-outlining/
The Squidward Approach
Did you notice that whenever Squidward made a Krabby Patty it would taste mediocre at most? Well, Squidward is the type of student who likes to do the bare minimum and will write the type of paper that professors dread reading. Squidward knows the formula to writing an essay, but will only regurgitate the material that his professor taught rather than incorporating his own ideas. If you remember Bloom’s Taxonomy (https://sass.queensu.ca/academics-101/) you will see that Squidward is able to remember, understand, and apply the information he has learned in class. But professors will be more impressed if you can analyze, evaluate, and create something of your own from these ideas. For example, don’t just tell me the ingredients to the Krabby Patty; tell me what you think of these ingredients and how you would change them or what else you could make with them. An advantage of using the Squidward method, though, is that you will manage your time better. If you have an exam where you have to write multiple essays, start by answering the easiest essay question. Like a presentation, the first 5 minutes of an exam are the most nerve-wracking, so it’s better if you answer the essay questions that you are prepared for first. In addition, Squidward is a straight-to-the-point kind of guy, so he would write 3-4 sentences for his introduction and conclusion at most. It is important to note that professors are marking you more for what you argue in your essay versus how you set up or wrap up your essay.
The Patrick Approach
Of all the students, Patrick is the worst one! He didn’t go to classes on how to make Krabby Patties and plans on winging his final essay. While you shouldn’t just regurgitate your professor’s material, you should still demonstrate the relevance of learning it! Patrick probably spent more time reading the essay instructions than writing the actual essay itself. Despite Patrick’s approach being the scariest one, there are some good essay strategies we can learn from him. For example, when you read the instructions of your exam, you should underline key words such as “analyze,” “compare,” and “evaluate.” While these words appear small, they dictate how you should structure your entire paper. Exams can make students nervous, and so it is easy to miss small details that can be costly. In addition, while Patrick does not understand much of the material, he tries to apply and create something out of the few things he has retained. Looking back at Bloom’s Taxonomy, creating something of your own from the professor’s material is what impresses them the most! Lastly, considering that Patrick doesn’t quite know where his paper is going, he is probably including larger gaps in between paragraphs. This is a good strategy to use if you’re not quite sure how to end a paragraph or if you wait until the end of an exam to write your introduction. Double spacing is also extremely helpful when editing your paper, instead of rewriting your entire essay again.
The Spongebob Approach
Spongebob is a prime example of what students in essay exam situations should follow. He uses the secret formula provided by Mr. Krabs but adds his own twist to how the Krabby Patty is made. For example, he invents his own efficient cooking method, he thoroughly inspects each ingredient, and puts an overall sense of love into each patty. If you were a true Spongebob fan, you will remember the episode he makes “Pretty Patties,” where he uses the same formula as Krabby Patties, but dyes them different colours to attract more customers. Similarly, students like Spongebob will use the content their professors taught them but present it in a whole new way. This way, students both evaluate the overall themes presented in the course and also share their own ideas on the matter.
Sharing your own ideas on essay exams can be scary, though, and it certainly was for Spongebob when people laughed at him when they first heard his idea. But as Patrick once said, “Spongebob, sometimes we have to go deep inside ourselves to solve our problem.” Spongebob opened his own restaurant to prove that he could sell Pretty Patties, and it was a huge success! Students can have the same success by implementing their own ideas and using course content to support them when writing an essay exam. For more tips on essay exams, please visit: https://sass.queensu.ca/exam-prep/types-of-exam/#EEFSS.
Photo courtesy of Mariah- under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.