How to Write for a Test

Written Tests: What You Need to Know to Succeed

If you’ve ever had to write a timed essay, you know the pressure can feel immense and, at times, unbearable. Here at FactSumo, we want to build up the confidence you need so you can pass any written exam with ease! There are a few basic components to any good essay, and we think they’re worth sharing.



When you’re writing an in-class essay, or an essay for a test, having the fundamentals down to a science will save you a lot of time. These are the basic rules in English that follow certain conventions. Things like grammar and sentence structure are important for sounding absolutely clear. English mechanics check for things such as spelling and capitalization errors, word usage, and punctuation. These are easy, steadfast rules that you can memorize through our app so you’ll never need to worry about slipping up during an essay! The more you’re able to recall these conventions and spellings, the easier it’ll be to move on to the bigger picture in your essay.


You can check out FactSumo for detailed lessons on grammar and punctuation!


How well does your point come across in an essay? You may realize that, while you have supporting details and sentences that sound intelligent, you aren’t getting to the big picture. It’s important to ask yourself: am I answering the question? How does this sentence I’m writing right now help me achieve that? If you’re unsure, try to reword it so it fits with the purpose of the essay. Additionally, your sentences should be easy to read and should logically flow from one to the next. Let’s look at an example:


The hole was dug by a dog.


The dog dug a hole.


Why is the second sentence better than the first, even when they mean the same thing? We call the first passive voice, and it’s a common trap in writing that essayists fall into where the object is acted on by the verb. The hole was dug. The second sentence is in active voice, where the subject acts on the verb. The dog dug a hole. It is extremely important to always use active voice in essays and most formal writing. You want your words felt urgently and immediately!  



Speaking of sentence structure, syntax is a pretty important aspect to keep in mind when completing a written exam. Syntax is how you order words to make good sentences, and it’s tied pretty closely with clarity. If your essay is full of long-winded sentences that don’t contain much cohesiveness or meaning, you aren’t guaranteed to receive a good score. When in doubt, keep it simple. Brevity is, after all, the soul of wit! Let’s take a look at another example:


The man jumped quickly.


The man quickly jumped.


Quickly, the man jumped.


Here we see all three sentences conveying the same thing once again. We must ask, what is the difference? Well, in this example, no sentence is superior to the other. What is important here is emphasis and tone. These are subtle differences in how a sentence is read and constructed to convey meaning. These differences may not be immediate, but they can work in your favor when writing an essay. Additionally, pay attention to how long or short your sentences are, and in what order they appear. Don’t do too much of the same thing, or you’ll come off as boring or uninterested in the material.


Supporting Details

When you set up an argument in an essay, your main ideas should be supported by details. A specific kind of detail is evidence! This can be from your life, but the evidence is stronger when it is grounded in either the passage it’s based on, or facts. Especially in literature, it is important to use quotes as direct evidence. Nothing will support your stance better than engaging with the author’s words!

Details can be explanations of your own words, too. They set to describe and illustrate even the smallest parts of your essay. Here’s a quick example:

Molly bought a cat.


Molly bought a grey cat, whose sleek coat shone like silver under the spring moonlight.


Again, both sentences convey the information that Molly purchased a cat. But the second sentence does something important: it adds detail! You probably have a much clearer picture in your mind of the cat with that added detail. Remember to keep your details relevant to your essay! Don’t bother describing the cat if it isn’t even important. You wouldn’t describe the presidents of the United States by the kinds of shoes they wore!


The content of your essay is incredibly important, but so is how you choose to display that information. Passages should lead from main ideas to supporting evidence and details, and finally to conclusions. On top of that, you should start with your strongest ideas first.

If you aren’t sure where to start in organizing your essay, look to your thesis. It should provide some clarity as to what direction your essay will go. For instance, look at the following thesis on homework:


Homework should be reworked to conform to student schedules, upcoming technology, and the modern world.


Judging by this sentence, you can infer that the following essay will discuss homework as it relates to students and their schedules, tech in the classroom, and how the world is changing. Think of your thesis as a roadmap to the rest of the essay. A well-organized essay acts as a much more readable “map” than one that has no thought put into its structure!


Hopefully, these core elements of essay writing will help you produce an amazing paper within the allotted time. Dive into our FactSumo app to explore the basic stepping stones of grammar, punctuation, and essay writing. Build your confidence today!