Papers and Exams

Papers Vs. Exams

There are so many different pros and cons to having your final exam be an essay you write at home or having it be a traditional exam you take at school. In a way the two are almost incomparable because they are in such different leagues, but it is worth taking a look at the way they measure up.



Wiggle Room—with writing an essay, it seems as though professors can be more lenient with grading. There is more wiggle room for you to get a better grade when writing an essay because it is a more subjective way of assessing knowledge.

More Time—if you are assigned the essay in advance, you know exactly when it is due and you usually have multiple days to complete it. Therefore, it is easier to get the essay exactly how you want it.

Don’t Have to Come in on Final Day—for many professors, if they assign an essay as the final assessment in lieu of an actual exam, they won’t make you come in for the scheduled examination period. And, if they do make you come in, it is usually just to hand the essay in and say goodbye!


Time Consuming—writing an essay is a time consuming process, so if you are a perfectionist, this make take a chunk out of your studying time for other courses.

More Pressure for Perfection—yes, having more time is both a blessing and a curse. You do have more time to get the essay done, so professors are expecting a spotless essay.

Second-Guessing—when you are given more time to do things, you may end up second-guessing your essay topics or evidence choices within the paper. When writing a final essay, you may be more inclined to change your topic various times, mostly because you have that luxury of extra time.

Traditional Exam:


Clear-Cut Study Guide—with most professors, if they are giving a traditional exam, they will give you a very clear study guide with topics and/or terms that are important. Therefore, you are able to get some index cards prepared with exactly what you need to know for the examination day.

Quicker—with traditional exams, you prep for the exam, but once you finish it you are finished with it for good. With the above essays, you could be editing the essay after writing it for days afterward. With these traditional exams, you get it all done and after that it is what it is and it is out of your hands.

Different Types of Questions—traditional exams are usually multiple choice, but there is also room for creativity on the professor’s part in the makeup of the exam. Multiple choice is the most popular selection by the majority of professors, but there may also be the addition of identifications, short answers, and/or essays. Identifications are similar in multiple choice in that if you get it wrong, it’s wrong. But, if professors add a short answer or essay component, there is an added layer of wiggle room you to increase your grade.


Not Much Wiggle Room—if the traditional exam is just that, traditional, then there really isn’t much wiggle room in your grade. If you get a multiple choice question wrong, it’s wrong and there is no arguing against that!

Coming in for the Exam—there is no chance that you won’t be made to come into the scheduled final examination period for a traditional exam.

Test-Taking Ability—some of us aren’t good test takers. Coming in to take the test gives some students anxiety; even just the ability to take a multiple choice exam can be daunting for some students.

Everyone has a different set of test-taking skills, so it is difficult to choose which type of test is best. I think that a good combination of essays and traditional exams is a fair assessment. It gives students who aren’t good writers a chance to shine through multiple choice and students who aren’t great multiple-choice/fact-oriented a chance to shine through their writing skills.

Regardless of the type of exam your professor chooses to give this year, just know that your professors build both types of exams with you in mind. Your exams are created to assess the information you’ve learned in the semester in the best way possible for the course. Have faith in that and don’t fret!

Jimmy Carter once said, “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Tackle your exams head on this semester and you could end up doing even better than you had expected. Happy finals time, Hawks, and good luck!