With midterms in the air and final exams right around the corner, students may need a little extra help prepping for examinations. After more than a decade of school exams, many college students know the question types that they favor as well as those that give them trouble. We recently asked college students, “Which [of the following] types of midterm questions do you have the most trouble with?” Find out what college students say is the most challenging type of examination question and some tips for preparing them.Challenging question types for studentsThe largest majority of college students, 38%, stated that long form essays are the most challenging.

Behind this, 22% believe “multiple choice” questions are most difficult, 14% answered “short answer terms & facts,” and 13% said, “equations.” Ten percent of those polled revealed that true/false questions are the most challenging, and 3% say they have the most trouble with matching questions.

Hints for instructors

Sentence building

Some college students struggle with sentence structure when it comes to formal essays or research papers. Help your students brush up on the basics if you think they may need it, and let them know the quality of writing you’re looking for.

Grading rubric

To avoid any confusion or miscommunication, it may be helpful to provide your students with a grading rubric. This can be very brief or more extensive. Let them know you plan to look for a strong argument or demonstration of knowledge, but also what level of grammar or sentence quality you hope to see, for example.

For tips on evaluating writing, check out our video from author Robert Yagelski, “Communicating with Students in the Course of Writing.”

Jounaling practice

Many instructors find that weekly or daily journaling tasks help students with their writing skills–be they creative or technical. In the weeks leading up to an exam, try giving your students writing prompts that may be “exam-worthy” questions.

For ideas on how to integrate critical thinking into these exercises, visit our recent blog post, “Solving the Biggest Challenge of Teaching Critical Thinking.”

Hints for students


Remember what our grade school teachers taught us: essays should have an intro, body, and conclusion. This is the case even with exam essays, though depending on the required length, your intro and conclusion may be quite brief. Be sure to read all the instructions carefully so you’re able to follow your instructor’s unique requirements.


Writing a long essay on the fly is challenging for most of us, especially if it’s hand-written. Getting your thoughts in the correct order on the first try is tricky business! To make it easier, make yourself a mini outline in the margins or on scrap paper. This will help you plan what you hope to say, as well as ensure you have enough details in each section.


If the essay is only one portion of your exam, take a look at it first thing. If an idea pops into your head, jot down your essay outline, then proceed with the rest of your exam. You may find other questions in the exam that give you hints or jog your memory for additional essay question details.

 What aspect of long form essay writing do your students tend to struggle with the most? Share your thoughts below.