What are Essay Questions?

Essay questions are determining factors in your academic life. So what are these questions? Essay topics are often in the form of questions, as in the SAT or MBA entrance examination papers. These papers try to understand you through these questions, to get to know your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and value systems. The essay question is your first contact with the paper you have to write and determines its content.
The essay questions draw out answers from you that force you to think, find your way around the topic, and take a stand where you may never have taken one. It helps you gather your thoughts on an idea or issue and explore the depths of your mind, life, and the world around you as you may not have done earlier. It is a prompt to think, gather your thoughts, and present only those that are most relevant to the topic given to you.
What else does the essay question help you do? It helps you sift wheat from chaff, to pay attention to those minute matters and details that evaded you earlier, because you did not think of them or did not feel the necessity to dwell on them. Now you realize, with a sudden passion, that you are capable of thinking beyond your perceived limits. That is what the essay question provokes you to do.
The question carries signal words and phrases that deserve extra attention and thought. These signal words or pointers tell you what to write and how to write it. As you read the question, you have to look out for these words and ascertain their function. Do you find words such as “describe,” “analyze,” “criticize,” “explain,” “explore,” “compare,” “contrast,” “argue,” “opinion,” “state,” “illustrate,” “define,” “example,” “prove,” “summarize,” “evaluate,” or “discuss”? These are your pointers to the nature of the essay which help you to write essay. This is what you will focus on as you build up the ideas and present them in a coherent and well organized paper.
 Once you have identified the pointers, you have to interpret them.
 What is it you need to analyze?
 Is the question in two parts or one complete unit?
 If there are two parts to the question, what are they? Pay attention while writing. You must address both the parts.
Example: What are you academic plans? How do these plans fit in with this institution? Notice the two parts. Often, students fail to read the question properly and end up making a fatal mistake: writing on only one of the issues asked for.
Essay questions often determine your academic future. While the rest of the admission documents tell admission authorities about your educational qualifications and achievements, the essay tells them about you-the person, the inner self, the student, and the aspirant. So it is in your interest to read the question carefully, give yourself a few minutes to arrange your thoughts and ideas, and then begin to address each point of the question in a systematic and logical manner.