02 May Q: Should You Quiz Up Your Essay? A: Yes!
You are told that Passage A is for your own enjoyment.
Passage B, on the other hand, will be the subject of a series of multiple choice questions. If you answer most of them successfully, you will be rewarded with an extravagant prize.
There’s a good chance you wouldn’t even bother with Passage A. But say you did. How would you approach it, and how would this strategy differ from your approach to Passage B?
Passage A, you’d quickly skim, gleaning the main details before moving on.
Passage B, you’d reflect upon nearly every word. You’d highlight and underline. You’d take notes. You’d reflect on its insights and implications. You’d extract every last drop of knowledge out of the damn thing.
And you’ll learn something. Probably many things. A hell of a lot more than what you learn from Passage A, in any case!
Now, I’m going to flip the script —
Instead of being asked to read Passage A and Passage B, you’re asked to write them. You’re also asked to write Passage B’s quiz questions. What would your approach be?
Passage A and its low stakes, you might talk about something or other. It might be unfocused, uninformative. It definitely won’t be tight and polished because, what’s the point?
Passage B requires a lot of thought and probably some research. It requires you to be conscious of the questions you could ask. You might even decide to write the questions in advance, which would give the passage a framework to follow when you’re writing it.
With Passage A, maybe your reader will learn something, maybe not.
With Passage B, your reader will learn things — by design!
Now, hold on as I flip the script again…
Passage A is actually your admissions essay. Passage B is also your admissions essay, in an alternate reality.
Here’s the million dollar (or at least the cash value of the extravagant gift) question —
If there are specific points you want your reader to take away from your essay, would you go the Passage A route or the Passage B route?
Say you consider your communication skills to be your strongest trait. You don’t want to just come out and say it, but you want your essay to convey it to your reader. With Passage A, you do what you can to mention experiences where you demonstrated strong communication skills.
With Passage B, you write this question first —
In this essay, the characteristic most exhibited by the speaker is:
B) Good communication
D) A sense of justice
With this question already in your quiver, you can’t leave anything to chance when you take aim at the essay. Not only do you have to reveal your communication abilities, you have to avoid focusing on your honesty, consistency and sense of justice. Not that you should come across as dishonest, inconsistent or unjust. Just construct the essay in such a way that a thorough reading should make answering the quiz question a no-brainer.
Writing Passage A vs. writing Passage B is a huge mindset difference. Passage A leaves things to chance. It does what it can to teach the reader a thing or two, but it doesn’t engineer itself into a well-oiled information delivery system.
Passage B forces you to raise your game. It makes you think about what’s really important, about the essay, about you, about your goals, about your dream school. It makes you ask the big questions. Literally.
So, how can you quiz up your essay? Well, I’m glad you asked!
1. Really understand the prompt
This might sound obvious, but really knowing what the school wants to learn about you is the first step in being able to write relevant quiz questions.
Brainstorm for your essay and your quiz questions, because the two things are inherently linked. You want to figure out the central concept and main points you’re trying to get across.
I suggest you write the multiple choice questions first. Don’t worry, you can always go back and modify them as you’re writing the draft. As a general rule, aim for one question per 100 words of the final draft and round up. For example, a 150-word final essay would have 2 questions, same as a 200-word essay. A 650-word final essay would have 7 questions. A 1000-word essay would have 10.
Your questions (and answers) shouldn’t be diabolically hard, but they shouldn’t be gimmes either. Don’t list one obvious answer and a bunch of joke answers. By all means, have some joke answers though because who doesn’t love joke answers?
Your questions should also be distinct and cover a range. Some questions should be about your internal qualities, some should be about plot details, motifs, allusions. Offer a mix of internal and external. Really think about what you want your reader to learn and let that guide you.
The essay draft, this time. Like I said, this is a fluid process, so you can bounce back and forth between 3. Write and 4. Write as necessary.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting,” so get to it. During this process, the quiz questions might start to seem like a cumbersome appendage, so try to not get too bogged down by it. But hopefully, those quiz questions help to keep you objective about why you’re even writing this piece. Maybe thinking up a fun new question gives you the spark of inspiration you need to rework that intro that’s been plaguing you. In which case, you’re welcome. Eventually, you’ll have a beautiful essay in front of you accompanied by some questions.
6. Remove Your Quiz Questions
You heard me. You didn’t think I was actually gonna have you submit an essay with the questions, did you? While I admire your bravery if you actually do such a thing, this is an exercise to open your mind during the creative process. The essay should speak for itself, when all is said and done.
Final thoughts —
Quizzing up your essay isn’t the be-all-end-all way of crafting an admissions essay. It might work for some, it might not work for others. Maybe Anatomy of an Admissions Essay, 10 Simple Steps or 7 Cs will be better methods for you, maybe not. The point is, there’s plenty of resources from me and other essay experts to help you in your quest. See what works for you, and if it’s making a quiz or one of my other methods, I’d love to hear about it. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.