Fundamentally, the idea behind long / essay type answers is that they judge your capability to recall, think, digest, create a structure, and write your response in few paragraphs.
As a teacher, in the last seven years, I have encountered only a handful of students who are good at writing long answers. Just to remind you – my students are crème de la crème of students and are the chosen few, selected from a highly competitive national level entrance examination. There is not a shred of doubt on their intelligence. In spite of their intelligence, many students attempt long answers in bullets, without even bothering to give the answer a structure or write cohesively in a flow where all paragraphs are connected logically. It definitely frustrates me when I see this. But, why the fuss?
Somehow, I have come to believe, that if you can’t write a long answer, your ability to think and process thoughts is ‘at risk’. The famous US National TT team coach Larry Hodges encourages the players to write a paragraph on ‘what is the style of their game?’ He further adds that – ‘If they can’t write, they don’t have a game’.
This says a lot about the importance of longer answers. Answering long questions require serious thinking by the student. It pushes them to express their thoughts in a lucid and comprehensive manner. In short, it judges the ability to process information intelligently and express it in a way others can understand it. This might not be required for other fields, but for research and higher education, this is a must-have skill as most of your life you will end up writing reports, manuscripts, and grants.
An application of using essays to gauge candidate’s ability is that most of the good universities do need a statement of research interest and statement of purpose when you apply for professional degrees, graduate programs, or for a faculty position. On the other hand, most Indian entrance examinations for admission to higher education institutes for Masters and PhD degree rely heavily on objective type questions, with little or no importance to long answer or essay type questions, or a statement of purpose. I believe that the majority of Masters and PhD students have to understand that higher education and research is much more than a refuge from their inability to decide on what career path to tread. For institutions and universities, judging the seriousness of the students might also result in prevention of dropouts, and help save taxpayers money. Asking prospective students to write a statement of purpose might make them think, reflect on their choices, purpose, and refine their thoughts.
A well-written piece of writing (answer, thesis or a grant) is a statement of your style, intelligence and maturity. It should be able to speak to the reader on its own. And, it might require a lot of practice.
A well-written piece of writing can bring much ‘joy’ to the reader. And when I say ‘joy’, I mean something much more emotionally outreaching than ‘happiness’. I do have my favourite scientist authors and I look forward to reading their next creation. Exactly like you wait for a new movie of your favourite film star.
Yes, good writing can be that addictive!