Having taught in college for over 30 years, I have seen most of the techniques students use to answer essay questions. I will share a few of them with you.
(Post published note: After posting this I wanted to clear up something. This is meant as a humorous, lighthearted post. I always encourage the students to write something, to give any question their best try even if they are drawing a blank -- which I did often and still do! But over the years I have chuckled at the various techiques people use to answer questions when they are drawing a blank! But, seriously, I don't ever get down on any person and always respect the traditional college try!)
Write a Long Answer. If you have absolutely no idea what the answer is -- not so much as a clue -- write a long answer. Use lots of words you really don't understand but that you think look good. Use phrases from cases you think might apply and that you think add a touch of scholarly glow to your answer.
Ramble on and on and on hoping that something you say will be close to right and the teacher will give you points for such a wonderful effort.
Trying using Humor. If you are clueless about the answer and are running out of time, interject some humor. Make a joke out of the problem. Using the "if you tell me then we will both know!" line is trite and lame. Writing "I can't see the paper next to me very well but if I could I would have a better answer!" is even worse. When coupled with the correct answer this can be cute, if not overdone. But in most cases the attempt at humor falls flat.
Seek Sympathy. Sometimes students play the sympathy card by interjecting something like "I know this answer is really bad but my dog died two days ago and I can't focus" or "I just learned my aunt has cancer and the whole family is really shook up, so I apologize for this awful answer."
Feel Sorry for Yourself. Closely related to the seek sympathy ploy is the Feel Sorry for Yourself tactic. Such comments as "I have studied so hard but just can't get it" or "why don't teachers ever ask the questions I really studied for?" and so forth. This approach tries to make the teacher feel guilty for making the person feel even worse about themselves.
Argue with Authorities. An odd approach is to claim the authorities are wrong and that you actually possess a better answer. Though debating the merits of a particular position is fine, first you have to know what the authority is! This approach always ends up in a rambling diatribe of senseless and disjointed verbiage.
Roll the Dice. Sometimes students will take a strong stand and be very strong in their answer. They are rolling dice hoping they are right and, if so, will get maximum points for being sure, so strong, so right. Of course, if they are wrong, the consequences are not good.
Both Side of the Fence. One of the more irritating approaches is when a student hedges his bets and tries to talk out of both sides of his mouth. Such phrases as "on the other hand" or "in the event the court does not accept this theory, then...." are indicative of this approach. The idea is to give both possible answers and hope the teacher only sees the one right answer.
Total Nonsense, Big Word Approach. In an attempt to disguise a complete absence of knowledge, some people will write a long answer that is nothing but jibberish and lots of big words. The answer looks impressive until you read it.
Correct and Concise Every so often you find an answer that is correct and concise. Those are the best ones.
Over the years I have learned that whether it is a lawyer making an argument in court or a student writing the answer to a question, correct and concise always wins the day. There is actually a correlation between effort spent preparing and how well a person does. And that applies way beyond the classroom.