Timed essays are a favorite for standardized tests and college exams. They not only test your knowledge, but they test your ability to develop a coherent argument under pressure.
The secret to a timed writing exam is preparation beforehand and avoiding rushing on the day of the exam.
Here are some tips on how to write a great timed essay:
Manage Your Stress
One cause of poor performance on timed essays is anxiety. There are lots of scientific studies that show how anxiety affects brain function. If you’re stressed while reading the prompt, you may not even be able to understand it, let alone formulate a good response to it.
If you feel yourself starting to panic when the proctor or professor starts the clock, take a moment to calm yourself down. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Count to twenty. Then slowly open your eyes and with a calm mind start reading the essay prompt. Another thing that helps with stress is preparation. Which brings me to…
Do Some Practice Runs
You won’t know the topic beforehand, but if you actually sit down and do a couple of practice essays on some plausible topics, you’ll be able to see where your weaknesses lie and how you can address them. For example, did you rush into the writing without thinking it through first? Did you need to go back and revise? Did you have enough time to make a sensible revision? Practicing first will not only help you remain more calm when it’s show time, it will also help you learn to pace yourself.
Think Before You Write
After reading the topic, give yourself some time to let your thoughts on it formulate. If you jump right in to your first idea, you may miss an opportunity to write an even better, more well-formed essay. A good way to decide what to write is to jot down notes on the different ideas that come up and then choose which one you think is the best one.
Make an Outline
Again, resist the urge to just start scribbling and dedicate time to preparing your essay first. Making an outline where you line up the points you wish to touch on will help guide your writing. It will also prevent you from forgetting what you wanted to say, a common problem with timed essays due to stress and pressure.
Make Sure You’re Answering the Question
Another common pitfall to avoid is failing to address the prompt. Again, this problem can be circumvented by slowing down. While making your outline, keep referring to the prompt. Does each part of your outline answer it? If not, what has to be changed to make sure you stay on course?
Don’t Write Filler
Even though this is a timed essay, you should dedicate your efforts to writing quality statements. Don’t write just to fill the space. This can be particularly tempting when writing the introduction which is where it’s most important for you to get to the point. Your thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph should be well-defined and strong. This will help the flow of the rest of your essay so give it your best effort.
What if you followed all of the above advice but in the middle of writing had a new idea that would change your essay? Here you have to make a decision. Is the new idea so much better that it warrants changing your essay structure for it? AND do you have enough time to revise completely?
If so, then go back and revise the parts you’ve written so far. If you’re writing on paper, make sure you skip a line to leave room for revisions. On a computer, it’s much easier to revise, but you also run the risk of deleting work you wish to use later. If you’re revising on a computer, put the parts you want to take out in brackets. After you’ve finished writing and are doing a final edit, go back and take out the parts that are unnecessary.