Tips on Writing Timed Essays

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

All you can hear is the resonating sound of the clock, letting you know how much time you’ve already wasted just by paying attention to it. It’s been three minutes since you were given the timed essay. You looked at the prompt, read it, re-read it, and then leaned back with a sigh. Where do you even start?

It’s rare for someone to be excited about writing a timed essay, and for good reason. The dreaded timed essay, whether it’s within an educational or professional setting, seems to require a sense of “knowing exactly what to do” from the get-go, which is difficult given the fact that we don’t know what our prompt consists of beforehand. However, professors understand that they don’t expect every student to drill out an essay immediately after reading the prompt.

Instead, timed essays require a careful sense of time management, writing, and revising. But how does one exactly approach a timed essay with the three steps in mind? Here are some tips to allows you to approach timed essays with more confidence and direction – even if you might not be an expert on the subject:


Time Management


This skill actually begins before you take the test, and I think it’s the most important step. Based on how long you have to write the essay, think about how long you will ration off your time wisely. Before writing the essay, I find it absolutely necessary to 1) actually read the prompt 2) brainstorm 3) outline. You need to ration your time when doing this step. If you have, say, one hour to write your essay, then tell yourself the day before that you shouldn’t spend more than 10 minutes to do those three things.

Once you get to writing your essay, think about how long you’ll spend writing your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. In my opinion, the intro, body paragraphs, and conclusion all hold valuable weight to the ultimate quality of your timed essay. But because body paragraphs are naturally longer than your introduction and conclusion, give yourself that extra time to focus on your body paragraphs.

Once you finish writing your essay, go back and start revising with the time you have left (if any) I always find it helpful to go back to your thesis statement first and see if it is possible to edit it if needed.


Writing


How do you actually write a good timed essay, given you don’t know the prompt? When it comes to writing a timed essay, I’ve always found it helpful to avoid jargon and flowery language. It’s okay – the professors aren’t expecting an essay that is up to par with an assignment in which you have multiple days in advance to complete. I used to find myself wasting time by trying to create sentences that were “pretty” to read,  when in reality, I should have spent that time to think of the most efficient way to get my point across. I’m not saying to resort to utilizing elementary-leveled writing – write like you usually do, just don’t go out of your way to add extra words and phrases that are unnecessary. Furthermore, many of us feel like we have to fill up our exam book with our answers in hopes of getting the grade we want. But remember – quality over quantity. The point of a timed essay isn’t to see how much you can write in an allotted amount of time, but to see how well you can support yourself.


Revising


Like I said earlier, if you have time left after you finish writing your essay, you may come back to it and start revising. Besides revising the thesis statement (if needed) re-read your essay and analyze whether you believe your answers are effective and provide enough support. Don’t think you have enough support? Don’t know where to add that extra sentence or two? Usually, I like to write down my extra sentences on the back of the exam book and make it clear where I wanted to add it.

And the most important tip? . . . Make sure you study! Nothing feels as good as knowing the topic you’re given to write about.

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