The In-Class Essay | Writing Under Pressure Tips

The In-Class Essay | Writing Under Pressure Tips

It's a new school year and soon enough you'll have to face in-class essay exams. With the right tools and mindset, you can feel prepared—replacing nerve-wracking anxiety with quick-thinking and strong responses. 

1. Keep Calm and Carry On. The first thing is to take a deep breath and tell yourself you can do this, step-by-step. In achieving any task, its important to have a vision. In a timed essay, your vision should be completing a well-structured, logical essay. Give yourself a break. This is not you at your most eloquent, this is you under a time constraint with limitations. Take the pressure off and let yourself sink your teeth into simplifying the task at hand.

2. Stick to the Prompt. In your hurry to dive-in, don’t miss signals in the prompt. Instead, use a couple of your precious seconds to read the prompt for cues. What are the verbs? Are they analyze, criticize, compare, contrast? An analytical paper will require you to introduce and present an argument, while a compare and contrast paper will expect you to find the similarities and differences between two subjects. Just a single verb can drive entirely different directions in your paper, so mind your verbs!

3. An Outline is Your Friend. In the in-class essay, outlines are indispensable. Start with your thesis. Then write three facts to support your argument saving two lines under each. Then in each of those lines write two lines of commentary supporting your facts. Slap on a conclusion, and there’s your essay!  Your outline should look something like this:


a) Quick context on the topic/prompt (and definitions of any terms or sources). 

b) Thesis with a few points supporting your argument that you'll analyze and tie together in the essay. (Use each point like a mini-map to follow in the body paragraphs.) 


a) Strong topic sentence.  

b) Facts that support your topic/claim (try to use specific sources or ideas).

c) Short list of analysis points to make after giving evidence.

c) Strong transition sentence.


a) Neatly summarize each point without repeating yourself—and tie it all together in a unique way. 

Armed with an outline, you will be able to quell panic and pace yourself!

4. Observe time and plan accordingly:  Being mindful of time constraints is twofold:

1. Write at a nice even pace, trusting that “the critic (the grammar and spelling police) and the creator (your imagination) will work together for you.”

2. Give the proper weight to each section. You don’t want to spend twenty minutes writing the perfect paragraph. Remember that your teacher is going to be spreading points across each section. 

5. Pro Tip A pro tip for really making your essay stand out for that A grade is thinking of something insightful about the topic. To best flesh out insight, think of a conversation you had or might have with your friend about the topic. What is some interesting spin on the subject you might discuss to entertain your friend? Most likely, it will work with your teacher too!  Simply weave that insight into your thesis. If your topic is the environment, you might say: we can protect the environment by a) Preserving our National Parks,  b) Planting rain gardens to protect our oceans, and c) Finding savvier ways to recycle. Writing a conversational essay will make it more enjoyable of a reading experience for a teacher sifting through two dozen essays. 

With these tips you can free yourself from perfection, and open yourself up to enjoying the essays an extension of a conversation vs a grueling drill- even if they ARE timed!

WriteLab brings together Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and English Language Instruction. Student writing is analyzed in seconds with the WriteLab app—giving students feedback and suggestions on how to revise and polish their draft.

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