AnnaMarie Houlis
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Timed essays are essays that you have to write under a certain deadline that's usually just a few minutes or hours. Th

What is the purpose of timed essays?

Timed essays can be overwhelming since you're tasked with writing on a subject with limited time to think, write clearly and edit your work. Most people feel pressure when writing timed essays — and many writers might argue that timed essays are "hell."

In fact, one writer did when she wrote an open letter titled "The Hell of Timed Essays," in which she says:

Dear Anti-Writer Who Created The Concept of Timed Writing,

My students loathe you to the core. The notion that anyone with any sort of writing background can possibly craft a GOOD essay in a very short amount of time – we’re talking no more than an hour or so – is ludicrous. My job is to teach students that writing is a goddamned PROCESS. Good writing is rewriting. It’s about honing voice, substance, style, tenor, detail, syntax, and structure. It requires much more than a piddly-assed bit of time...

But despite how difficult a task timed essays may be, these types of essays are usually assigned for good reasons (and don't typically ask you to produce a masterpiece).

There are a few purposes of timed essays:

  • Timed essays require you to demonstrate disciplinary knowledge of a subject by producing a writing sample on it within a limited time period since more time would otherwise allow you to think harder and research. In other words, timed essays task you with coming up with their own ideas on a topic.
  • Timed essays require you to demonstrate knowledge of the language and written skills — including spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is because more time would allow you to go back and revise, while limited time tasks you with writing well the first time around.

What are the best tips for acing a timed essay?

Acing a timed essay isn't easy for obvious reasons — you don't have a lot of time... But there are some tips you can follow to help ease some of the pressure and write a better essay in a matter of minutes.

1. Make sure you understand what the essay prompt is asking of you.

Before you even get started writing your essay, make sure that you've thoroughly read the prompt and that you 100 percent understand what the essay prompt is asking of you. You don't want to waste time when you realize later down the line that you're not actually responding to the question or statement.

2. Organize your thoughts in an outline for the essay.

Once you have a clear grasp on what it is you need to write, break that down into an outline for your essay. This will help you to organize your thoughts and ensure that the essay flows in a way that the reader can digest it as clearly as you thought it in your head. You can do this by creating sub-headlines for different sections of your essay and jotting down quick bullet points for all the points you plan to make in each.

3. Create a time-management plan for your essay writing. 

Once you have an outline created, you'll know about how much time you'll need for each section of your essay. So give make yourself a time-management plan in order to tackle each. In fact, half the battle is being able to use your time wisely, so you'll know that if you only have 20 minutes to spend on the second section of the essay before you really have to move on to the third portion of your outline, you'll spend less time fussing over insignificant details and save yourself from getting too wrapped up and losing track of time. 

4. Write the body of the essay first and the introduction and conclusion last.

Once you have an outline and a time-management plan for your essay, it should start to write itself — the body of the essay, anyway. Introductions are notoriously difficult to write because they have to hook the reader. So start with the easier stuff — the meat of the article for which you already have ideas (thanks to those bullet points!). After you write all of that, you'll have a clearer idea of how to introduce it all... and an easier time concluding it, as well.

5. Give your essay a reread if you have time.

If you have the time left over after writing your essay, always go back and reread it. You'll want to keep an eye out for spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and flow. Make sure that your thoughts are not only organized in the way that your outline suggests but also that the different sections of your essay ease into each other with transitions. You'll likely catch mistakes that you can fix before turning in your timed essay and, giving it a once over after getting it all out on paper will help to give you some peace of mind since you'll know exactly what you're submitting.

What are some examples of timed writing prompts?

There are tons of timed writing prompts you can find online to help you practice your timed-writing skills! Here are five creative writing ideas to get you started — you can choose to give yourself however much time you want, such as about 30 minutes or one hour.

  1. Write about a time when you were wrong and didn’t realize it right away.
  2.  Write about a form of exercise you’ve grown to love or appreciate and why.
  3.  Write about the biggest problems you see in the world and how it impacts us (and, particularly, you) every day.
  4.  Write about how to love someone else in a way they need — their own love language.
  5. Write about what your parents didn’t teach you and how having to learn that on your own (or never learning it) has affected your life.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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