How to Write an Essay in 20 Minutes

How to Write an Essay in 20 Minutes

You tap your freshly sharpened pencil on the desk and watch your black pen roll across the paper as the clock ticks. According to the clock, you have twenty minutes left to write 400 more words. This task seems nearly impossible, almost as impossible as the writing prompt at the top of your paper. Yep, you’re writing an essay – an in-class, timed essay. The worst kind! You can’t consult any of your notes or search for ideas on Google. So, how exactly do you conquer the dreadful in-class essay? I asked five college freshman this very question. They should have great advice since they just successfully completed high school, right? Here are their responses:

“I didn’t. I was never the type that could write an in class essay. I took way too long to get an introduction going that I almost never finished on time. It didn’t help that all my AP essays were timed, in-class essays.”
Imani Lawrence, State University of New York at Brockport

“I didn’t prepare, I always thought in-class essays were impossible to prepare for. I might read over notes if any, and if the topic was given beforehand, a good student would make an outline. But now, I would write a mock essay or a very detailed outline taking note of the main ideas I want to get across in my essay. Organization and clarity are also important ingredients for an essay, so I would work on that.”
Shamicka Smith, Hamilton College in Clinton, NY

“To be honest, I don’t really think I did.”
Warren Jones, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA

“Well, an outline would just help me organize myself and make the prompt less difficult. But if the subject matter itself was something I didn’t study or know, it obviously made the writing more difficult.”
Kaila Bridgeman, University of Pennsylvania, PA

As you can tell, these college freshmen were just like you: LOST. Let ME give you a few pointers that will help you find your way and conquer timed essays.

Keep Track of Time
Before you even start the essay, make sure you know exactly how long you have to write it. Allotting enough time to each section of the essay is important so that you’re able to complete it. As Imani, freshman at the State University of New York at Brockport, mentioned, it’s easy to find yourself caught at a particular part of the essay and then not finishing the whole thing. So, if you are given 60 minutes to write an essay, for example, a good strategy would be to dedicate: 10 minutes to writing an outline, 10 minutes on the introduction, 20 minutes on the body of the essay, 10 minutes on the conclusion and then the last 10 minutes to reviewing for mistakes. Of course, whatever plan you make is not set in stone. But you should have a general overview of how long it will take you to write each part of the essay in relation to how much time you actually have.

Understand the Prompt
Now that you have a basic understanding of how to write a complete timed-essay, you must also understand what goes inside the essay. It makes no sense having a proper introduction, explanation and conclusion if these components don’t answer the original question. Let’s say your essay prompt is: “Religion has long been at the fore-front of many international as well as intranational conflicts. Write an essay in which you address the role of religion in the community or discommunity of society.” Religion and society? These topics may seem overwhelming. But, you’d be surprised how much you can write in 60 minutes and successfully respond to this prompt. The best way to write an essay like this would be to narrow down your perspective. You’ll confuse both yourself and the reader if you try to write about every religion throughout all of history in this one essay. A good idea would be to choose one religion, say Islam. Then, develop two strong reasons for your assertion, using examples of conflicts in history, such as the legislation in Europe that banned the wearing of Muslim hijabs in school. Concrete reasoning and precise examples, specific to your argument, make for great in-class essays.

Stay Focused
In-class essays allow for creativity. However, there is a limit. When I say creative, I mean taking on a new point of view or writing sophisticatedly. I don’t mean using abstract, hard-to-understand examples or worse: not writing directly about what was asked. Clear and concise writing is key. Kaila Bridgeman, freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA, said that writing about a subject she didn’t understand made it more difficult for her. This reason is no excuse to make your own writing difficult to understand, however. If you do find yourself at a loss for what to say, consult the prompt again. If you are provided with guidelines (usually bullet points after the prompt), use them! They are perfect for helping you keep your essay on task and avoid writing on a whim.

Pay attention to time, understand the prompt and stay on task. Do those three things and you’re sure to ace your next in-class essay!

-Aliyyah Camp