Essay Exam Time Management Strategy Help

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Updated on Sep 2, 2011


Because you're writing under a strict time restraint, essay scorers don't expect your essay to be perfect. However, they don't expect a sloppy first draft that needs plenty of revising, either. Think instead of creating a "polished rough draft," writing that's more refined than a typical rough draft, well organized, and with as few errors in grammar and mechanics as possible.

General Guidelines

  • Use your outline as a guide. Don't go off on tangents, but adhere to your plan. If you come up with another strong major point, use it, but don't freewrite or ramble.
  • Separate your major points into paragraphs; this organization will help your readers follow the logic of your argument.
  • Avoid unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences. Don't repeat yourself or try to fill space with meaningless sentences such as "This is a very interesting question" or "Different people have different opinions on this subject."
  • Keep your reader in mind. This person will give you a score based on how well you write and how well you addressed the topic. Don't risk alienating or offending this person by using a tone or words that are too formal or too casual.
  • Write neatly. Your readers can't score what they can't read or understand. In fact, some exam readers may be unconsciously influenced by your penmanship. If two essays are of equal quality, and one is written neatly while the other is in a sloppy, rushed hand, the neater essay will probably receive a slightly higher score. Neat handwriting is more reader friendly, and it suggests that the writer has more control over the writing process.

Editing and Proofreading

The revision step is not included in this lesson for an important reason. Revising takes too much time and involves too much shuffling of text to be accomplished in the time you're given to write your essay. Recall instead that essay exams should be "polished rough drafts." There won't be extra minutes to move sentences from one paragraph to another, delete chunks of information, or add many new points (and even if you did have the time, you'd create a mess that most readers wouldn't be able to make sense of). That's why it's critical to spend time developing an outline and to adhere to that plan once you begin drafting. An extra sentence or two inserted later to clarify a point is fine, but there isn't the space or time to allow for a real revision. Instead, focus on editing and proofreading your essay.

Hints for Taking the Exam

  • Get a good night's sleep and eat a good meal before the exam.
  • Bring all required items (such as writing instruments, identification, and/or a receipt).
  • If there is a choice, read the prompts quickly to find the one you can think of the most examples and evidence for.
  • Don't change your mind after making your prompt selection.
  • Underline the key words in your prompt.
  • Write legibly. You won't get points for neatness, but if they can't read it, they can't score it.
  • Wear a watch, and make a plan for budgeting your time.

Some timed exams penalize for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other errors in mechanics. All exams take off points for incomplete answers and failure to address the prompt. Leave some time to go over your work and correct or improve any errors. Be prepared to spend between 2–5 minutes editing and proofreading your essay. Check for the following:

In Paragraphs

  1. details, examples, and supporting evidence in each paragraph
  2. incomplete thoughts
  3. rambling, off-topic thoughts
  4. paragraph breaks that help the reader see your main points
  5. effective transitions between ideas

In Words and Sentences

  1. complete sentences (no fragments or run-ons)
  2. variety in sentence structure
  3. agreement
  4. concise word choices
  5. clichéd, pretentious language
  6. ambiguity
  7. passive voice
  8. proper punctuation and capitalization
  9. correct spelling

In Short

On an essay exam, you need to write a "polished rough draft." Follow your outline and write carefully but quickly. Make sure your thoughts are complete and your handwriting is neat. Don't repeat yourself, or use "filler" words and phrases. Choose words that concisely and clearly convey your ideas. Leave a few minutes to edit and proofread your essay, correcting any mistakes you might have made.

An exercise for this concept can be found at Essay Exam Time Management Strategy Exercise.

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