Tips for Successful In-Class Essay Writing
E. Siler

Your very first step in writing an answer to an in-class essay question is to plan your time to answer it. First, consider the value of the question in terms of the time available. A 12-point essay on a 30-point quiz given in a 75 minute class will mean that you should plan to write the essay in 1/3 of the time available - approximately 25 minutes. Here is a suggested breakdown for planning how to use your 25 minutes:

10% of the time   

reading the question carefully, deciding what answer is expected, outlining the answer. With 25 minutes, you should take no more than 3 minutes to do this.

80% of the time   

answering the question by filling in the outline. With 25 minutes, you should take about 19 minutes to do this.

10% of the time   

editing for major grammar mistakes. With 25 minutes, you should take no more than 3 minutes to do this.

Test-taking tip: Find out in advance how many essay questions you will have to write and what percentage of the test is involved. Plan your 10-80-10 time breakdown in advance and bring a watch so you won't have to do valuable calculations in class and waste more time.

Your second step is to do the activities listed under the first 10% of the time -- reading the question and outlining an answer.

The third step is to write. Follow these tips for writing:

1.    Do not stop to edit as you go. There isn't time. If you think you're unsure about a word or a grammatical structure or a fact, draw a line under it. You can return to it in the editing time.

2.    Do not try to use this chance to show your teacher how much you know about English. Write simply. Use simple sentences. Simplicity and clarity are the two characteristics you want to strive for.

3.    Write in paragraphs. It helps to think that a good, well-edited paragraph of 6-10 sentences should take about 7 minutes to produce. This is the goal you should be striving for.

4.    Keep your handwriting neat, but do not make artwork out of it. In particular, it is important to differentiate vowels in your handwriting (a, e, i, o, u). If you make a mistake, draw a line through it and continue. Don't waste time erasing or using white-out. Unless you are told otherwise, it is ALWAYS best to write on every other line.

5.    Use a dark writing instrument - a very dark pencil or blue or black ink. Bring extras with you to the test.

6.    If you get stuck filling in one part of your outline, jump to another part of the outline and work there for a while.

The last step is to edit. Tips for editing include:

1.    Do not skip the editing step. Even if you don't finish your essay, it is better to turn in a well-edited 75% finished essay than a poorly edited 80% essay.

2.    Focus your editing. Reread what you have written one time. As you find areas that you were unsure of, fix them. Concentrate on editing verbs and articles. That is all you will have time for. The things that you should edit verbs for are: tense, S-V agreement, and verb form.

3.    Do not make elaborate erasures as you edit. Draw lines through mistakes. Use simple editing symbols to make changes.