CoverObjectivesThe Writing ProcessAddressing the PromptPrewritingWritingRevisingOriginalityTimed Writing 1Integrated Writing 1Introduction to Academic EssaysEssay Shape and OrganizationIntroduction ParagraphsBody ParagraphsConclusion ParagraphsExample EssayTimed Writing 2Integrated Writing 2Descriptive EssaysExample Descriptive Essay 1Example Descriptive Essay 2PrewritingWriting: Word ChoiceSources: QuotingRevisingRevise: Descriptive EssayComparison EssaysExample Comparison Essay 1Example Comparison Essay 2PrewritingWriting: UnitySources: SummarizingRevisingRevise: Comparison EssayCause-Effect EssaysExample EssayPrewritingWritingParaphrasingRevisingRevise: Cause-Effect EssayRefining WritingDevelopmentCohesionWriting for the TOEFLIntegrated Writing TaskIndependent Writing TaskNuts and BoltsPunctuationUsing Academic VocabularyUsing SourcesFinding SourcesAnswer KeyThe Writing Process AKIntroduction to Academic Essays AKUsing Sources AKCitationsDescriptive Essays AKComparison Essays AKCause-Effect Essays AKRefining Writing AKWriting for the TOEFL AKNuts and Bolts AK

Timed Writing 1

Timed writing can take many forms, but the clear requirement of this type of writing is a time limit to complete it. A time limit most commonly occurs in an exam situation, where the tester is evaluating how well you understand a topic and/or can explain your thoughts without any help (ex. teacher, peer review, spell check, translator, etc). The amount of time and the expected length of your writing will depend on the instructions.

You could expect to find a timed writing portion of a test or quiz in any subject. It doesn't matter if you plan to study business, engineering, music, or linguistics. Timed essays are used frequently to get you to analyze, argue, or create something with what you have learned. Essays push you to show more than just recognizing a correct answer.

Although this section is about timed writing in general, all of the timed writing tips in this textbook will help you with the 30-minute essay on the TOEFL.

Step One: Recognize the constraints

This means that when you encounter a timed writing prompt, you should first think about the context.

Usually you will know in advance that there will be a timed writing component to an assessment, so you can think about these questions beforehand. This will help you prioritize your time. 

Step Two: Organizing your ideas AND your time

It is common for students to feel a sense of panic when they see a clock counting down the seconds during an exam. Because of this psychological pressure, it is easy to overlook a few important things. 

First of all, an outline will always benefit you. You may think that the best idea is to immediately start writing because the time is limited, but that could lead to a very disorganized presentation of an answer. Read the prompt carefully and make a brief outline of ideas so that you know all parts of the prompt will be addressed and all of your most important details will be included. 

Second, consider how to use the time as your ally. Rather than allowing it to control you, think of how you can use the time to keep yourself on track. For example, if the essay is only a small part of the total grade, control the amount of time you give yourself to write the answer. You might do this by answering that question first under a stricter time limit before you answer any of the multiple choice questions. Divide your the time you have to work with so you can work smarter.

As an example, you may have 30 minutes to complete an essay. In order to work quickly, you could follow a time schedule like this:

Time (Counting down) Task
30:00-27:00

Write your thesis and topic sentences (outline)

27:00-20:00 Write your first body paragraph
20:00-13:00 Write your second body paragraph
13:00-8:00  Write your introduction paragraph
8:00-3:00 Write your conclusion paragraph
3:00-0:00  Revise and edit your essay

You will obviously need to structure your times differently depending on the length of time you have to work with. It may also be necessary to adjust times depending on what is most important to the teacher. For example, there may be a larger emphasis on accuracy, so you will need to give yourself more time to revise and edit.

Examples of timed writing prompts

  • Compare and constrast the similarties and differences between food in the United States and in your home country. Choose at least three aspects in your comparison.
  • Read this opinion article from a newspaper. Respond to it by agreeing or disagreeing and supporting your position.
  • Explain the process of applying to be an international student. What are the steps you had to take to study here?

Exercise 1: Timed Writing

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Write about one of the following topics. Your response should be between 250-300 words.

  • Describe an important person in your life. Why has that person had a significant impact on you? 
  • Would you rather be described as successful or significant? Explain why.
  • Write about a time when you were able to do something that seemed very difficult. What strategies did you use to acccomplish your goal?
  • What is one characteristic you think is key to being a good student? Why do you think that characteristic is so vital? What are the consequences of not developing this characteristic?