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Timed Writing

Timed writing can take many forms, but the obvious unique factor of this type of writing is the fact that there is a limit on the amount of time you have to complete it. This 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 external assistance. The amount of time and the expected length of your writing will vary based on the instructions.

You could expect to find a timed writing portion of a test or quiz in virtually any subject. It doesn't matter whether 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.

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 Greek and Roman civilizations. Choose at least three aspects in your comparison. (Civilization-History)
  • As part of a midterm, you would need to read and analyze financial statements. (Intro to Business)
  • Analyze the rhetorical devices used in the poem above. Be sure to include at least 5 specific terms from the textbook in your analysis. (English Literature)
  • Explain the process for prototype design. Include each step and a complete description of each stage of the process. (Engineering)
  • Discuss the physiological and psychological changes that occur in humans between the ages of 18-25. (Psychology)