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Writing an essay can be difficult. Writing an essay on the spot can be even more difficult. I always dread in-class essays. From forgetting information to losing feeling in my fingers, nothing is enjoyable about them. Some may say that there is no way to prepare for an in-class essay and that you just have to “wing it.” Whether you know the prompt ahead of time or not, this isn’t entirely true. There are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for a successful in-class essay.
1. Prepare ahead of time. If your professor has already revealed the prompt to you, then preparing should be pretty easy. You should study your notes or readings accordingly and think about what sort of information you want to include in your essay. Have a thesis in mind before you show up for your in-class essay. If you do not know what the prompt is going to be, try to imagine potential prompts based off of class lectures and discussions. If you were the professor, what would you ask in the prompt? Make sure you have a reasonable understanding of a variety of topics discussed in class, so you’ll be prepared for anything.
2. Whatever you do, do NOT write in pen. Actually, don’t even bring a pen to class that day. Use pencils instead! That way, if you make a mistake or want to change something, you can just erase it. Bring more than one pencil, too, in case the point breaks or you run out of lead.
3. Brainstorm first. Take a minute or two before you start writing to decide what exactly it is you are going to write. Maybe even jot down a quick outline or make a list of the major points you want to make in the essay. This will save you some time in the long run because it will keep you from having to pause to figure out what direction you should go in next.
4. Manage your time wisely. Keep an eye on the clock (or wear a watch if there isn’t one in your classroom). If you know you are going to struggle with writing a particular section of the essay, then manage your time so that you have enough time to focus and figure out how to say what you need to say.
5. Prioritize. There are some pieces of information or aspects of your argument that are going to be more important than others. Make sure that these more important items make their way into the paper before you add the small details or less important fillers.
6. Don’t give up. If you get stuck, take a minute or two to relax. Having a timed essay can be really stressful, so sometimes taking a short break can be more useful than working yourself into a panic.
7. Edit. If you finish the essay early, don’t just turn it in right away. Take the extra time to go back through and edit. You’ll be amazed by how many errors you find. When we write in a hurry, we have a tendency to make small errors that we wouldn’t normally make. Maybe you’ll find that you wrote down the wrong date for a historical event or cited the wrong philosopher. You may notice that you forgot to capitalize a proper noun. No matter how big or small the errors are, you’ll be glad that you caught them!
-Rebekah, peer tutor