#1 Posted by MonetaryDread (1995 posts) -

Last summer I quit my job of twelve years so I could go to University. Despite my long absence from school I feel like I am doing alright so far and the only real difficulty I find comes from timed exams. You see, I have kept up with my studying so the knowledge part of the equation is not much of an issue, what is an issue is the fact that I am slow as fuck at putting words on paper.

So how do you get faster at writing and how do you approach exams where the only real test is whether you have to write six 300-500 word essays in under three hours? Is this style of exam even an issue for most people? Or how about strategies for the exam itself? On my mid-term exam (four essays in two hours), I wrote one awesome essay, one middling essay, one rushed essay, and skipped one. This approach did not yield great results so I was planning on just writing four middling essays and not worrying about the quality, as long as I get all of them finished this time. Is this a decent approach to take if I am running out of time?

Right now, I am just writing as much as possible while giving myself time limits, yet I still feel like I have not progressed at all when it comes to speed writing. Hell, this forum post has taken me around thirty minutes to write.

#2 Posted by believer258 (11683 posts) -

If a teacher gives you four good scores for four different answers, that seems better than one great score, one OK score, one bad score, and a 0 on the last answer.

Anyway, when writing a test essay I usually sum up all of my points, in bulleted form, very quickly on a piece of extra paper, jot down some disjointed notes, and from there start writing it out. It's worked so far. That's also how I do my regular essays, but the planning is usually a fair bit more detailed because I have a whole lot more time.

For example:

-Point 1

-some quick potential sentence ideas

-Point 2

-some quick potential sentence ideas

-Point 3

-some quick potential sentence ideas

and then get an introduction and conclusion when I get around to them.

Finally, 300-500 words sounds like a hell of a lot but it actually isn't that much, though six 300 word essays in three hours, handwritten, is a hell of a lot. That sounds sadomasochistic, not educational, since instead of digging into your knowledge to bring up points, you're just rushing through them.

#3 Posted by csl316 (8188 posts) -

Start writing, and try to outline what you'll write about in the first paragraph. Then you at least have a guideline.

Best advice I can give is be truly prepared for the test. Then your ideas should flow once you get a few key points written down.

#4 Edited by MonetaryDread (1995 posts) -

@JasonR86 said:

Stay off forums dude.

Why is that? My exam is tomorrow so it is not like I have studying to do? I am just looking at pointers because maybe someone here has been through this before and has some sage advice to give. Plus, I am certain that my struggles come from inexperience and all I have to do is just practice. So what is the difference between practicing my writing skills on a forum or practicing writing in Microsoft Office?

#5 Posted by JasonR86 (9611 posts) -

@MonetaryDread said:

@JasonR86 said:

Stay off forums dude.

Why is that? My exam is tomorrow so it is not like I have studying to do? I am just looking at pointers because maybe someone here has been through this before and has some sage advice to give. Plus, I am certain that my struggles come from inexperience and all I have to do is just practice. So what is the difference between practicing my writing skills on a forum or practicing writing in Microsoft Office?

Yeah. I deleted my comment. I didn't address your post. Sorry dude.

#6 Edited by Trav (241 posts) -

I once had to write three 500 word essays in 2 hours for an AP test, what you're doing sounds equally, if not far more, terrible. Worst part was each essay was analytical on prose or poetry, so there was little prep you could do other than just being good and training to write quickly and concisely!

I would say that making a very clear, concise thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and then backing that up with solid evidence on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis is the most valuable advice. Some people like to make their grand thesis statement, then just write points they'll make to prove the statement directly afterwards, using those points as introductory sentences for the following paragraphs.

Having your introductory paragraph make a point that must be proven (your thesis statement) helps keep the rest of your paper on track because you start out on solid footing.

YOU GOT THIS

#7 Posted by MonetaryDread (1995 posts) -

@believer258 said:

Finally, 300-500 words sounds like a hell of a lot but it actually isn't that much, though six 300 word essays in three hours, handwritten, is a hell of a lot. That sounds sadomasochistic, not educational, since instead of digging into your knowledge to bring up points, you're just rushing through them.

Yeah, that was my idea of the situation. I look at the exam and think that the teacher is not testing my knowledge of a subject, I am being tested in my ability to write fast.

#8 Posted by BlatantNinja23 (930 posts) -

If you have any idea on what will be asked... write and write and write to the point where that topic because second nature to you

#9 Posted by mosespippy (4051 posts) -

What my mom does is drop a course after a week or two if she thinks the teacher is going to be a hard marker. That's how she has maintained an 80% average. That's probably too late for you to do.

#10 Edited by kmdrkul (3476 posts) -

Brevity, dawg. I would personally try to develop strong arguments for each essay question first. In my mind, four concise essays that make strong arguments are the best way to go, even if they may be on the brief side. Brevity doesn't have to be middling!

#11 Posted by Petiew (1333 posts) -

Completing all of the essays is definitely the best way to go. Say you only managed to start 4 out of 6 of the essays. That caps your maximum score at around 66% if you answer every single question perfectly.
Just be mindful of your time, six essays in three hours is roughly one every thirty minutes. You should attempt to stick to that schedule. Spend less time describing your points in great detail and more time analysing. State your point, give evidence and then analyse how this relates back to the question. (Well, depending on your course this might not be relevant. What kind of course are you doing anyway?) 
 
I'd say you can skip introductions and conclusions. Go straight into the question if you're worried about time, and add in a conclusion if you have enough time. Maybe go back to the conclusions once all of the questions are done.
Never completely skip a question. Even bullet pointing some things quickly in 5 minutes will earn a few marks.

Online
#12 Posted by Jesna (73 posts) -

I have found the key to writing timed essays is to have a pre-established structure you can rely on. An introduction, a paragraph about each of your major points (Three is a good go-to number), and a conclusion. Given how much you seem to need to write, I would advise against doing very much outlining that isn't going directly into your introduction. Try to mentally answer the question in your head and then set your intro up so that those answers will follow the form.

Also write quickly, but be careful to keep your writing legible. It would really suck to finish in time but get your answer thrown out because the professor can't read it.

#13 Posted by Zomgfruitbunnies (752 posts) -

How does your professor mark papers? Is he/she more concerned about quantity or quality? What subject(s) are you writing about, and have you been given the topic(s) beforehand?

If you know the topic(s), write and memorize them before the exam then simply regurgitate. It's not as hard as it sounds. Time consuming, but completely doable.

If you don't know the topis(s), you're just going to have to play to the marker's tastes. Nine times out of ten, essay exams are looking for structure and knowledge, not the number of words you can squeeze in. If you demonstrate the ability to form a clear and succinct argument within the given restrictions, word count only comes second come evaluation time. Know all you can know, and write all you can write.

#14 Posted by Angouri (231 posts) -

I have always done essay exams by spending the first 5 minutes of every essay just figuring out what I want to say and writing an outline for a 5 paragraph essay (intro/thesis statement, pt 1, pt 2, pt 3, conclusion). Remember that teachers like organization as much as content, so making a clear argument really helps in your essays. You may have brilliant points, but if they are lost in wads of text, they are wasted. Make sure your evidence supports your argument; some people I know write their intros and conclusions last in order to make sure that the core of their text supports their thesis.

I also tend to mumble my text under my breath, too. This helps me write in a more realistic style, without superfluous words.

#15 Posted by SSully (4130 posts) -

I find it is just a matter of knowing the material. Most essay tests are more lenient on grammar and other mistakes, and focus more on the content you provide. If you can show you know what you are talking about, you are usually fine. So I would just make sure you know your shit. If you read an essay question and feel you may need better structure then just free writing it, then make an outline. Besides that I usually just write out what I am thinking and move on to the next question. I have never done bad on an essay exam question when I knew the material and executed the test like this, my bad essays were all one's that I tried to bullshit.

#16 Posted by Cameron (595 posts) -

I'm currently working on my PhD and I've marked several first-year exams. When I grade essay questions I'm looking for the points to be clear, with as little bullshit as possible. My biggest tip is don't add unnecessary details. That wastes time and it can confuse the person grading. A 250 word answer that is spot on is better than a 750 word answer that is little more than a ramble.

I'm also not looking for perfect answers from first year students. It's much better to have competent answers to all of the questions than one or two really good answers and then either nothing or garbage for the rest. If your professor is reasonable, then she will know that you are under a tight time constraint and adjust her expectations accordingly.

Just try to keep calm and plan out your answers (either in your head or on paper) before you start writing. Planning before you write will allow you to avoid extraneous points and keep you focused on answering the question.

This is all anecdotal of course. I can only speak for how I grade essay-based exams and my limited experience with professors and other grad students. I'm sure there are professors who have wildly inflated expectations, but you're unlikely to impress them regardless of how good your answers are. Just answer everything as well as you can in the time you have.

#17 Edited by MonetaryDread (1995 posts) -

@mosespippy said:

What my mom does is drop a course after a week or two if she thinks the teacher is going to be a hard marker. That's how she has maintained an 80% average. That's probably too late for you to do.

Yeah. I learned that lesson this semester. In January I have signed up for two or three of every class I need and am going to choose the class that seems like it is easiest.@BlatantNinja23 said:

If you have any idea on what will be asked... write and write and write to the point where that topic because second nature to you

I wish I knew. This is an English class so I have been told the format of the exam and that is about it. I will be presented with two articles to read then I have to answer six questions in the form of an essay that is between 300-500 words.

@Trav said:

Having your introductory paragraph make a point that must be proven (your thesis statement) helps keep the rest of your paper on track because you start out on solid footing.

YOU GOT THIS

Thanks for the words of confidence. I am as prepared for this as possible, plus if I fail the test it will be alright. The way I look at things is that I have been out of school for twelve fucking years. Just getting into the habit of University level studying is hard enough. If I fail a course then I will just repeat it again.

@Zomgfruitbunnies said:

If you don't know the topis(s), you're just going to have to play to the marker's tastes. Nine times out of ten, essay exams are looking for structure and knowledge, not the number of words you can squeeze in. If you demonstrate the ability to form a clear and succinct argument within the given restrictions, word count only comes second come evaluation time. Know all you can know, and write all you can write.

That is what I was thinking ahead of time. Since I have been out of school for so long was required to take a grade 12 English equivelancy exam (It was called an LPI), anyways I received a perfect score and the only thing I was trying to accomplish was filling out the essay rubric that was given to me in High School.

#18 Posted by endaround (2140 posts) -

Hard to say without knowing who is doing the grading, but most of the time the grader is looking for a very specific set of facts given that time frame. If you have an idea about what is to be asked, prepare outlines for possible questions and study from those.

#19 Posted by Patman99 (1559 posts) -

@Cameron said:

I'm currently working on my PhD and I've marked several first-year exams. When I grade essay questions I'm looking for the points to be clear, with as little bullshit as possible. My biggest tip is don't add unnecessary details. That wastes time and it can confuse the person grading. A 250 word answer that is spot on is better than a 750 word answer that is little more than a ramble.

I'm also not looking for perfect answers from first year students. It's much better to have competent answers to all of the questions than one or two really good answers and then either nothing or garbage for the rest. If your professor is reasonable, then she will know that you are under a tight time constraint and adjust her expectations accordingly.

Just try to keep calm and plan out your answers (either in your head or on paper) before you start writing. Planning before you write will allow you to avoid extraneous points and keep you focused on answering the question.

This is all anecdotal of course. I can only speak for how I grade essay-based exams and my limited experience with professors and other grad students. I'm sure there are professors who have wildly inflated expectations, but you're unlikely to impress them regardless of how good your answers are. Just answer everything as well as you can in the time you have.

This is good advice. Always try and lay out your essay before you start writing. Even if it's as bare bones as listing the three or four points you are going to talk about. The whole "knowledge dump" strategy that some people use works on very few markers. In my experience, profs want you to answer the question not dance around it.

Also gauge what you want to write about depending on how much each question is worth. If it is only a 3 point question, there is no sense trying to give an exhaustive answer. However, if the question is worth much more, than I would try and give a more complete answer. This might seem like common sense, but I have seen way too many people give too short of an answer for the big question and too long of an answer for the short question.

#20 Posted by MildMolasses (3214 posts) -

As someone who just wrote his first exam in over six years, I can sympathize. However my issue, oddly, is multiple choice. Nothing makes me realize how tenuous my grasp on material is like multiple choice. As for essays, I think I've been very lucky in that I'm usually provided with clear areas to study, or a bunch of sample questions which will most likely be used on the exam

#21 Posted by MiniPato (2721 posts) -

I was going to say, if it was page based, just write big. But, meeting the 300 word count for each essay shouldn't be too hard. I think 500 words is like...what, 1 and a half pages in Microsoft word double spaced?

#22 Posted by DoctorWelch (2774 posts) -

When writing an essay for an exam, don't worry about the more abstract parts of the essay like perfect structure and such. Just include an introduction, a paragraph or two with the points/explication/argument, and then a brief conclusion. Most logical Professors care more that you demonstrate a firm grasp of the concepts rather than having a perfectly written and formatted essay. If you know the terms, what they mean, and how to apply them, all you have to do is demonstrate that and you should be fine.

#23 Posted by Turambar (6677 posts) -

Are you told ahead of time what the essay questions will be on? I generally tended to write the essays out before hand, or at least detailed outlines. That way I spent zero time planning out an essay once the time started, and all of it actually writing.

That said, I haven't had to deal with a timed essay since the second year of undergrad (like 5 years ago now),

#24 Posted by Zomgfruitbunnies (752 posts) -

@MonetaryDread: Oh, hello, fellow Canadian. I remember taking the LPI because UBC required it. Finished within the first hour and left as soon as I was allowed to. My fellow examinees thought I'd given up, only to be surprised when I presented to them a perfect 6 on the essay section (did poorly on the grammar tests in the previous sections).

Anyhow, see that this is an English exam that forces you to essentially write in a vacuum for 3 hours based on two articles that may or may not be related to each other and your course material, you don't seem to have many ways to prepare for it beforehand. My only relevant advice now is to avoid such courses in the future if possible, because the exam essay format is an unnatural way of writing that has very little practical benefit outside of practicing time management and impromptu critical thinking/organizational skills. Literally, no one who works in the academia writes like this. It's not necessarily a bad skill to practice from time to time, but good writing is always a result of time-invested research.

#25 Posted by golguin (3849 posts) -

@Trav said:

I once had to write three 500 word essays in 2 hours for an AP test, what you're doing sounds equally, if not far more, terrible. Worst part was each essay was analytical on prose or poetry, so there was little prep you could do other than just being good and training to write quickly and concisely!

I would say that making a very clear, concise thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and then backing that up with solid evidence on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis is the most valuable advice. Some people like to make their grand thesis statement, then just write points they'll make to prove the statement directly afterwards, using those points as introductory sentences for the following paragraphs.

Having your introductory paragraph make a point that must be proven (your thesis statement) helps keep the rest of your paper on track because you start out on solid footing.

YOU GOT THIS

I took the AP test my senior year to get credit for college and I literally pulled one of my greatest academic feats of high school that day. During the essay portion I had writer's block and I just sat there for the majority of the time. When I saw the clock had 30 minutes left (I always did this during timed essays every week) I got hit with such a panic that I just started writing. I knocked out all 3 essays in those 30 minutes and got some GE credit for college.

This was all thanks to "The Art of the 10 minute essay" that our teacher taught us during AP English. He was actually a grader for the AP exams and he drilled us on recognizing the differences from a score of 1 all the way to the score of 9 (I averaged a 7 on my essays) on a weekly basis. He showed us what was really needed to get enough points for at least a 5. The recommendations people have already posted is more than enough to net you enough points. He was a harder grader than my college english prof.

#26 Posted by Clonedzero (4096 posts) -

set it all up in the first paragraph. knock down the questions/point to the essay in the body, quick recap in the conclusion

#27 Posted by Winsord (1173 posts) -

@MonetaryDread said:

@mosespippy said:

What my mom does is drop a course after a week or two if she thinks the teacher is going to be a hard marker. That's how she has maintained an 80% average. That's probably too late for you to do.

Yeah. I learned that lesson this semester. In January I have signed up for two or three of every class I need and am going to choose the class that seems like it is easiest.@BlatantNinja23 said:

This seems like a great way to coast into getting a glorified piece of paper, but it's not the best route if you actually want to get your money's worth at school. You should be attending classes to actually learn, not to just get your diploma. A lot of the time the harder markers are the teachers who actually seem to care about what they're teaching, and they give far and away the best feedback. You'll learn a lot more by being challenged than you will regurgitating what you already knew and being praised for it. Obviously there are some teachers that are not only hard makers, but bad markers, but they seem to be more rare than their counterparts. I don't know what field you're going into, but at least in the tech industry, if you go to an interview and say you have extensive Cisco knowledge or a wide variety of coding languages, they'll be sure test you on it. It's becoming more and more common for employers to test applicants during their interviews in order to differentiate between the hoards of college students with the same degrees, and see who's actually retained knowledge from school.

#28 Posted by mosespippy (4051 posts) -

@Winsord: My mom is a 62 year old high school drop out. She's been back in school for 14 years now and already has an Architectural Engineering degree but hasn't even applied for any jobs that require it. This English degree that she'll get is never going to get her a job and she's never going to try to get a job. She's only in it for the glorified piece of paper and as something to fill her day until she dies. Personally, I don't give a fuck what the number on the paper says as long as I learn something new, interesting and useful. Most courses that I took didn't do that so I didn't give a fuck about them and have dropped out after four and a half years of Computer Science, Economics and Commerce. I'd rather have real world skills than stress over a piece of paper. It seems that the job market in this economy wants both and if it can only have one it'll take the piece of paper. At least that's how it is in this isolated, low population university town.

#29 Posted by Hizang (8533 posts) -

Get drunk before you do them.

#30 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -
  1. Don't study. Either you know the material or you don't.
  2. Maybe sacrifice a goat or something if you're worried. It couldn't hurt.
#31 Edited by Clouise (147 posts) -

@MonetaryDread: First write a plan for each essay. If worst comes to worst and you don't get one finished you can still score points based off a plan. If the examiner can clearly see you were going to put in all the right information you can get a point or two I think. That's they told us at university anyway.

@Petiew said:

Never completely skip a question. Even bullet pointing some things quickly in 5 minutes will earn a few marks.

Intro: just rewrite the question in your own words e.g. If the question is "Ice cream is amazing. Discuss" Just write like "in this essay I will discuss why ice cream is so goddamn amazing. I wall talk about bla, bla and bla"

Bulk: spend a paragraph on each reason, once you have made your point move on! Also remember to give some different opinions too, not everyone thinks ice cream is amazing!

Conclusion: wrap it up. "Ice cream is amazing because bla, bla and bla

#32 Edited by Cerevisiae (75 posts) -

Ugh, yeah. I enjoy writing, but not in a limited amount of time. We had a 50 minute class where tests largely consisted of 3-4 topics in which I'd have to write about a page each. The problem is (due to several injuries from playing baseball from childhood until I graduated high school), my writing wrist would hurt like hell after writing a paragraph or two. I'd have to take breaks, then write in a hurry. The legibility of my writing would get worse and worse and worse until it was barely readable by the end of the test.

As for just know what to write, you should practice. Take all the normal steps that you would when writing a paper. Write a rough draft in your study time. Then make a bullet point sheet to memorize and try remember it (I always actually visualize the sheet when taking the exam, sort of like a mental map). This will at the very least save you time (you won't be sitting there trying to figure out what point to make next) and also give you more structure. I think professors give you more leeway (whether they realize it or not) when you have a well-organized and well-written essay.

Also about the bullet points: You might want to write them out above the topic on the essay, just for convenience.

On length: I don't worry about this. I know all the points I need to make. When I've made them all and wrapped up the topic, I move on. Don't add fluff. It will often just make your writing messy and may even lead you to say something incorrect. Just address all the points you need to and move on.

#33 Posted by McGhee (6094 posts) -

Try not to drink when you study like I do.

#34 Posted by Levio (1784 posts) -

Believe in yourself. You think (probably), therefore you are (probably). And if you are, then you should believe you are, which is semantically equivalent to believing in yourself.

QED

#35 Edited by meatdimensionfighter (42 posts) -

I learned this in high school and is still the best way to organize and write a coherent essay for exam purposes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_paragraph_essay You just tailor the length depending how many key points you want to cover.

As for length, 250-300 words is about a page double-spaced. Usually a decent introductory paragraph will eat up half to 3/4 of that (if you know what you're talking about)

#36 Posted by 49th (2697 posts) -

What I usually do is first think of a few relevant points, then I decide which points are similar and structure my essay around that. Making references to previous points and noting that they are related to give it a nice flow.

Introduce the point, explain the point, include quote if necessary, elaborate on point, give opinion if necessary.

I wrote 6 pages in 1 and a half hours today. The bone in my finger where the pen goes hurts now.

#37 Posted by Trav (241 posts) -

@golguin said:

@Trav said:

I once had to write three 500 word essays in 2 hours for an AP test, what you're doing sounds equally, if not far more, terrible. Worst part was each essay was analytical on prose or poetry, so there was little prep you could do other than just being good and training to write quickly and concisely!

I would say that making a very clear, concise thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and then backing that up with solid evidence on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis is the most valuable advice. Some people like to make their grand thesis statement, then just write points they'll make to prove the statement directly afterwards, using those points as introductory sentences for the following paragraphs.

Having your introductory paragraph make a point that must be proven (your thesis statement) helps keep the rest of your paper on track because you start out on solid footing.

YOU GOT THIS

I took the AP test my senior year to get credit for college and I literally pulled one of my greatest academic feats of high school that day. During the essay portion I had writer's block and I just sat there for the majority of the time. When I saw the clock had 30 minutes left (I always did this during timed essays every week) I got hit with such a panic that I just started writing. I knocked out all 3 essays in those 30 minutes and got some GE credit for college.

This was all thanks to "The Art of the 10 minute essay" that our teacher taught us during AP English. He was actually a grader for the AP exams and he drilled us on recognizing the differences from a score of 1 all the way to the score of 9 (I averaged a 7 on my essays) on a weekly basis. He showed us what was really needed to get enough points for at least a 5. The recommendations people have already posted is more than enough to net you enough points. He was a harder grader than my college english prof.

I know exactly how you feel. AP English was harder than any of my university classes so far, and that class really made me the writer I am today. That test really is an accomplishment.

Ironically, I knew going in that I was going to a JC, so passing meant nothing. But still.

#38 Posted by Veektarius (4646 posts) -

General rule of thumb for a blue book exam is, A) Decide what your answer will be, B) come up with three supporting points for your answer and C) your conclusion shouldn't introduce a new idea that hasn't been mentioned before. If you have more than three points, it doesn't matter, don't waste your time. If you have less than three points, consider whether there's an alternative answer that you might believe less strongly or which might be less interesting, but which you can support with examples that prove you've done and understood the coursework.

#39 Posted by dudeglove (7688 posts) -

It's rather sad that students are more concerned with studying for exams rather than the subject itself. That said, if you have access to previous papers, just do a bunch of those as practice.

#40 Posted by huser (1051 posts) -

@MonetaryDread: Practice makes perfect. Now might not be the best time for it, but if you've identified the issue, I'd say giving yourself some fake exams to get in the groove of digesting a topic, putting forth cogent ideas in a structured manner, and then tying them together would be the best way to address your concerns. A lot of test preparatory books have it, like the General GRE ones.