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Writing an Essay during a Test

Updated on October 20, 2014

A Test Essay

How To Write An Essay During A High Pressure Test



Writing is an art. Many people love to write and find it inspiring and self-fulfilling. Sometimes writing is a personal journey for an author. However, test-writing is a chore, a chore best done by an author entering a testing environment, prepared to slap together an essay quickly and efficiently. In this post, I am going to explain how to write an essay for an important test by using a simple formula because an essay written as part of a big test is too important to leave to your muse. First, I will discuss the goal of such an essay; second, the best approach; and third, a word about your audience.

The goal of a test essay should be to do a solid job, not to be unique or brilliant or to search for an epiphany through the process because writing an essay during an examination such as an SAT or LSAT is a means to an end. A test-taker needs to ensure that he or she scores respectable points without risking a score meltdown. A testing environment is stressful. You are writing under time pressure; you are writing in an unfamiliar setting; you are writing without your favorite props like music or snacks; you are being watched; you are mindful of how making a mistake could ruin your future. Therefore, this environment demands that you enter with the goal of writing a competent essay, a well-constructed but not flashy essay, a sure thing. You want to plan to perform a lay-up, not a tomahawk dunk; swing for a base hit, not a home run; invest in proven company, not a start-up.

The best approach is to write a formulaic essay. Now, the formulaic essay is often criticized as not being original or as being too rigid or too predictable. Nonetheless, it is the perfect form for a test environment. The classic five-paragraph essay sings in this setting. It is written with the first paragraph introducing the topic and then offering a specific thesis. Think of the shape of this paragraph as a funnel, wide to narrow. The paragraph also outlines what your three supporting points are going to be. Then, the second, third, and fourth paragraphs each contain one point with logic and evidence in support of that point. The fifth paragraph briefly summarizes what your essay in a slightly different manner and then ends by offering a wider application. Think of the shape of this paragraph as the funnel turned around, narrow to broad. Regardless of what essay topic they spring on you in the test, the five paragraph essay form will allow you to avoid panic and chaos and turn a tough topic into an admired product on a time-tested frame.

Young people taking a big test often do not think about their audience. They think about themselves, the result they want to achieve, the test itself, etc. A test-taker cannot know whom his specific reader is going to be. This lack of knowledge is another reason not to take chances. Perhaps you have concocted brilliant organic essays for teachers in school, but your subconscious was informed by your impressions of your teacher. Here, you can only guess at your general audience. The people who apply to grade essay tests are often composition graduate students or teachers who need extra money. They are trained to score each specific test essay type. However, remember, they are reading a large volume of essays. You are taking a risk if you attempt subtlety or artistry. You are taking a risk if you count on the reader following a leap of logic. You need to offer these over-worked, underpaid professionals a solid, logical essay built on an easy-to-follow frame. Additionally-- a controversial but important point-- remember that the majority of English majors are liberals or moderates, so keep that in mind, especially if you are tempted to argue a controversial conservative point. Professional training or not, essays which strike against scorers’ essential beliefs invite a harsher score.

A five-paragraph essay will not set the world of writing on fire, yet it’s a proven design going back to the Greek rhetoricians. Even though English majors are the main essay examiners and voice opinions against formulaic writing in the English classroom, they appreciate the order and structure of such an essay when scoring an enormous volume of test essays. After you score well with your five-paragraph essay on your big test, remember that formulaic writing is highly prized in law, business, and science. Each genre has its own formula; if you replicate the accepted formula correctly, you will be rewarded for having recognized and emulated the field’s standards. And as you write more in life, if your inner artist rebels at formulas, remember that even free-form poets do their best work after internalizing classic poetry forms.


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