Why is my professor torturing me with an in-class essay or essay exam?
Although live writing can be stressful, this method is used because it tests your critical thinking skills. Demonstrating you have mastered the objectives of a course means more than taking tests, which often requires recalling memorized information. In college, students need to show not only that they can recall course materials but also use those materials in making an analysis, synthesizing information, and developing original ideas.
Tips for Preparing Yourself
1) Rest, Eat, and Dress Appropriately
a. Make sure to get enough sleep the night before your test or essay. Falling asleep while writing would be pretty embarrassing.
b. Eat a regular, balanced meal. Protein is good for your energy levels, and vitamins B and D help your attention span.
c. Dress in layers. The room may be too hot or too cold, and feeling uncomfortable in your environment could cause your attention to wander.
2) Take Thorough Notes
a. You may be able to use your notes, so ensure you attend class and pay attention by taking notes. (If you need help with this, you may want to take a reading class or come in for tutoring in the Writing Center.)
b. “[O]nce you learn and incorporate solid note taking methods into your study strategies, you will find immediate improvement in the speed and accuracy of your learning for college classes” (Evans Carter, p. 396).
3) Practice Writing Outside of Class
a. Time yourself for the same amount of time you will have during class. Having experience with timed writing helps to decrease your stress levels come test day.
b. Write your own questions or use ones from your textbook. For example, The Brief Bedford Reader has a section in the back of many chapters entitled, “Suggestions for Writing.”
4) Come to Class Prepared
a. Bring what you think you will need to be successful with you. Some items may not be allowed by your professor, so be sure to verify what items you can bring beforehand. These may include:
i. USB or thumb drive
ii. pens and pencils (bring at least two, in case one “breaks down”)
v. watch or timing device
5) Plan Your Time
a. Based on how much time you have to complete the essay or test, create a schedule for yourself that includes planning, drafting, and revising.
b. Planning: Spend at least five to ten minutes planning what you will write and in what order.
c. Drafting: Spend the most time in this phase.
d. Revising: Save at least ten minutes at the end for making revisions. We all make mistakes, especially under pressure.
e. Use a timing device to make sure you’re staying on schedule.
i. Sample schedule for an in-class essay during a 75-minute class:
3:05—3:15: Proofreading (finding errors) and editing (correcting errors)
6) Choose an Appropriate Pattern of Organization
Using the words in the essay prompt or question(s) you’re given, decide how you will organize your essay or paragraph. Are you being asked to:
a. Analyze? Use a compare/contrast or cause/effect pattern.
b. Discuss or explain? Use a definition and example or example/illustration pattern.
c. List? Use a chronological, order of importance, or spatial pattern.
7) Remain Calm
What can you do when things start to go awry? Don’t panic; try one of these:
a. Close your eyes or look away from the paper/computer screen. Look out the window, if there is one.
b. Breathe deeply and slowly count to ten. Perhaps try this with your eyes closed.
c. If your professor allows it, take a quick restroom or water fountain break.
d. Drink the water you brought (again, if it’s allowed).
e. Review your outline. Use it like a checklist to ensure you’ve included everything you wanted to in your essay.
“Taking In-Class Essay Exams,” George Mason University: http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=311
“Essay Exams,” The Writing Center, UNC:
“Writing Essays for Exams,” Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):
To view the Prezi that accompanies this workshop, click here.