First, what NOT to DoDo not start with an empty statement like, “It is common knowledge that the world is a complex place” or a vague quote like, “Someone once said, ‘Practice makes perfect.'” Timed-essay graders take this as a signal that you’ve got nothing to say. First impressions!Do not write before you know precisely what you want to say and how you’re going to support it with details. You don’t want to write half of a 2-hour essay and then realize you should have begun somewhere else.Do not use clichéd language (“first and foremost” “as different and varied as the grains of sand at the beach”) or vague terms (“the American Dream” or “our universal hopes and desires”). Like vague beginnings, this shows you’re not thinking through ideas, just serving up canned thought.Do not write as much as you possibly canin the time given. Yeah, yeah, quality, not quantity. You know that already. But it’s true.Do not rely on a five-paragraph essay structure if it doesn’t seem appropriate for the prompt. Prefabricated structure can be a boon in timed writing, but if done poorly, it signals that you’re not thinking. In other words, decide on what you need to say, then how to say it.Do not use complex words just to sound smart (like “transpire” when you mean “happen” or “momentarily” when you mean “soon”). Graders can tell. They know this is a timed essay, and want complex, well-reasoned ideas written simply, not complex words.Do not hesitate to cross out words or make revisions. Believe it or not, teachers appreciate this. Neatness is somewhat important, but showing you’re thinking is critical.Before the testKnow this: graders are mainly looking to see that you can understand the question and can respond with appropriate content. And they’re more interested in (and grade primarily) critical thinking and analysis than grammar and mechanics (GRE (Links to an external site.)). They’re not trying to trick you.First, find out about the exam type. Ask what your teacher mainly wants you to do. The most common types are:analyze an issuerepeat facts you’ve learnedmake a persuasive argumentreflect on your personal experiencecompare/contrastexplain/identifyThen do what you can to build a repertoire of details and a skeleton structure for your paper. If you know the essay will come from a previous class reading, look over that text and jot down key ideas and even quotes that you can potentially insert into the essay. Also jot down a few potential connections you could make to the theme of the reading.Test prep services often provide clients with these “knowledge banks” prior to a test, which brings up ethical issues of plagiarism. In response, testing companies have developed software to detect similar essay content (Links to an external site.).As for prefabricating a structure, this can save loads of time, but it can also backfire. Don’t be too determined to stick to five-paragraph structure just because you’re familiar with it.Keeping in mind these potential risks, here are some very general guidelines for timed essay structure:
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