Many students find in-class essay writing to be highly nerve-wracking. Usually, you are given a topic and are expected to write a coherent, thoughtful piece in a short period of time. Since other academic writing tasks allow you plenty of time to plan carefully and revise your work, writing a good in-class essay may seem more like a matter of luck than skill. In reality, however, understanding a few basic principles can help you produce good results every time you are asked to write an in-class essay.

Planning Ahead

When the writing prompt is given on the day of the exam you can still plan ahead. Making sure you fully understand the instructor’s expectations, paying careful attention to the requirements and asking questions if you are not sure about them can help you prepare beforehand. For example, you can find out how long the essay should be, how many paragraphs should be included and what kind of task it will be, such as analyzing, comparing and contrasting or narrative description.

Outlining the Essay

No matter how little time you have to write, it pays to take some time to outline your essay before you begin. The Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests looking carefully at the writing prompt to find key words such as “analyze,” “summarize,” “explain” and “relate,” to build your outline. You can make sure your outline includes all the issues and questions raised by the prompt.

Developing the Essay

As you write, you will include all the components that go into any essay, including an introduction, body and conclusion. The first paragraph will introduce the general topic and then provide the thesis statement, which sums up the main assertion made in your essay. The body paragraphs will provide discussion to support the thesis and include a few specific supporting details. A short conclusion that sums up the assertions made in the body paragraphs wraps up your essay.

Checking Your Work

Leaving a little time at the end of the session, you can read over the entire essay to check for obvious misspellings, grammatical mistakes and missing words. Rereading your prompt will help you make sure that you have completed the task your instructor requested. If you find that you need to make a lengthy addition to a hand-written essay, you can write the addition as an endnote with a clear indication of where the passage belongs.