How to Write an In-Class Essay

Don't spend too much time trying to figure out what to write about.
... Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether as a class assignment or a final exam, in-class essays are assigned in most English department classes. For some, this exercise can be stressful or confusing. However, if students make the most of their time, plan before they write, complete the essay and read over their work, they can compose stronger and more effective in-class essays.

1 Make the Most of Your Time

One of the identifying characteristics of an in-class essay is the time constraint. A common mistake is to spend too much time trying to decide what to write about. The first step, after reading the prompt, is to pick a topic and stick with it. Although the subject you write about does matter, how you write about that subject matters far more. So commit to a topic and focus on making the most of the time to write a strong, well-developed essay.

2 Make an Outline

Even with the time constraint, you should take the time to plan the essay before you begin writing it. This includes brainstorming and sketching an outline, however brief, to organize the main idea and overall structure of your essay. This will save you time in the long run because you will have a map to follow as you write, rather than getting stuck in the middle of the essay with no idea what point to make, or repeating points you have already made.

3 Write a Conclusion

Keeping your eye on the clock as you write will help you avoid getting caught mid-sentence in the middle of a body paragraph when it's time to stop. When you see that you have five or six minutes remaining, you can wrap up whatever point you are making and write out a conclusion that re-states your main idea and sums up what you have written, making the overall essay feel more complete and well-planned.

4 Proofread and Revise

If you finish before time is up, you can read over what you have written prior to handing it in. Most instructors will understand and appreciate if there are markings on the paper due to corrections and revisions. Taking the time to proofread your work rather than rushing out of the classroom can improve the clarity, fluidity, grammar and spelling of the essay, and ultimately improve your grade.

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.