Timed Writing (The Prompt)


Because you have a limited amount of time when you write a timed essay, it is important to organize your time so that you can create a complete response. It is common for students to feel a sense of panic when they see a clock counting down the seconds during an exam. Because of this psychological pressure, it is easy to overlook a few important things. 

The Prompt

One of the challenges of timed writing is making quick decisions about content and organization. The brainstorming stage is limited and requires you to move swiftly into creating your paragraphs. Unlike most writing situations, you don't have weeks of preparation time to research ideas, revise, and get feedback on your essay. 

First, you need to be clear on what the prompt is asking you. This is true in any assignment, but it is especially important when you have limited time to make corrections. You need to recognize the type of writing (compare, describe, argue, explain) and create a thesis statement and supporting points that make a clear road map for what you will say. Additionally, you need to check the prompt to make sure that you are addressing all of the points. 

Once you have analyzed the prompt, you should be able to start creating your outline so you have all of the necessary pieces. 

Make a short list of the parts of the prompt if there are multiple questions. That is a good first step for creating a thesis and topic sentences that cover all of the necessary information. 

Understanding and including all of the parts of the prompt is important for two reasons.

The first reason is that the question is specifically designed to get you to write about the topic for a specific reason. A multi-part question signals to you the degree of complexity that the audience expects to find in your response. If you miss information from your response, your reader might assume that this means you don't know the information. 

Second, your audience may attribute missing information to a lack of language ability. This is especially true in a standardized test like the TOEFL or the GRE where the reader knows nothing about your ability other than what you show on the test. The reader might think that you chose not to write about pat of the question because you do not have the grammar or vocabulary to explain your ideas. This unfortunately might be your college professor's assuption as well, especially if a professor in a large class does not get many opportunities to speak with you one on one. 

Therefore, it's in your best interest to carefully read through the prompt and dissect it. Once you know what the reader expects, you can write a stronger response with more purposeful organization.

Outline Ideas

First of all, an outline will always benefit you. You may think that the best idea is to immediately start writing because the time is limited, but that could lead to a very disorganized presentation of an answer. Read the prompt carefully and make a brief outline of ideas so that you know all parts of the prompt will be addressed and all of your most important details will be included. 

Your outline should include the important basics you will practice throughout this semester:

Timed Outlining

  • Read the prompt carefully. 
  • Brainstorm your ideas for each part of the prompt.
  • Organize your ideas into a logical outline.
  • Decide on what is the most important to include.
  • Write a thesis statement that directly answers the main part of the prompt.
  • Write topic sentences for your main points.
  • Write a restated thesis statement.


Exercise 1: Analyze Timed Writing Prompt

Read the prompts below. Identify the linguistic task. Break the prompt down into the individual parts. 

  1. Some people believe that it is not possible to create true friendships over the internet. Others believe that online relationships can be as meaningful as those in person. In what ways do you think technology limits building connection? In what ways do you think it allows for creating friendships? 
  2. In today's society, there is a lot of discussion about the negative impact of humans on the environment and the need to make changes for a healthier future. What environmental issue do you think is the most important? Why do you think that this issue is so important to address? What solutions do you have for improving in this area?
  3. Imagine the ideal future city. What does that city look like and how is it different from the one you live in now? What technology would need to be developed to make that city a reality? Do you think this ideal is possible? Why or why not?

Exercise 2: Timed Writing Practice

You have 30 minutes to respond to this prompt. Your answer should be around 300 words long. Before you begin, think about how you will use your timer to complete the task

Prompt: Do you think all colleges should require students to study abroad as part of their graduation requirements? Why or why not? 

This content is provided to you freely by BYU-I Books.

Access it online or download it at https://books.byui.edu/academic_b_writing/timed_writing_2.