As discussed in our previous timed writing lessons, you should always start your writing with a plan. Having that outline will help you to stay focused and use your time well. However, things do not always go as planned. In this section, you will learn some strategies for how to be flexible when the unexpected happens.
Obstacles to Following an Outline
First, let's consider some of the reasons you might need to change your plans during a timed writing situation. As you look at the list, you will probably recognize problems that occur in drafted writing as well. The main difference is you don't have the same time or resources for solving these problems.
- A idea is harder to develop into a pargraph than you thought it would be.
- You realize you aren't happy with the position you decided on.
- The place you are taking the test is distracting you and you lost time.
- Your typing skills with an American English keyboard (QWERTY) are not strong.
- You took longer than planned to write the outline.
- The test is long and you are starting to feel tired and lose focus.
- The test is important and your stress is making it hard to do your best.
- You have taken the test before and didn't perform as well on the writing section as you had hoped and you are worrying.
Obstacles 1-5 are all writing-based concerns and can be solved with a few simple strategies.
- If a point is too hard to develop, you can switch to your next point and leave the one you were working on for later. If you can't think of how to continue writing that paragraph, you can choose to leave it incomplete to show an attempt at writing it, or you can delete it depending on what you think would be best for the task and the rubric.
- As discussed in the third timed writing assignment, your position does not matter. What matters most is your ability to explain and defend using clear reasons and support from the course or from your background knowledge. If you decide you don't like the position, it doesn't really matter. What matters is writing a well-organized response. Don't start over!
- There is very little you can do to change the environment once you've started the test. Some testing centers (like the ELC during end of semester testing) are filled with many people taking the test. Taking a test at home can provide different distractions. The best thing you can do is practice in similar environments as much as you can before the actual test.
- There is not a true shortcut for typing. While there may be times that you will have timed writing questions on a paper test, it is becoming less and less frequent in university settings. Practice with typing instruction websites and practice with the keyboard as much as you can.
- One thing that will help you to adjust to this problem is to organize your outline with your strongest and easiest points at the beginning. By organizing it this way, you know that you have the thesis and restatement as a minimum introduction and conclusion, and you will begin the most important supporting idea first. That way, if you run out of time, you can delete what you didn't get to.
As you can see from examples 6-8, not all of the problems you might have are just about organization or time. Anxiety and stress about a test or the environment of the testing room can impact your ability to do your best. Rather than make those obstacles worse by panicking, acknowledge the feelings and make a new plan. Take another look at your outline and see what you can eliminate. What is still necessary to explain? What points would just be a bonus to include? Let yourself put your focus on the essentials and minimum expectations. You should have time to write those parts. Anything more you have time to do just improves your writing, but you will know that you accomplished the most important parts of the tasks.
Exercise 1: Reflection
Write a short reflection (1 paragraph) to answer the question below.
What obstacles do you face when you are asked to do timed writing? How do you overcome those obstacles? What strategy would you like to try?
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 strategies if you have an obstacle with following your plan.
There are many different social media websites and apps. Choose two examples of social media to compare or contrast. Explain either two similarities or two differences in your response.