Timed Writing (Choose a Position)

A very common kind of timed writing prompt asks you to give your opinion about something and then support it with reasons and examples. This type of prompt is popular because it requires you to understand an idea and use advanced grammar in your response.

In this section, you will learn strategies for how to choose a position quickly. Position has a similar meaning to opinion. The difference is that an opinion can sometimes be connected to your personal beliefs. Position is used when you choose a side and support it. It does not always mean that you really agree with the side of the issue you are writing about. When you are doing timed writing, sometimes the position you support and your personal opinion will be the same; sometimes they won't be. The most important part of choosing a position for timed writing is that you do it quickly. 


The first thing to remember is that there is no "wrong" opinion. You will not earn a good grade for your writing just because you chose the "correct" position. For example, there is no "correct" answer to What is your favorite movie and why? This is why you should not waste a lot of time choosing the position that is "best."

One way to choose a position is to write about your first thought. It is often easiest for you to explain the first idea that you have. Maybe you already have information to support that position, which is why it is so easy to think of when you read the prompt.

Another option is to write about the position that is easiest for you to support. This does not mean to lie. It just means that if you do not have a strong personal opinion about the topic, sometimes the best thing to do is to explain the position that you understand best or you can think about most clearly in that moment. For example, maybe you personally do not have strong feelings about transportation in Provo, so you choose to explain why Provo needs more buses because it is something you remember talking about in class.

Choose a position quickly. Focus your time and energy on supporting your ideas. This will help you to feel less stressed while you write your response. 

Examples of Choosing a Position

Prompt 1: What do you want to study in college? Why does that major interest you? 

My first thought is to write about studying business. I don't really know what I want to do after I study at the ELC, and there are many different majors I have thought about. I am going to start brainstorming and organizing my ideas about this topic so I can begin writing my paragraphs faster.

Prompt 2: Describe a teacher who has had a significant impact on your life. How did this teacher influence you?

I know my writing teacher is going to read my answer, and I am worried that she will be offended if I don't write about her. My first thought was to write about a teacher she might know, which makes me uncomfortable. I think it would be easiest for me to write about a teacher from elementary school. This answer is also true, but it was not my first thought.

Can I use "I" in my response?

The answer will be different for different assignments. Always ask your teacher or professor before your first essay for that class. However, you can sometimes know the answer just from reading the prompt. For example, if the prompt is Describe a teacher who has had a significant impact on your life, it would be very difficult to not use personal words like I and my in your response. That prompt is asking you to write about your own experience, so it is fine to use personal words. However, sometimes a prompt is about general knowledge like Explain the water cycle. This prompt is about a scientific process, so you would generally not use personal words or experiences in your response. 

Supporting Ideas

You will not be able to include as many supporting details, examples, and explanations as you can in a drafted essay. You also have less time to edit your writing to make sure it is very clear.

When you choose your suppporting ideas, make sure that they are the strongest points. You do not have the time or space to include anything unnecessary like a story. Be simple, but have a clear reason for each supporting sentence so that your points have an impact on the reader.

Finally, read the complete prompt more than one time. Is there more than one question? Does it tell you how many words you should have in your answer? Use the prompt to develop your supporting ideas.


Exercise 1: Timed Writing Discussion

Discuss the prompt below with a partner. What position would you choose? What strategy did you use to quickly make that decision? Make a list of 2-3 topic sentences that could support each of your positions.

Prompt: Which class do you think is most important for high school students: math or art? Explain why you chose your answer.

Exercise 2: Timed Writing Practice

You have 20 minutes to respond to this prompt. Your answer should be around 150 words. Make a quick decision and focus your time on supporting your ideas.

Prompt: Do you prefer to work in a group or alone? Why did you choose that option? You can choose to write about examples from a job or school. 

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

Access it online or download it at https://books.byui.edu/foundations_c_writing/timed_writing_3.