First: Warm up beforehand by writing something.
We all perform better once we've got the rhythm. A smart test-taker
writes a letter to a friend while waiting for the test to begin.
Second: Get excited. If you can get excited
by what you're saying and become energized by your own performance,
the way an actor gets energized just by being on stage in front
of an audience, you'll have won half the battle. As always, the
easiest way to excite yourself is to say something that matters
to you and to write directly to someone with the intent of moving
him. Of course, many essay test topics make this difficult. Do
your best, and remember, a car salesman isn't excited by the car;
she's excited by the selling.
Third: Get down to cases. You may feel you
don't have time, but that's like thinking you're in such a hurry
to leave town that you don't have time to gas up. No idea is worth
a hoot without some "for instances," so however short
the essay is, you must use them. If your test answer is two sentences
long, make the first sentence into a thesis and the second an
The rest of the universals all have to do with saving
time. In essay tests time is short, so take a moment to prewrite.
The urge is to go right to your first paragraph, but two or three
minutes spent mapping will usually pay for themselves by giving
you a sense of direction early. Too many writers discover the
real direction of their essay on page three when it's too late.
(That was four.)
Fifth: Get on with it. Make sure that your
first sentence jumps into the heart of things. Skip all essay
etiquette like a leisurely introduction. Never repeat yourself.
Sixth: Write in your own language. It takes
time to translate your thoughts into someone else's language,
and you don't have time.
Seventh: Write only one draft. You won't have
time to rewrite. If you write a few lines and then disown them,
just cross them out and keep on writing. Almost any instructor
will accept such messiness.
Eighth: Be aware of the time. An unfinished
good essay is worse than a finished okay essay.
Ninth: Proofread for garbled meaning. You'll
hate to spend the time, but hasty writing is often garbled in
ways that will crack up your instructor. Just skim to see if you
wrote the words you intended. It takes less time than you thinkperhaps
twenty seconds to proofread a thirty-minute exam.
Last: Proofread your mechanics. Look only at
your pet problems. Proofread for them alone. You don't have time
for a thorough editorial polishing.