Writing essays against the clock

Find out how to write an essay in hardly any time

Clock on pile of booksThe longer you spend preparing for an essay, the better it will likely be. However, writing against the clock doesn’t always mean producing a poor essay. Follow these five tips to get the best mark you can when time is limited.

Draft a Structure

Writing an essay against the clock follows the same principles as set out in my earlier blogs on structuring and writing an essay – the only difference is you are following the plan in miniature. If you have selected an essay on which you have a good knowledge and understanding this is half the battle – it’s easier to start knowing what you’re writing about; learning new concepts obviously takes longer and slows the essay writing process down. Either way you still need a structure before you begin if you want to save time in the long run. If you don’t, you’ll either run out of steam or produce something which rambles on or goes off on tangents.

Use Wikipedia

Advice rarely given to students. If, however, you find a Wikipedia page which covers your essay topic, Wikipedia is useful in two ways. Firstly, scroll down to the bottom and you’ve saved hours of library and prep work – all the sources listed can be used to select the primary sources for your essay. Secondly, the Wikipedia article will likely contain a chronological synopsis which you can ape for your own essay structure. However, your lecturer will also know about Wikipedia so make sure it only inspires your structure rather than following it completely.

Use Google Books and Amazon

Sites such as Google Books and Amazon will often let you preview books – with a bit of luck you will be able to lift enough relevant material from the previews to convince your lecturer you’ve checked these books out of the library and had a good read of them. Such sites always list the copyright information as well so you’ll always be able to produce a full list of references, as required in all essays.

Avoid Space Filling

When writing against the clock it’s tempting to pad out your essay, either by focusing too much on just one aspect of your essay or inserting too many long quotes. This is a bad way to hit your word-count and it’s really obvious to your lecturer what you’re trying to do. If you run out of things to write about either develop an argument further or revisit your structure and expand it.

Don’t Cheat

No matter what, don’t cheat. If you don’t think you’ll hit the deadline, try to get an extension before you reach it – it’s harder after the deadline’s passed. Lay it on thick if you have to. If you do get an extension, don’t leave it to the last minute again! If you don’t, hand in whatever you’ve produced, you may still get a pass.

All is not lost. One mediocre essay won’t spell the end of your academic career and should be something you learn from in the future. Reflect on the feedback and start over.

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