Have you ever written an essay in 25 minutes? You have if you have ever sat for the SAT. While the stakes may be higher for a last-minute academic essay, the point is this: do not panic! Instead, read this six-step guide to writing an essay in a day:
1. Understand your goals
Whether you are writing a personal statement for a college or graduate school application, or an essay for a high school or college class, your assignment will have specific goals. Before you begin to write, review these goals. Clearly understanding your objective is essential when working with a shortened timeline.
2. Choose a topic
Under normal circumstances, you might devote several days to brainstorming a promising topic, and then you might write a detailed outline before writing and revising your essay over a week or two. When you are on a tight schedule, this is not possible.
So—write down the first three or four ideas that occur to you. If you cannot think of an appropriate topic, ask a parent or a friend to review the assignment with you. Do not spend more than 10 or 15 minutes on this part of your essay, as the execution ultimately matters more than the idea itself.
In addition, do not stress yourself about selecting the “perfect” topic. Without a topic, you will have no essay to turn in, and any essay is better than no essay. (It naturally follows that any topic is also better than no topic at all.)
3. Set deadlines
Establishing deadlines for a one-day essay is key. Budget 5-10 minutes for brainstorming, 15-20 minutes for creating an outline, and several hours for writing. You can also set aside an hour for feedback and review, and another hour for any necessary revisions. You should also allow for an hour-long break to recharge your mind. Finally, plan to submit your essay several hours before the deadline. A schedule with some flexibility will allow you to adapt to any unforeseen complications.
4. Arrange for reviewers in advance
Whenever possible, arrange for reviewers (such as your parents or friends) first thing in the morning, and let them know when they can expect a draft. When your deadline is in several days or weeks, you have the luxury of finding reviewers after you have finished your draft. With a shorter deadline, you will not have this ability. Be clear on the short turnaround time to ensure as smooth a review period as possible.
5. Outline your essay
There are many resources that can advise you on how to write a wonderful essay, but the purpose of this article is to shape that advice to the demands of a very short timeline. This includes resisting the urge to abandon the outline. Having an outline is even more important for a one-day essay than for a week-long project with a similar word count. A strong outline will keep your essay focused and organized from the start—which is critical when time constraints will limit your rewrites.
Your outline should not be detailed, and it should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes to complete. Determine your hook (see below for more information), and then jot down the threads that connect this moment to your central argument or idea.
6. Stay organized
When you are under pressure, your tendency may be to start writing and to see where your essay goes. Try instead to use a brief anecdote or emotional impact statement (i.e. the “hook” in your opening paragraph) to set the stakes for your essay. This is essentially your opportunity to state why your argument or idea is worth your reader’s attention.
Finally, remember that “perfect is the enemy of good.” Manage your expectations. Your goal should be to write a good essay, not a perfect one. If you have a compelling hook and a well-organized flow of ideas, check your writing for errors, and then send it in.
Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University
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In her letter, your friend Morgane covered the following points:
- a description of the facilities at her school
- a description of her school day
- details of the school rules
- opinions about her subjects and teachers
- what further studies she wants to do
Mon collège s’appelle le Collège Diderot. Il est assez grand car il y a huit cents élèves et soixante-dix professeurs. C’est un collège assez moderne avec un gymnase, une grande bibliothèque et trois salles d’informatique.
Normalement, j’arrive au collège à huit heures moins le quart. Je vais au collège en vélo car ce n’est pas trop loin de chez moi. Nous commençons à huit heures et nous avons jusqu’à sept leçons par jour. Heureusement, nous avons aussi des heures libres où nous pouvons aller à la bibliothèque ou rentrer chez nous ! Les cours durent cinquante-cinq minutes et nous finissons la journée à cinq heures. La récréation dure vingt minutes le matin et nous prenons une pause déjeuner de deux heures. Je rentre à la maison pour le déjeuner, mais mes amis qui habitent plus loin mangent à la cantine.
Le règlement de mon collège est assez strict, mais je pense qu’il est efficace. Nous devons être ponctuels et apporter nos affaires et les devoirs pour chaque leçon. Nous n’avons pas d’uniforme, mais nous devons être habillés de façon respectable et pratique. Par exemple, pas de T-shirts avec des slogans offensifs, de grandes boucles d’oreille ou piercing qui pourraient être dangereux, etc. Nous n’avons pas non plus le droit de manger ou d’utiliser notre portable en classe.
J’étudie les maths, le français, les sciences, la technologie, l’histoire-géo, l’éducation physique et l’éducation civique. Comme je suis en quatrième, je dois étudier deux langues vivantes. J’ai choisi l’anglais et l’espagnol et j’adore vraiment ça ! Mon cours préféré, c’est l’espagnol car le prof est vraiment très sympa et il explique bien les choses.
Plus tard, j’aimerais continuer à étudier les langues. Je voudrais apprendre le chinois car c’est une langue vraiment fascinante. J’espère avoir mon baccalauréat et aller à l’université.
Et toi, comment est ton collège ?
My school is called Collège Diderot. It is quite big as there are 800 pupils and 70 teachers. It is quite a modern school with a gym, a big library and three ICT rooms.
Usually, I arrive at school at quarter to eight. I cycle to school as it is not too far from my house. We start at eight o’clock and we have up to seven lessons a day. Fortunately, we also have some free periods when we can go to the library or go home! Lessons last fifty-five minutes and we finish our day at five o’clock. Break time lasts twenty minutes in the morning and we have a two-hour lunch break. I go home for lunch but my friends who live further away eat in the canteen.
My school rules are quite strict but I think that they are effective. We must be punctual and bring our equipment and homework for each lesson. We do not have a uniform but we must be dressed in a respectable and practical way. For example, no t-shirts with rude slogans, no large earrings or piercings that could be dangerous, etc. We are not allowed to eat or use our mobile phone in class either.
I study maths, French, science, technology, history and geography, PE and citizenship. As I am in Year 9, I must study two foreign languages. I chose English and Spanish and I really love them! My favourite lesson is Spanish because the teacher is really friendly and he explains things well.
Later, I would like to continue to study languages. I would like to learn Chinese as it is a really fascinating language. I hope to pass all my A levels and go to university.
What about you, what is your school like?