How to Write an Essay Fast in an Exam

coaching-240-169Trying to write an essay fast when time-constrained by an exam or test, you can do three simple things to get you out of stress and writing fast. Here they are:

  1. Decide on your structure in advance
  2. Spend considerable time on your thesis statement
  3. Refer to the thesis statement as you are writing the body

Step 1: Decide on your essay structure in advance

And when I say ‘in advance’ I mean do it before you even arrive at the test. Let me give you two scenarios.

Scenario 1. You come to the test ready to be totally taken by surprise with your exam essay topic. They give you the essay topic. You read it. And now you’re trying to figure out how to even approach it, because you’re already out of ideas.

Scenario 2. You decide in advance that your essay will have 5 paragraphs (for example). Now, this is a real decision. You simply decide that it will be 5 paragraphs regardless of what topic they give you.

If they give you a topic on Mars, then:

  • Why fly to Mars?
  • Can flying to Mars be physically done?
  • Would it be worth it for the humanity?

See – three parts. This will mean 5 paragraphs:

  1. Thesis statement
  2. Body paragraph 1
  3. Body paragraph 2
  4. Body paragraph 3
  5. Conclusion

If they give you a topic on capital punishment, then:

  • Killing people is wrong from a religious point of view
  • Killing people is wrong from a legal point of view
  • Killing people is wrong from a humanitarian point of view

Again – that’s three subtopics of one topic + intro + conclusion = 5 paragraphs.

So, step 1 is just decide that your essay will have a fixed number of main points/paragraphs (3 main points / 5 paragraphs). Stick to the numbers no matter what topic you get – you can ALWAYS do three and five (or any fixed number you have chosen in advance).

If you come to the exam knowing exactly that you’ll be dividing the topic into three subtopics, your brain will be looking for a way to do this and will focus and work like crazy. This is exactly what you need.

This is the most important step to write an essay fast in an exam.

Step 2. Spend considerable time on your thesis statement

Your opening paragraph is your main point + outline. Let me explain.

If you write your first paragraph the old-fashioned way – first a flashy intro and then your thesis in the last sentence – you will be going about it the wrong and the hard way. Here’s an easy way.

Write your opening paragraph this way:

  1. Get to the point right away
  2. Outline your reasoning


People should try to fly to Mars for three reasons. First, this would give us tremendous information about our solar system. Second, this would stretch our boundaries of what we thought was possible. And finally, this would give us a home away from home in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Look, I don’t care if you believe any of this. Just look at the structure. If you construct your opening paragraph (thesis statement) this way, you will already have an outline to refer to when writing the body of the essay.

And in order to write a thesis statement like this, you will need to spend at least 25% of your overall exam time to just write this first paragraph.

Check out other articles on this blog on how to write a thesis statement – you’ll find more than one. And watch some of the videos I have on this blog, too – you’ll get plenty of tips on how to write your thesis statements so that they would make your life easy in trying to write an essay fast in an exam.

Step 3. Refer to the thesis statement as you are writing the body of your essay

If you did step 1, and if you did step 2, and you did those steps well, then writing the body of the essay should be a piece of cake.

Yes – it’s the biggest part of your essay. But it is not the hardest part. The hardest part – the thesis statement – is done. And now all you have to do is refer back to it as you’re writing your body.

So, in the example above (about Mars), you know that you have three main sections:

  • It would give us information about our solar system
  • It would stretch our boundaries
  • It would give us a home away from home

These are now the headings (lead sentences) for each of your three body paragraphs. All you have to do now is prove that each of these statements is correct – and to do so one statement and paragraph at a time. Three statements = three paragraphs.

Hey – hope this helps. So, go back and go through the three steps. If you do them, your will cut your exam essay writing time in half – you’ll see.

Talk soon,

Tutor Phil


  1. Erlin says

    Hello, Phil!
    I would love to hear your response to my essay. Here’s the question: The rising level of congestion and air pollution found in most of the world can be attributed directly to the rapidly increasing number of private cars in use. in order to reverse this decline in the quality of life in cities, attempts must be made to encourage people to use their cars less and public transport more. Discuss possible ways to encourage the use of public transport.

    So, the following is my essay:

    The rising level of air pollution found in most cities can be attributed directly to the increasing number of private cars in use. This saddening fact also affects more traffic which causes more troublesome. Fortunately, we can reverse this decline by encouraging people to use their cars less and public transport more. There are several ways to encourage the use of public transport.
    First, public transport must be made into a comfortable vehicle in which people would like to use it. The aspects to make public transport a more pleasant ride are maintaining a clean and safe ride. By maintaining a clean vehicle, people will feel more hygienic. Moreover, one of the reasons why people tend to use private cars is because it ensures more safety. For instance, public transportation are a soft spot for people to commit crime such as burglary or assault. Thus, safety in public transportation are needed. This can be accomplished by CCTV cameras or police officers.
    Second way to encourage people is to start using a method called ‘point method’. Point method is a method which people achieve points through their public transportation card. For example, every time a person uses the public transportation card, points will be obtained. In the meantime, the points collected can be used for privileges. In my opinion, this is an effective way to engross people to use public transportation.
    In conclusion, a way to encourage the use of public transportation is to enhance the transportation quality itself. If the public transportation were nice, people would start using public transportation in no time. In addition, advertisements are also needed to rise the self-awareness of using public transportation

    Word count: 277; done in 32 minutes. It should have been a 300 word essay, unfortunately, I couldn’t do it.
    I look forward to your response, thank you.

    • TutorPhil says

      Good work, Erlin!

      You provide two very good ways to encourage the use of public transportation, and that works.

      Here are my two bits of criticism.

      1. In the opening paragraph, just get to the point. I don’t need to hear the preamble. Just start the essay by saying: “People can be encouraged to use public transportation in two ways – by making the commute more pleasant and by using a monetary reward system.”

      Now that would tell me everything. I don’t even need to know why you would want to encourage people to use public transportation, because your essay, believe it or not, is not about pollution or anything else other than your subject, which is “encouraging people to use public transportation.”

      At most, you can add an intro: “Because of rising pollution in the cities, people should be encouraged to use public transportation, which can be done in two ways.” But that’s more cumbersome. I don’t like it. I say – keep it clean. Stick to the point.

      My second criticism is your conclusion. First, essays don’t need conclusions because they are repetitious. Unfortunately, all throughout the school system you will be taught and expected to write conclusions. Deal with it.

      But second, your conclusion reiterates only your first point – about transportation quality – and skips the second one about a point system. Why is that?

      And instead you offer something totally out of the blue: “In addition, advertisements are also needed to rise the self-awareness of using public transportation.” This is a third way to encourage people to use public transportation. It belongs in the third main section of your paper, not in the conclusion. Do you see that?

      But again – great job taking action, and feel free to post an improved version 😉


  2. Erim Sezer says

    Hi Phil,
    I would love to show you an essay I just wrote and hope to get a feedback from you.
    thank you in advance!

    Claim: When planning courses, educators should take into account the interests and suggestions of their students.
    Reason: Students are more motivated to learn when they are interested in what they are studying.
    Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.
    Courses, which excites the complete attention of the students are the most desired ones among the students and thus the most visited and successful ones. The following paper will show why students are showing an increase in motivation of learning while participating in courses they are interested in.

    Almost every student would like to define their own educational path during their studies and chose only the courses they are interested in, however, this is not the case in most of the universities. Though, if students are visiting courses in which they are interested in it will result in higher motivation of learning because everyone knows how difficult it might could be studying for something that don’t have your slightest attention. Furthermore, studying for something the student likes would eventually lead to better scores and thus to be more successful compared to the students who are studying because the University requires so. Nevertheless, the educators can’t take every suggestion or interests of their students into account because the educators need to take care that the students are not drifting away from their main field of studies, and that sometimes requires some courses, which are not well considered among the students. Howsoever, if students are learning for something they are interested in, specialization of students in a particular subjects can be done much faster and easier rather than to force a student to study for something that doesn’t attracted their interests. Finally, students who are studying because of interest will help them to gain some important skills for the future, namely, the students will learn to be committed, determined and reliable, which in case will be important factors for their upcoming careers.

    In conclusion, students who are participating into courses in which they are interested in will conclude in a higher motivation of learning and greater success rather than studying for something totally uninteresting.

  3. Olivia says

    As a college student, you are bound to bump into timed essays or assignments. This type of essay requires you to demonstrate disciplinary knowledge by producing a writing sample within a limited time. Most professors prefer these type of essays because it enables them to grade students holistically in a short period.
    Guidelines on how to write a timed essay:
    1. Outline your strategies
    2. Study for the essay
    3. Manage your time
    4. Understand the prompt
    5. Pick a side
    6. Write your thesis
    7. Provide your evidence and conclude
    8. Revise
    9. Read more

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