How to Write an Essay Fast in an Exam

Trying 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 to just decide that your essay will have a fixed number of main points/paragraphs (3 main points / 5 paragraphs total). 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 writing 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.

How to Diminish Anxiety While Writing an Essay During an Exam or Test

If you must write an essay during an exam or test, then you’re likely to face considerable anxiety during the test. And I’d like to share two secret tricks that will work really well to help you organize your thoughts quickly so that you could begin writing in confidence.

When you have a limited amount of time to write an essay, you naturally become very nervous. This anxiety is really your biggest obstacle.

When you are asked to write an essay in-class, especially when you’re not allowed to use a text or notes, the essay prompt in those cases assumes that the student already has all the information necessary to write a good essay. 

But why is it so hard to retrieve that information under pressure? And the answer is: anxiety.

So, let me share two tricks that will help you overcome the anxiety and write the essay confidently.

Trick number one

This trick consists of three parts:

  • Cut your sugar intake for 24 hours before the exam
  • Meditate one or two hours before the exam
  • Avoid coffee or any caffeinated drinks

This trick has to do with how your body works, and we won’t get into a whole lesson on physiology here.

Suffice it to say that by following these three recommendations, your blood sugar and therefore mood will be more stable.

You’ll diminish any brain fog you may have. And you’ll be calmer. This will help you think more clearly on the test.

Trick number two

On the test, when facing the essay prompt, decide as quickly as possible whether you agree or disagree with the question or statement in the prompt.

And I mean, as quickly as possible – because that’s the first main gatekeeper of the flow of thoughts. Yes or No? Agree or Disagree? Decide quickly.

As soon as you have decided on the issue, the anxiety will diminish by about fifty percent. And you’ll be ready for the three steps I gave you above.

How a 20-Minute Lesson Helped Me Pass My Exam

I’d like to share a story with you that will show you that you can waste a lot of time thinking that you’re learning something and then actually learn something very quickly.

And I’m talking about passing an essay writing test. So here’s my little story.

How I Failed a Writing Exam

Let me take you back to 1997 when I was a college freshman. I had just failed my entrance writing test – it was called a Skills Assessment Test and consisted of math and writing.

I passed the math but failed the essay and ended up in an ESL course with a workshop, English being my second language.

This course – I don’t remember what it was called – but it was meant to teach us how to write a basic five-paragraph essay so that we could pass the test and begin the full program.

Our professor was a very nice lady who rode a bicycle to work and made us read all kinds of newspaper articles. Then we discussed them in class. We also had a workshop, and I don’t really remember what we did there.

How I Learned Nothing in that College Course

One thing I do remember is that I kept wondering when they would actually teach us how to pass the essay test. The course was drawing to a close, and yet our professor had never taught us how to write that five-paragraph essay.

One Quick Lesson that Made All the Difference

And then, on the LAST day of the course, another professor from the English Department showed up during the workshop. She said she was there to teach us how to write that essay and pass the test.

I listened very carefully and took notes. It took her about twenty minutes to teach us how to write the essay. No more than that. And guess what! She gave us a very clear explanation, I got it, and I passed the test that week!

Your two takeaways from this story

Takeaway 1. Yes, you can go through an entire course in college or anywhere else for that matter – and learn absolutely nothing. Hey – it happens – this is life, and you should be prepared.

Takeaway 2. You can actually learn something very quickly, if your teacher knows how to teach it. The ENTIRE COURSE had been meant for us to learn how to write a basic essay. We learned zero. And then in twenty minutes we essentially learned the subject of the entire course.

This is why I encourage you to learn from videos on my YouTube channel and here on my website – whether they are long or short. You can have an aha moment at any time even while watching a very short video.

I don’t believe in filler and fluff, and sometimes my lessons are super-short, and they are always to the point. But don’t neglect them – they come from many years of teaching essay writing to kids and adults.

And most importantly – don’t give up – even if you’re frustrated and tired – don’t give up. The answer you seek is probably just around the corner.

If you have ever had a similar experience – post it in the comments below!


Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

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