19 Module 4: Timed Writing

Module Introduction

In our first module, we discussed the anxiety that living with our symbiotic technology, language, can cause us when we are in situations like job interviews when we have to communicate in specialized ways and so must suddenly be aware of how that technology is functioning. One way to get a handle on such situations is to develop a clear understanding of what is expected and then to practice that kind of specialized communication. The last two modules, which focused on narration and example writing, were meant both to inform you about the kinds of writing you often perform in college and the workplace and to help you practice how to develop that writing. This unit will put the skills you’ve developed so far to the test in a kind of “real world” simulation of communicating under pressure.

College students often have to write an essay based on a prompt or question within a limited time period. For example, an essay question on a test in a humanities class may require a short, timed essay without the benefit of resources. Moreover, many job interviews involve writing projects that require applicants to prove their ability to think under time constraints, and of course at work deadlines are always looming, so writing under pressure is an important skill to master.

This course requires students to write, and receive a passing grade on, one timed essay at a testing site. You will have 60 minutes to compose an essay on one of two prompts without benefit of references or resources. Refer to the syllabus for information about scheduling this essay.

The essay must be 400 to 500 words long and consist of four or five paragraphs including 1)an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement, 2) body paragraphs supporting the thesis statement, and 3) a concluding paragraph. Prewriting and outlining (the first two steps of the writing process we’ve discussed over the last two modules) can help you develop the key components that need to be included in these paragraphs; for example, the introductory paragraph should include your hook and thesis statement. A grading rubric is included in this module to help you understand how the timed essay will be evaluated.

In this module, you will learn techniques that will help you to succeed at timed writing, such as how to budget time, organize ideas, write an effective thesis statement, and proofread your essay. If you will approach your essay as a process and go through the recommended steps, you can avoid writer’s block and draft with confidence! (1)

Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • List the planning steps for writing a timed essay
  • Differentiate grades for a timed essay, based on the criteria in the grading rubric
  • Compose an essay within 60 minutes, applying the steps of the writing process adapted for timed writing (1)

Readings

  • Online Learning Unit

Lecture Content

ENC1101 Learning Unit 4

Planning for the Timed Essay

The most important part of writing a timed essay is time management . Study the following three-step strategy to prepare for writing the timed essay required in this course. Students may revise this strategy to accommodate their own writing style.

Step 1. 10 Minutes to Plan

  • Choose one of the prompts from the two provided and come up with a working thesis based on the language of the prompt
  • Quickly list or map the major points to develop the topic (this is the prewriting step)
  • Rearrange these points in a logical order on a simple outline; for example, list them in their order of importance , also known as emphatic order (this is the outlining step)
  • Draft a more developed thesis statement that might include an essay map

Step 2. 40 Minutes to Write

  • Write the essay using double spaces or, if using notebook paper, write on every other line of the paper to allow room for revision
  • Write carefully and legibly
  • Use an outline or map as a guide, but add and delete as new ideas and examples emerge

Step 3. 10 Minutes to Revise, Edit, and Proofread

  • Read the essay for content, and add or delete material as necessary, making certain that the paper remains legible and reads smoothly overall
  • Read for appropriate sentence structure and vocabulary; revise as needed
  • Correct grammar and spelling errors (1)

Looking at the First Step in More Detail

First, study the prompts given on the test. Choose the one that immediately strikes you as the more interesting or the one which relates the most to your life; this is your symbiotic technology kicking in and letting you know the right choice. The kind of assignment we are dealing with here is meant to generate a personal experience paper rather than an academic report, so all of the essay’s specific information is going to be based on your life and knowledge, so in this case your familiarity with or interest in the topic is going to make a massive difference.

An important rule to remember is that once you have selected a topic based on your instincts, don’t return to the other topic . Pretend the only topic is the one you have picked so you don’t end up wasting time by questioning yourself and going back to the planning stage. Once you’ve made your choice, live with it!

Another important thing to remember is to immediately develop a very basic thesis statement based on the language of the prompt you choose; this will give you a starting point for your prewriting and will ensure that you have a main idea for your paper.

For example, imagine you were given the following two prompts:

A sandwich you most regret making

or

A fictional character you would like to be

These topics give you language on which to build your basic thesis. You might say:

“That tuna sandwich I made last Tuesday is one I most regret..”

or

“Harry Potter is the fictional character I would most like to be.”

Now, these thesis statements aren’t great; their language is very basic, and they sound generic. However, they can help you clarify your main idea and develop your examples. Then, after you come up with the specific information you are going to use to support these ideas, you can refine them. We’ll come back to this in a minute.

After you’ve come up with your basic thesis (and this should happen pretty quickly), it’s time to do some prewriting. In our earlier modules we discussed several different prewriting strategies, and for timed writing the most effective ones are probably listing and mapping freewriting is a bit too time-intensive). Questioning can also work if you are writing a narrative, but keep in mind that you are likely going to be writing example essays for in-class college assignments, so you will probably not be writing a long narrative unless it serves as an extended example (one big example story that supports your thesis statement).

Once you’ve generated a bunch of ideas to support your thesis (the reasons you are going to provide that will persuade your reader of your point), you should make sure to outline your paper. This is very important. Many students will neglect to outline an in-class essay because they fear running out of time, but not outlining can actually lead to more time-related issues because you are likely to get confused as you draft without having a plan of some sort. Remember, organization is everything when you are writing academic or professional essays, and outlining makes sure you stay organized!

As you begin filling out your outline, a major decision you need to make is in what order to put your general examples to best support your thesis. In some cases, chronological order might work; for example, in the above example about the tuna sandwich, you might have come up with a number of reasons the sandwich was a regrettable choice, and those reasons might have happened one after the other. Maybe the first reason is that the bread you got out of the pantry was old and moldy. Maybe another reason is the nasty condiments you then put on the bread from the fridge, and the final reason is the cheap and sickly tuna itself that you ended up spreading on that bread. In this silly and very basic example, each element of the sandwich was added in sequential order, so you could actually take the reader through the process chronologically, ending with the final sad step when the questionable tuna was added to the concoction.

A likely more effective organizational strategy for an in-class example essay is to use emphatic order to present your idea, which we discussed in our last module. This is when you move from your least important point to your most powerful reason. Sometimes when you are planning an in-class essay, this level of importance can be hard to identify, so ask yourself this question: about which of the main points I am trying to make do I have the most to say? If you look at your prewriting and you have developed a bunch of specific ideas about one of your major examples, it’s a safe bet that the example in question is the one that should go last. (1)

Grading Criteria for the Timed Essay

The timed essay will be scored according to the grading criteria below. (1)

The A Paper

  • The essay presents or implies a thesis that is developed with noticeable coherence and provides convincing, specific support.
  • The writer’s ideas are usually substantive, sophisticated, and well developed.
  • The writer’s choice of language and structure is precise and purposeful, often to the point of being polished.
  • Control of sentence structure, usage, and mechanics, despite an occasional flaw, contributes to the writer’s ability to communicate the purpose.
  • The writer demonstrates correct usage of quotations and paraphrases.

The B Paper

  • The essay presents a thesis and often suggests a plan of development, which is usually carried out.
  • The writer provides enough supporting detail to accomplish the purpose of the paper.
  • The writer makes competent use of language and sometimes varies the sentence structure.
  • Occasional errors in sentence structure, usage, and mechanics do not interfere with the writer’s ability to communicate the purpose.
  • The writer demonstrates correct usage of quotations and paraphrases.

The C Paper

  • The essay presents a thesis and often suggests a plan of development, which is usually carried out.
  • The writer provides support that tends towards generalized statements or lists. In general, the support is neither sufficient nor clear enough to be convincing.
  • Sentence structure tends to be pedestrian and often repetitious. Errors in sentence structure, usage, and mechanics sometimes interfere with the writer’s ability to communicate the purpose.
  • Mistakes in quotations and paraphrasing lead to some awkwardness.

The D Paper

  • The writer presents a poorly written thesis.
  • The writer provides support that tends to be sketchy and/or illogical.
  • Sentence structure may be simplistic and disjointed. Errors in sentence structure, usage, and mechanics frequently interfere with the writer’s ability to communicate the purpose.
  • The writer uses quotations or paraphrases incorrectly.

The F Paper

  • The essay presents a thesis that is vaguely worded or weakly asserted.
  • Support, if any, tends to be rambling and/or superficial.
  • The writer uses language that often becomes tangled, incoherent, and thus confusing.
  • Errors in sentence structure, usage, and mechanics frequently occur.
  • The writer tends to use quotations or paraphrases incorrectly.

Assignment: Proctored Timed Writing

Given two topics from which to choose, you will have 60 minutes to compose an essay without the benefit of references or resources. This assignment is worth 100 points. The timed essay will take place in a proctored exam setting.

Instructions for scheduling the timed writing and site guidelines are included in the Blackboard Tools & Resources area.

The timed essay will be completed in Blackboard.

The essay must be 400 to 500 words long and consist of four or five paragraphs including:

  1. an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement
  2. body paragraphs supporting the thesis statement
  3. a concluding paragraph

Prewriting and outlining (the first two steps of the writing process we’ve discussed over the last two modules) can help you develop the key components that need to be included in these paragraphs; for example, the introductory paragraph should include your hook and thesis statement.

A grading rubric is included in this module’s Learning Unit to help you understand how the timed essay will be evaluated. (1)

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