7 Tips for Acing Timed Essays

Most tests in college are created to assess your ability to retain knowledge, and some are built to judge your applications skills. But not all. Lurking in the shadows are shorter tests, which seem easier at a first glance, until you see the time allotted to complete them.

These fast-paced tests measure your efficiency and ability to manage time. Even the smartest student may have problems where this is concerned; especially if they have not mastered the art of making quick decisions and writing concisely. When these tests are essays, the difficulty level seems to skyrocket.

But don’t worry. If you keep your priorities in check, you can blaze through these assessments in no time. Brush up on your essay writing skills first, and then check out these seven tips to help you ace these timed essay-writing exams.

1 – Do Some Reading 

Read your textbook, your tutorial sheets, and any other reading material your instructor provides. This helps to make you more familiar with the content. Also, when you read about a particular topic, you learn the best ways to phrase your answers for your test – as long as you understand what you’ve read.

Reading on the day of the examination is also important. Be sure to read the instructions before you begin. Many of these papers allow you to pick the questions you want to attempt. If you neglect to read this, you could end up trying to attempt all the questions – and possibly failing as a result. You might also miss ten extra questions on the back of the sheet.

2 – Have a Skeleton

After reading the instructions on the exam sheet, devise a plan based on the points allocated to the question and how your instructor grades work. For instance, some instructors may expect two pages for 15 marks, while other instructors expect one page for 10 marks. By the time finals roll around, you should know what to expect from your instructors.

With this in mind, construct a plan. You should have your main points sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion. Write down all the main points in bullet-format on the sheet and write a concise paragraph about each as you go along.

3 – Use the Question as the Intro

For many people, the body of the essay is actually not the biggest challenge. Instead, the real obstacle is just figuring out how to start. Take the easy and effective route of using the question as the introduction.

For instance, a sample question might look like:

What changes in the business environment and society have the potential to affect the relevance or viability of social service benefits?

Using the question as an introduction would mean a start to your essay, which reads something like:

There are several changes in the business environment and society at large, which have the ability to affect the relevance or viability of social service benefits. Some of these changes include inflation, cost and standard of living, and legislative action.

4 – Include Examples

Always include examples in your essay. This illustrates to the teacher that you fully understand the concepts and can apply this knowledge. Aim to use an example for each point, or at the very least, for as many as you can come up with. The examples should not require a lot of explanation. Aim for one sentence.

For instance – using the same sample essay to illustrate the point – after stating and explaining that cost of living affects the relevance and viability of social service benefits, a valid example would be:

For example, if cost of living in a country increases by 12% per year while the value of security benefits only increase by 6%, in a few years the benefit will not be enough to cover living expenses.

5 – Memorize Important Figures

You don’t have to memorize all of them, but memorize ones that are widely applicable. Remembering exact figures instantly impresses instructors who likely believe students do little more than skim through information.

For instance, one important figure I remember from 2006, when I started my social science degree in Jamaica is that 80% of families in the Caribbean are matriarchal (at least at the time); meaning that a woman is the head of the family. Impressive, eh?

Your professors will be just as impressed; so much so that they may overlook other shortcomings in your essay. However, try to also remember the author. You don’t want to just throw random claims around.

6 – Plan out your Time

This goes without saying and seems simple enough, yet often times we look up at the clock and realize we spent half the time answering one question out of the four we’re assigned. Then, we rush to spend the last half of the examination answering the questions remaining. This is a terrible strategy.

Allocate a specific time to each question and when you run out of that allotted time, leave space to finish it, and move on to the next question. You can return to it if you have extra time left.

This ensures that all questions receive adequate attention. For instance, if you have one hour to complete two questions, allocate half an hour to each one. Remember to pay attention to how many points each essay is worth though, as some are worth only 15, while some might be worth as much as 30. Allocate your time accordingly.

Keep an eye on the clock, or ask the instructor or invigilator to let you know when each fifteen minutes or half hour increment has passed. Many will oblige.

7 – Read Over

I know what you’re thinking. You’re already strapped for time. Where will you find the time to read over? Or maybe you usually finish on time and would rather be out the door. Reconsider that notion.

You would be surprised at the utter nonsense you put down in place of what you mean to say when writing in a hurry. Doing a quick read-over ensures you catch these typos and correct them before they cost you points.

If you follow all these tips and still manage to run out of time, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

One instructor once gave me the secret to overcoming this. Return to the bullet points you had written down as your skeleton for the essay and write them down on your answer sheet; even if it’s just one sentence or phrase each. You will not get the full marks, but it shows the teacher that you do, in fact, know what the answers are. Teachers are more reluctant to fail you in this scenario.

I hope these tips help prepare you for those upcoming timed essays. If you’re still feeling a little stressed, check out Prepping for Exams: How to Manage Stress for more advice.

About the Author

Taking a nice dip in the desert, because…well, why not? 🤔

A post shared by Alexis Chateau (@alexischateau_) on

Alexis Chateau is the Founder of College Mate and Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Sophia says:

    Great tips! Glad to have found your blog. Thanks for the post 🙂 See you around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alexis says:

      Hi Sophia, thanks for dropping by. Glad you liked this post and my blog in general. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sophia says:

        Looking forward to more, Alexis. I’m off to check out a few other posts by you. Cheers! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alexis says:

        Glad to hear it Sophia!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. maggie0019 says:

    Great, great, tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the post, I’ts great!

    Liked by 1 person

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