How To Write an Essay Fast (Without Losing Quality)

, Staff Writer
Updated August 4, 2022
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Essays on their own can be challenging, but timed essays add a whole other layer of difficulty. Whether you’re a high school student or a seasoned scholar, it’s easy to panic under pressure and forget all the basics of forming a thesis sentence. Relax! Whether you have a whole month or 30 minutes, you can write an engaging essay worthy of a great grade.

1. Read the Prompt and Write Down Your Immediate Reaction

This seems obvious, but the most important step in how to write an essay fast is to make sure you do actually read the prompt. Then read it again. Make sure you fully understand what it is asking of you. You don’t want to get 15 minutes into a draft and then realize that you’re not even addressing the themes in Romeo & Juliet or how the concepts of alienation and loneliness affect the characters in Of Mice and Men.

To truly make sure you get it, underline or highlight the main question(s) in the prompt. Take notes about what the question is actually asking you, and write down your immediate reaction to that question.


2. Plan Your Time Minute by Minute

Keep a very basic schedule or agenda in mind for how much time you invest in each part and process of your essay. 

For example, if you have 60 minutes total for your essay, you might follow this schedule:

Essay Section Time allotted
Outline 5 minutes
Intro paragraph 10 minutes
Body paragraph #1 10 minutes
Body paragraph #2 10 minutes
Body paragraph #3 10 minutes
Conclusion 10 minutes
Editing/revisions 5 minutes

Will you spend exactly 10 minutes on each section? Probably not, but keeping a basic plan in mind keeps you moving and prevents you from, say, spending 30 minutes on one paragraph.

Ideally, you won’t need all that time for each section, but try to stick to that schedule. If you have a shorter time limit, simply shorten each section a little, starting with the intro and conclusion paragraphs (where you don’t really need as much time). That might unfortunately mean having to omit certain examples or sentences you had in mind, but don’t let yourself linger. Sometimes you do have to kill your darlings.


3. Create a Very Basic Outline To Keep You Focused

There’s always time for an outline of your essay. However, unlike your typical essay outline, this doesn’t have to be particularly in-depth.

Writing down your thesis sentence, the key sentences for the body paragraphs, and a conclusion sentence ensures that your essay is well-organized upfront.

I. Thesis: This is my main opinion about the given prompt.

II. Body Paragraph 1: First supporting argument

     a. Idea illustrating that argument

     b. Idea illustrating that argument

III. Body Paragraph 2: Second supporting argument

     a. Idea illustrating that argument

     b. Idea illustrating that argument

IV. Body Paragraph 3: Third supporting argument

     a. Idea illustrating that argument

     b. Idea illustrating that argument

V. Conclusion: This is a concluding sentence that reiterates my thesis and hints at a larger idea related to the prompt.


4. Write Clearly but Don’t Get Caught Up on Grammar Rules

As you get into the actual crux of writing an essay, you should continue practicing good grammar, spelling, and punctuation to the best of your ability. At the same time, try not to get too bogged down in all the rules of a typical essay. 

If each paragraph doesn’t have three to five sentences, it’s totally fine. If the transitions between paragraphs are weak or nonexistent, don’t worry about it.

The key is presenting your thesis, supporting it as best you can, and ending the essay cohesively in the given amount of time. Anything else, while great to have, is extra.

5. Use Your Natural Voice

Even given the above, you can still write with a voice and style that is decidedly your own. Teachers, instructors, and exam evaluators are reading dozens, maybe even hundreds of these essays. Writing with a unique voice can help to break up the monotony for your teacher, and it can help you stand out from the crowd.


6. Edit and Revise With the Time That You Have

The schedule presented earlier included five minutes to edit and revise. You may have more; you may have less. Either way, you’ll never have enough time to do a full revision, so focus on small, quick changes over larger changes. Are all the commas and colons in the right places? Did you accidentally misspell a word? Did you forget to capitalize?

7. Hand in Your Essay and Adjust Your Expectations for Grading

Once you’ve handed in your bluebook or paper to your instructor, shake off those timed essay jitters. Keep in mind that teachers read and grade these timed essays with the understanding that they’ll be different from a normal essay.

Most of these essays are graded on actual content and word choice. If you did your best to form a coherent argument with solid ideas and examples, you can typically expect a good grade.


What Is a Timed Essay?

You’ll encounter timed essays or timed writing in numerous forms throughout your education. 

  • High school teachers may have timed essays as a component of bigger exams. 
  • In college, timed essays are common in midterms and finals. 
  • While essays are no longer a part of the SAT, the ACT includes a 40-minute essay section. 
  • AP exams also have essay or free response sections that vary in time based on the subject. For example, the AP English exam involves writing three essays in 2 hours 15 minutes.

For instructors, timed essays are an effective way to test your knowledge while forcing you to exercise your critical thinking and general writing skills. Timed essays are also more comprehensive than multiple choice and short-answer questions.


How Much Time Do You Have for Timed Writing?

Most timed essays will give you 30 minutes to one hour, though harsher teachers might give you just 20 minutes. Regardless of time, the writing process is still generally the same. A longer time limit gives you more time to prepare and edit.