Writing Essays for In-Class Exams: College Essay Exam Writing Doesn’t Need to Be Tough

Many college students are intimidated by the notoriously hard essay exam. Writing essays during exams is easy once the basic steps are clear.

College writing can be difficult all around for newer students, between English 101 papers, speech writing, lab reports, and other assignments. For example, the essay writers emphasize that in-class essay exams are even more intimidating because they are timed, but this doesn’t need to hinder students.

Most classes that will require in-class essays are going to be humanities-related, such as English/literature, history, art history, etc. Math and science classes rarely require an essay exam, so this article will focus specifically on the classes most likely to give in-class essays.

Read the Prompt Carefully

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Whatever the class, the students will be given a prompt (or a few prompts) to start them off. In some classes, the prompts will be vague, such as: Should something be legalized? Explain why or why not. With this sort of question, there’s nothing hidden to unravel; it’s pretty basic and straightforward.

The prompt, however, could be more along the lines of: “Consider Ariel’s appearance as a harpy in 3.3 of The Tempest and consider his speech to the shipwrecked court of Alonso and its effect in stirring several characters’ consciences without affecting some others.” In this case, the question must very carefully be considered.

Before starting to outline the essay (and don’t worry, this doesn’t take long), study the question. In the example above, what is the professor asking? She’s asking about Ariel, asking about his appearance as a harpy, and asking how it affects only some of the characters’ consciences. If a student hadn’t read the entire question and thought about it, he wouldn’t realize that the real question here is why Ariel only affects certain people in a certain scene.

Professors have a way of making simple things sound very complicated, so read those questions carefully and determine what the professor is asking.

Make a Quick Outline

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This part is easy, but many students skip it because it seems like it might be too time-consuming to bother with at a timed essay exam. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Outline writing can be quick, simple, and endlessly helpful.

Assume this example from a typical English 101 writing exam:Name someone you consider to be a modern hero or heroine and explain why.” If a topic like this is given, the person or people evaluating the final product will likely be looking for the 5 paragraph essay structure. So after reading the question and thinking about it, outline the thoughts that have arisen.


I consider my mother to be a modern-day heroine because:

  • She quit working to take care of me
  • She learned a great skill to make money while staying home with me
  • She recovered from breast cancer.

With this really simple, short outline, the body paragraphs have topic sentences, based on those three main points. Also, with three topics lined up, the thesis statement will be easily composed by including those three points and framing them with the original question.

And don’t worry too much about that conclusion. If nothing comes too naturally, then just reword the introduction a bit. It may sound cheesy, but it’s not the sentiment the evaluators are looking for.

Pace Yourself

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This is perhaps where most people psych themselves out and get too nervous to write competently. Time limits can be severely intimidating; though, the allotted time should almost always be enough time if the student just calms himself down.

Once the rushing starts, it shows in the writing. Just remain calm and trust that there is enough time to complete the essay. A professor likely won’t intentionally sabotage students by giving them too little time to write.

So whenever there’s an in-class essay to be written, just calm down and forget those time limits. There will likely be enough time, as long as no time is wasted. Read the question carefully, make a quick outline, and pace yourself. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for scrap paper from the professor, so that taking notes will be easy.

About the author: Bianca J. Ward is a professional online essay writer at essaywriterfree where she provides people with qualitative works. Besides, she is a passionate photographer and traveler who has visited 52 countries all over the world. Bianca dreams about creating a photo exhibition to present her works to others.