Timed Writing (The Prompt)

The Prompt

One of the challenges of timed writing is making quick decisions about content and organization. The brainstorming stage is limited and requires you to move swiftly into composing your paragraphs. A luxury of drafted writing is that you can spend time exploring different supporting ideas before revising and finalizing your essay.

With timed writing, a thorough understanding of the prompt is first needed. You need to recognize the linguistic task (compare, describe, argue, explain) and create a thesis statement and supporting points that make a clear road map for what you will say. Additionally, you need to check the prompt to ensure that you are addressing all of the points. 

Once you have analyzed the prompt, you should be able to start structuring your outline to ensure you have all of the necessary components. 

Making a brief list of the parts of the prompt that are most important to respond to or include is a great first step for creating your thesis statement, topic sentences, and overall outline.

Understanding and including all of the parts of the prompt is important for two reasons.

The first reason is that the question is specifically designed to get you to write about the target content. A multi-part question indicates the degree of complexity that the audience expects to find in your response. If you miss information from your response, it can be interpreted as missing knowledge about an important concept for the course.

Second, your audience may attribute missing information to a lack of language. This is especially true in a language test like the TOEFL where the audience knows nothing about your ability other than what you show. Not writing about part of the question could be an avoidance strategy because you do not have the vocabulary or grammar control necessary to respond. This may also be an unfortunate assumption at the college level as well, especially if your professor has minimal interaction with you. 

Therefore, it's in your best interest to carefully read through the prompt and dissect it. This strategy will lead to a stronger response with more purposeful organization.

Outline Ideas

First of all, an outline will always benefit you. You may think that the best idea is to immediately start writing because the time is limited, but that could lead to a very disorganized presentation of an answer. Read the prompt carefully and make a brief outline of ideas so that you know all parts of the prompt will be addressed and all of your most important details will be included. 

Your outline should include the important basics you will practice throughout this semester:

Timed Outlining

  • Read the prompt carefully. 
  • Brainstorm your ideas for each part of the prompt.
  • Organize your ideas into a logical outline.
  • Decide on what is the most important to include.
  • Write a thesis statement that directly answers the main part of the prompt.
  • Write topic sentences for your main points.
  • Write a restated thesis statement.


Exercise 1: Analyze Timed Writing Prompt

Read the prompts below. Identify the linguistic task. Break the prompt down into the individual parts. 

  1. Many people suggest that children and teenagers should have limited access to technology. How will technology limits will be beneficial for youth? What do you think the short-term and long-term impacts of technology limits on younger users are?
  2. A significant problem for many societies is communicating with respect about many political and social topics. Why do you think this is a prevalent issue in today's society? What solutions do you propose for improving respectful communication between people with different perspectives? Be sure to address solutions at the individual, family, and societal levels.
  3. Imagine the ideal future school. What does this school look like and how is it different from the one you live in now? Be sure to discuss both the physical characteristics as well as the instructional differences. Do you think this ideal is possible? Why or why not? 

Exercise 2: Timed Writing (Prompt Focus)

Choose one of the prompts below. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Write your response to the question. Remember to leave time for revision.

  1. One of your professors is leading a study abroad for your major and is looking for a TA to join in the semester abroad. Before deciding whether or not to interview you for the TA position, the professor sends the following question: This position requires a TA to manage both a heavy load of preparing lessons and grading as well as managing the interpersonal concerns that often occur in a study abroad setting. Please describe the skills and qualities that you would rely on to be successful this position. You should also explain how you would handle any conflicts between students during the semester.
  2. Your neighborhood has recently had some issues with people parking in the incorrect spaces and using all of the visitor parking. The neighborhood social media page is calling for suggestions on how to resolve this issue. Write a brief post with a suggestion of what can be done to fix the parking issues and maintain peace among residents. 

This content is provided to you freely by BYU Open Learning Network.

Access it online or download it at https://open.byu.edu/up_writing_fall/timed_writing_5.