How to Handle Time and Page Limits

Sometimes writers, especially student writers, are asked to write in less-than-ideal conditions. Sometimes you might have to write to a prompt without much time to explore your ideas or to revise your writing. Sometimes, in other words, you have to be ready to write under pressure and meet a deadline such as the end of the class period or the testing session.

Let's say you're asked to write an essay responding to Forster's essay “Tolerance.” The prompt you are given happens to be the same one we used in this lesson. Not having the luxury of a day or two to follow the steps recommended in this lesson, you will need to “fast track” your planning and drafting. So, what can you do? Here are some ideas for writing such an essay “under pressure.”

Step One:

Let's take another look at the prompt:

In “Tolerance,” E. M. Forster proposes that tolerance as a state of mind, rather than love, will better support a “civilized” future. Write an essay assessing Forster's argument for tolerance over love in public affairs. Support your position with sufficient evidence from the text.

It is crucial that you understand Forster's claim so that you can write a thesis in your essay that will either agree with, disagree with, or agree in part with his argument. You may not have the time to rewrite the prompt in your own words, but you can jot down what the prompt says. Let's review the suggested ideas from earlier in the lesson.

It would be a good idea to underline the crucial words in the prompt. What are the two things the prompt asks you to do?

The two crucial words are “assess” and “support.” This is what you are being asked to do.

Step Two:

Read Forster's essay. As you read, highlight or underline phrases and sentences that are important.

Step Three:

Write your thesis (agreeing, disagreeing, or agreeing in part). Be sure it's a complete sentence and expresses a complete idea.

Step Four:

Select evidence from the essay to support your thesis. Look back at the pieces of text you have underlined. You probably want to include a few phrases as embedded quotations in your response.

Step Five:

Plan your response by using a cluster or other graphic to show your thesis and supporting sections.

Step Six:

You are ready to write your draft. Be sure to keep in mind the number of minutes you have to write and/or the number of lines or total number of words you are limited to writing. Your introduction can be fairly short—two sentences will do—as long as it contains an interesting “hook” to draw your reader into your response and a clear statement of your thesis. There is no set number of paragraphs or quotations that you need to include. Just make sure you develop each idea effectively and completely with supporting evidence. When you are finished “assessing and supporting,” add a concluding statement that “returns” to your thesis - stating your position one more time but in different words. Be sure to leave enough time (and reserve enough energy) to go back over your paper, checking it for grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

And one more thing:

Keep in mind that you won't be able to spend hours revising, so write as if you are writing a final draft—try to get into the “zone” and write as fluently and continuously as you can. Good luck!

Visualization practice:

You might know of athletes who visualize a competition before it actually happens. Golfers sometimes go over an entire 18-hole course in their minds before stepping onto the first tee. It is a way to prepare your mind to handle automatically those things that you may loose track of when the pressure is on.

Let's practice visualizing some of the predictable steps in taking a timed writing test in which you must respond to an essay. Put the steps below in an order that makes sense to you.