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Writing Process

Timed Writes: How to Plan, Draft, and Revise

Timed writing can certainly be nerve wracking. With the strategies in this post, you can confidently prepare for any timed writes you may face during midterms season and beyond.

Plan Ahead

One of the hardest aspects of a timed write is the pressure to be spontaneous, worrying that you have to come up with fresh, new ideas on the spot. It can be hard to craft an argument in a time crunch, so it is helpful to spend a lot of time setting up for the timed write to ensure you excel when you’re on the clock. 

If you are given the prompt ahead of time, read the question carefully and take some time to outline the argument you’re going to write. Think of a few possible claims that respond to the prompt. Then, review your materials (lecture notes, primary sources, scholarly articles) to identify relevant facts and details to study. Jot down the skeleton of your argument so you have a roadmap in mind.

If you don’t know the prompt in advance, brainstorm a list of possible prompts and consider how you might respond to them. Review your materials to re-familiarize yourself with course concepts, terminology, and themes. 

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Budget Your Time

Once the timer starts, a set schedule is your friend. At the beginning, spend a few minutes planning your argument and retrieving supporting evidence from your memory. Then, you can type a brief outline at the top of your document or jot it down in the margin. 

Regularly check the clock to make sure that you’re on track.  It’s important to budget some time at the end for revisions. Avoid editing while you’re drafting your paper; just focus on fleshing out your argument. Furthermore, keep in mind the purpose of timed writes is to demonstrate your understanding of the topic, not to model “perfect” writing.  

If you are writing your essay by hand, it’s helpful to skip every other line while writing to make room for revising at the end.

Check Your Work

After drafting your paper, use your last few minutes to revise. According to Dr. Jim Beitler, Associate Professor of English and Director of First Year Writing, time spent prewriting and revising in a timed writing assignment “can greatly improve the quality of your work.” 

Ask the following questions of your draft:

  • Did I address all parts of the prompt?
  • Does my thesis align with the evidence I’ve presented?
  • Does each topic sentence align with both my thesis and the content of the paragraph? 

Feel free to jot these questions down on a sticky note, and, if allowed, refer to them during your timed write. On your final readthrough, you can correct major grammatical errors or reword confusing phrases that obscure the meaning. 


Remember you can always reach out to Learning and Accessibility Services for information on receiving appropriate accommodations, including for timed writes.

If any of these tips helped you with a timed write, we’d love to hear from you. Drop a comment below!

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Professional Development Writing Center

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Professional Development

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Writing Process

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