How to Conclude an Essay Exam in 5 Minutes

As an English major in college, I had my share of essay exams.

I usually kept an eye on the clock when writing, but I’ve definitely had moments when I ran out of time.

So here’s some advice from Harvard University on how to complete an essay when you only have minutes left:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence thats compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

And here’s how you should never end an essay:

  • Dont simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long_more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like in conclusion, to conclude, in summary, and to sum up. These phrases can be useful_even welcome_in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. Youll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.

Read more tips on how to conclude an Essay . . .

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How to Write a Fascinating Thesis Statement

No professors or teaching assistants want to read a boring paper. They want to read a paper that engages them; a paper that is compelling and clearly articulated.

So how do you write one of these papers?

Well, the most important part of writing a fascinating paper is to develop a great thesis statement.

You see, your thesis statement is the spine for your entire paper. Its the glue that holds your paper together. The more complex, specific, and interesting, the better your paper will be.

So here are some steps to breathe life into your next thesis statement:

Get Excited About Your Topic
No matter what you have to write about, you should try and get excited about it. The more interest and excitement you put forth, the better your paper will be. Even if your paper topic bores you, this is your opportunity to get creative and think of a way to make it exciting. Thats your challenge – and you can do it.

Develop A Strong Opinion About Your Topic
Writing a great thesis statement means you need to develop a strong opinion about your topic. This is how radio talk show hosts keep their audiences – they spew strong opinions that attract listeners and phone calls. If youre not sure how to form a strong opinion about your topic, start reading through journal article abstracts. Check out Google Scholar and read through thesis statements pertaining to your topic. Jot down any strong opinions that look interesting to you.

Use Exciting Adjectives to Spice up Your Thesis
Dont just say that something is good or bad, empower your nouns with exciting adjectives that describe what you really think. Adjectives like oppressive, tyrannical, and bloodthirsty are powerful because they portray a strong point of view about something or someone.

Focus Your Thesis On One Main Idea
As mentioned in the introduction, your thesis is the glue for your paper. Make sure your thesis doesnt divert into different directions. Stay focused on one main theme to keep your paper organized and your reader on topic.

Get Extremely Specific in Your Thesis
A generic thesis statement weakens a paper because the reader isnt clear exactly what youre going to be arguing about. However, if your thesis includes specific details about your argument, it will prepare the reader for whats ahead. It also helps you stay on task as you argue your points with specific examples.

Keep a List of Interesting Thesis Statements
Just as copywriters have a swipe file of powerful headlines, you should develop your own list of powerful thesis statements. Whenever you come across a thesis statement that intrigues you, add it to your list. The longer your list of thesis statements, the more ammunition youll have when you need to craft your own.

Here are three examples of thesis statements to get you going:

Weak Thesis:
The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

Average Thesis:
While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Strong Thesis:
While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

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How to Write Your First Draft

I’m finishing up grad school right now, and I’ve been extremely busy writing a 90-page paper. I also have another 20-page paper that’s due in several weeks.

I don’t have much time to spend on rough drafts, so I have to make every minute count.

Here is some personal advice on how to start writing your first draft:

1. Take a break.
Before writing anything, you need to take a break from your research. You need to give your mind time to mull over the topic. I suggest taking a day – or even a few days to let your mind soak it all in. If you don’t have the luxury of time, then take a nap before beginning your assignment.

2. Set goals for yourself.
Write a list of everything you want to accomplish during the time you’ve set aside to write. And designate a time for each task. Giving yourself a time limit puts pressure on you to accomplish your goal. It’s better to enforce a time limit on yourself (ahead of schedule) than writing your paper the night before it’s due.

3. Write an outline for your paper.
To get your mind focused, it’s always best to work from an outline. Your outline is a starting point to help you think about how your paper will be constructed. If you’re not sure how to write one – simply look at the structure of well-written journal articles.

4. Don’t think too hard. Just write.
When you’re writing your rough draft, you need to focus on writing. Don’t get stuck on trying to craft perfect sentences. Just let go – and let your mind crank out some ideas on the page. The sooner you start writing, the better. You can always polish it up later.

5. Write down every idea.
If you think of something interesting, but not sure how you’ll “fit” it into your paper – just write it down. Don’t worry about all the details. You can always eliminate it later – or find a creative way to weave it into your essay.

6. Talk about it.
One way to stimulate more ideas for your paper is to talk aloud about the subject. Pretend like you’re giving a lecture and think about how you would argue your case in front of your peers.

7. If you get stuck, move on to another section.
Sometimes you might run out of ideas on a certain section of your essay. That’s okay. It’s bound to happen. The simple way to defuse this is to move on to another section. Refer to your outline and find another area to work on. Sometimes I’ll just start working on my bibliography or abstract to distract me. The goal is to just keep moving along – and to keep adding content to your paper.

8. Take exercise breaks.
If you sit at computer too long, you’re bound to get tired. Make sure to take brief breaks to stretch and clear your mind. It will help you write more clearly.

9. Eat and drink wisely.
My last suggestion is to eat and drink wisely. I love to drink coffee and green tea when I’m writing – it helps me focus. Make sure to keep your body hydrated – and only eat foods that will give you energy. Try to avoid heavy foods that might make you sleepy.

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How to Write Abstracts

Ive been very busy these last few weeks working on a lengthy research proposal.

Its been absolutely exhausting – but it feels good to almost be done.

The last step in any research proposal is to write a comprehensive summary (or abstract) about what youre about to propose.

This might sound easy, but I find that this is sometimes the most difficult part.

How do you condense all your research into a brief paragraph?

It can be mind-boggling I know.

After spending some time researching abstract development, I found these helpful tips for writing the perfect abstract:

Abstract Style

  • One paragraph under 150 – 200 words
  • Use related keywords that people might use to find your article
  • As a summary of work done, it is always written in past tense
  • An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer to any other part of the paper such as a figure or table
  • Focus on summarizing results – limit background information
  • What you report in an abstract must be consistent with what you report
  • Correct spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases, and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant figures) are just as important in an abstract as they are anywhere else

Abstract Content

  • Motivation – Why do we care about the problem and the results?
  • Problem Statement – What problem are you trying to solve? What is the scope of your work (a generalized approach, or for a specific situation)? Be careful not to use too much jargon. In some cases it is appropriate to put the problem statement before the motivation, but usually this only works if most readers already understand why the problem is important.
  • Approach – How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure?
  • Results – Whats the answer? Put the result there, in numbers. Avoid vague, hand-waving results such as very, small, or significant.
  • Conclusions – What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant win, be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful). Are your results general, potentially generalizable, or specific to a particular case?

Read more about writing abstracts here . . .

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