Practicing Essay Writing to Get Better at Writing
It can be tough to practice your essay-writing skills on your own without a teacher's feedback. With some time and practice (and by using this game plan), you'll be on your way to practicing, evaluating and improving your writing.
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Practicing Essay Writing to Get Better
Did you know that Ernest Hemingway wrote his first novel without ever having written anything before? Did you know that Steven Spielberg directed his first big Hollywood movie without ever having been behind a camera before? Of course you didn’t know those things, because they’re not true!
Great creative geniuses have gotten where they are through hours of honing their crafts and practicing their techniques. Your goal might not be to become a transcendent essay-writing master. Perhaps you just want to get a decent grade in your English course, or, better yet, to test out of an English course altogether.
Achieving those goals, of course, will take work - work as in writing sample essays and strengthening your skills over time. And, unless you have your own personal writing teacher just waiting around to give you feedback each time you do a practice essay, you’ll need to develop a routine to practice your skills and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
Know Your Weaknesses
If writing isn’t your favorite subject, then I’d guess that dwelling on your own weaknesses when it comes to writing isn’t your favorite way to spend your time. But, there can be a real pay-off for finally taking a bit of time to conquer the trouble spots in your writing. Being able to test out of a college writing course could be one of those pay-offs.
Think back to some of the comments that you’ve seen show up again and again on essays that you’ve turned in to teachers in the past. Have your English teachers constantly been after you for never putting apostrophes in the right place, littering your essays with comma splices, never using transitional sentences at the start of your paragraphs or all of the above?
You won’t become a master essayist overnight. But, conquering a few of the most persistent problems that show up in your writing will be a huge help in terms of strengthening your writing overall. Building your confidence is key to becoming a practiced, better writer. Study.com Academy videos and a writing textbook - if you have one - can be great tools for this. Select just one writing concept at a time, take thirty minutes to review the rules for that concept and do a few short practice exercises to see if you can get the rules down. Remember: try to take on concepts one at a time to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
Focus on Essay Structure
Think next about essay structure. For those of us who get scared by the idea of having to write, essays might seem like big, mysterious blobs of words, the secrets of which only a select few people understand.
Not true. There are distinct ways of structuring different types of essays. For example, if you’ll be required to write a persuasive essay, think about the fundamental building blocks that would go into that essay’s structure.
You may have learned the basic 5-paragraph essay structure in classes you’ve taken. It’s not a requirement that you always use this structure, and some writers find it less useful than others. But, if you’re just starting to work on mastering the craft of essay writing, you could practice the five-paragraph structure, which consists of an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement, three body paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.
It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of outlining the structures of your essays before you begin writing. This will help you ensure that you include all applicable points and important information in your paper. Outlining will also help you focus on structure as you practice writing essays on your own.
Start Writing Timed Practice Essays
No one enjoys sitting down and working on timed essays, except maybe this person. For most people, it’s hard to commit to setting everything else aside, going into a quiet room, setting an alarm and completing a practice essay exam. While setting a timer for yourself might seem to make the task more unpleasant, it’s actually a way to guarantee that you’ll be replicating an actual essay exam situation and that you’ll get through with an essay without letting it drag on for days.
Because many exams require that you write persuasive essays, it may be a good idea to start your practice with one. Give yourself an hour and a quiet room. You can hand-write or type your essay. Because many standardized exams offer only the option of completing your test on a computer, it’s not a bad idea to practice on one.
For a timed exam, you’ll be presented with an essay topic. For your practice session, you can do a quick online search for persuasive essay topics to come up with one that you’re comfortable writing about, but with which you’re not overly familiar. Remember that you want to capture the experience of taking an actual essay exam.
For some exams, you may be provided with some short excerpts of sources weighing in on each side of an issue you’ll have to write about. So that you’ll have some source material to work with for your practice session, take a few minutes to do a bit of quick, informal research through online searches to get an idea of a couple of points on each side of the issue. Make a note of those points. As you write your practice essay, you can use them as you discuss points in favor of and opposed to your position.
Set a timer for 30 minutes, which is often around how much time you’ll have for any one essay in an essay exam. But, be sure to check the rules provided for whatever test or class you’re preparing for.
Here’s a set of Four Steps that you can follow as you use your time:
Come up with a working thesis statement. This will be your main point or position in your essay. Take about a minute to do this.
Sketch out an outline of your major points. You can do this on a sheet of scratch paper or use a separate document on your computer. The outline shouldn’t be formal; just work on planning out your major points for your argument. Remember to make use of the quick research that you did as you plan your points. Take around three minutes to do this.
Write at least three body paragraphs, making one major argumentative point in each one. You can use your points from your quick research to support your argument, and you should also address and argue against at least one opposing point that you found. Take about 18 minutes to write these paragraphs.
Write your introductory and concluding paragraphs. In your introduction, give a quick preview of the major points in your essay, and include your thesis statement at the end. In your conclusion, drive home your strongest point and sum up your major arguments. Take the final 8 minutes or so to do this.
You’ll want to do as many of these essay practice sessions as you can, but before you start on your next session, you’ll need to evaluate your essay.
Learn How to Evaluate Your Writing
You could write your own practice essays all day long every day, but you’ll only make true headway once you work on becoming skilled at evaluating your own writing. Luckily, you can develop an easy-to-use evaluation checklist to guide you through the process of reviewing your own work. As you go back through your essay to figure out if it’s any good, ask yourself these questions:
Do I have a clear thesis that conveys my main point?
Does each body paragraph contain a clear, logical argument?
Have I supported my points with specific facts and examples?
Are my body paragraphs organized in a logical way?
Have I made smooth transitions between paragraphs?
Are my introductory and concluding paragraphs clear and effective?
Have I made grammatical errors?
Consider these questions one at a time as you review your practice essay. If you find that you haven’t done something as effectively as you’d like, consider how you might strengthen that aspect of your paper and focus on improving that area of your writing during your next practice session.
Two of the hardest parts of practicing essay writing are finding time to sit down and write and being able to know if what you’ve written is any good. But, by having a game plan, you’ll be in a good position to start improving your writing.
First, know your weaknesses and work on turning them into strengths. Second, focus on essay structure in order to understand the fundamental building blocks of good essays. Third, start writing timed practice essays to get the rhythm of how to put those building blocks together effectively. Fourth, learn how to evaluate your own writing so that you can make each practice essay that you write better than the last.
With a plan and some practice, you can make real, measurable improvements in your skills and just maybe make all of those essay-writing dreams come true.
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