By Ildar Sagdejev CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
My students are always looking for ways to make the timed essay easier on the GRE and GMAT. Concurrently, they are also always looking for ways to not write. Perhaps you are like me — a little dumbfounded that people want to improve their writing by not writing — and might want to force those people to write essay after essay, regardless of their wishes. But that’s not going to effective. So when this paradoxical beast does rear its ugly head, I pull out an activity that will make their timed essay easier and not require much writing: generate examples for essays they would write.
This is a fun, painless, and beneficial way to prepare for timed essays. For one, generating examples and organizing them around a topic will save you time. Instead of knocking your head against a table trying to get examples to fall out your ears during the test, organize examples before hand around common topics usually found on the test. In this way, you won’t have to think too hard to come up with examples.
Second, this activity ensures that you have high quality examples. Have you ever been in the middle of writing an essay, supporting your opinion with an example, and a new, better example leaps into your mind? Frustrated, you have to push this example aside in a timed essay–nothing to do but plow ahead before time runs out. By preparing ahead of time, though, by thinking about the topics and examples, you’ll have the best examples to choose from on test day.
I use a Google Spreadsheet, which I am making available to you, to help students organize their examples. The spreadsheet can be found in Google Drive’s Template Gallery or by clicking on the image at the bottom of the page. Also, you may need to sign up for a Google account to use the template. But feel free to make your own in your favorite spreadsheet app.
Five Steps to Write a Better Essay
I. Read example essays and collect sample writing prompts
- GRE Analysis of an Issue Essay prompts
- GRE Analysis of an Argument prompts
- GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment prompts
- SAT Essay prompts
II. Organize the prompts into themes and topics
- Morals and Ethics
III. Identify common themes within the topic
- History: To be successful in a field, you have to know the history of that field.
- Education: Formal education limits creativity.
- Business: Employees should be given the freedom to work hours when they will be most productive, choosing their schedule for the day.
- Politics: Governments should solve today’s problems and not try to predicate what problems will exist in the future.
- Morals and Ethics: Parents should be teaching their kids right and wrong, not schools.
- Science: Science should only focus on research that will benefit society.
- Technology: Technology does not deliver on its promise of making our lives easier.
- Art: Funding art, whether it be music, theater, or dance, is a waste of money.
- Society: Societies as a whole are becoming less violent.
IV. Write down examples for each prompt, organizing them into pro/con and support/against columns.
- You will need to give some context for the examples you write. A good way to add context is to simply organize the examples around those that support the prompt and those that undermine the prompt. If you think the example is in a grey area, then make the text of that example actually a grey color.
- Also, there will be overlap between prompts and topics, so don’t hesitate to put an example under different topics or prompts under different topics.
V. Maintain and update database regularly
- If you read something in the newspaper or hear or story from a friend related to one of your prompts, add it to the database.
- When you practice writing an essay, use the database initially, but as you practice more and more, try to wean yourself off the spreadsheet.