Writing Well: The Golden Rules

The Golden Rules

You want to write as well as you can—no mediocre prose for you, partner. If you're taking a test, you want to get the highest possible score; if you're writing something on the job, you want that raise, promotion, and pat on the back. The following suggestions can help you prepare for writing under pressure. Make these hints part of your standard repertoire.

Word Watch

Prose is nonpoetic writing. Essays, stories, and newspaper articles are classified as prose, for example.

Before the Test …

The following suggestions can help you use your time to best advantage as you prepare for writing tests. Actually, they work great for any kind of test!

Writer's Block

Avoid sleeping medication the night before, because there's the chance it will leave you groggy.

Author! Author!

Today, many tests that were traditionally short-answer formats, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), contain an essay. More and more standardized tests are moving in this direction, too. That's because essay tests assess the higher-order critical thinking skills you need to succeed, such as analysis, evaluation, and explication. Short-answer tests hit only the facts, not how you express them.

  1. Study. Know your stuff. If you're well prepared, not only will you stand a better chance of answering the questions correctly, but you'll also be less likely to panic during the test. Set up a study schedule well in advance of the exam date.
  2. Get a good night's sleep. Yes, I know you've heard it before, but it really works. A solid eight hours of zzzz's can recharge your batteries and get you freebee extra points on any test.
  3. Be sure to eat. Yes, I know you'll get sick if you eat. Eat anyway; you need the nourishment. And stick with your normal foods—this isn't the time to go for the super-size Enchilada Grande with a side of squid.
  4. Go easy on the caffeine. Too much coffee or cola can give you the jitters, the last thing you want.
  5. Avoid all alcohol. Even if you feel that a drink will relax you and take the edge off, steer clear of demon rum. The booze will just blunt your brain and prevent you from seeing the test as clearly as you must to succeed.
  6. Relax the day before. If you relieve the pressure the day before, you're less likely to shift into panic mode while you're writing. So take your mind off the test by doing something you enjoy.
  7. Get your ducks in a row. The night before, lay out your clothing, writing implements, watch, and other necessaries. For example, to take nationwide standardized tests such as the SAT, you need identification to get into the test room. Be sure to have a valid driver's license, school ID, or passport or you won't even be admitted to the test.
  8. Make sure you know where you're going. If you haven't been to the test site before, make sure you have good directions. It's not a bad idea to take a dry run to the site a day or two before the actual test, so you'll know how to get there when it really matters. This is especially important for directionally challenged people like me.
  9. Leave enough time in the morning. Figure out how much time you need in the morning to get ready—and then leave yourself an extra 30 minutes. If an emergency arises, you'll have time to deal with it. If everything goes smoothly, you can linger over your juice and toast.
  10. Put on a happy face. Getting upset the day before a pressure writing situation does more than make you feel lousy; it can also rob you of the confidence you need to succeed. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thinking the good thoughts can help you keep your focus, so do your best to remain upbeat.
Word Watch

A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when you talk yourself into something. So why not talk yourself into writing well under pressure?

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.