Writing Well: In the Hot Seat: Writing Under Pressure

In the Hot Seat: Writing Under Pressure

You know you're having a bad day when …

  • You have a hard time alphabetizing a bag of M&M's.
  • You try to fax chocolate chip cookies to your child in college.
  • You have to write under pressure.

That last one's the real dilly, isn't it? Most people regard pressure writing situations as appealing as icky bugs, deep water, and death. In fact, just the mention of the phrase “pressure writing” is enough to set off that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Not to worry; in this section, you'll learn to write with grace under pressure.

First, you'll explore your feelings about writing under pressure. Then we'll examine the four most common types of pressure writing essay test situations: recall, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. Next, I'll give you some tried-and-true suggestions for writing successfully when the heat's on. You'll learn how to prepare yourself before the test and how to deal with stress during the test. Finally, I'll show you how to cope with the monster under the bed: panic during the test. Let's start by seeing how you really feel about writing when the pressure's on.

What, Me Worry?

How can you tell if pressure writing situations make you nervous? Take this quick quiz to see. Check the items that describe your feelings when you have to write by the clock.

Write Angles

Always be sure you're in the correct room taking the correct test. Every semester, I have several students who wander into the wrong classroom. Test time drifts away as the lost sheep rejoin the flock.

You get the assignment, read it, and start writing. Within a few minutes …

  • You can jump-start your car without cables.
  • You don't need a hammer to pound in nails.
  • People get dizzy just watching you.
  • You can outlast the Energizer bunny.
  • You haven't blinked since the test started.
  • You just ate a candy bar. It was still wrapped.
  • A nurse would need a scientific calculator to take your pulse.
  • Your nervous twitch registers on the Richter scale.
  • You're so wired you pick up AM radio.
  • You just shorted out a motion detector.
  • You could channel surf faster without a remote.
  • People can test their batteries in your ears.
Score Yourself
10 to 8 checksYou need me, you really need me.
7 to 5 checksStop shaking; the test is over.
4 to 0 checksAre you alive?

Relax. Feeling nervous in a pressure writing situation (or in any tense circumstance) is natural. You wouldn't be human if you didn't get a little hot under the collar when you're put on the spot. Besides, being nervous by itself isn't an issue.

That's because a minor case of the nerves can actually work to your advantage, since it keeps you alert and focused. But too much of anything is bad—especially when it comes to being nervous. Understanding what you'll be called on to write can help you tame your raging tension, so let's look at the types of questions you're most likely to be asked.

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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.