What do a homework assignment and a text message have in common? Absolutely nothing! You write them in completely different ways, and you write them for two completely different purposes.
In your last year of high school especially, you have a lot of writing to do. From homework assignments, assessments, and examinations to college and scholarship essays, personal statements, entrance exams, and supplementary essays, the sheer amount you’re expected to write borders on the impossible at times!
However, I’ve come to understand that it isn’t always just the required quantity of writing that truly matters: the quality and style of your writing can have the same, if not more, bearing on the objectives of the specific writing task. Every task is distinct, and you need to know what you are expected to write accordingly so that you adhere to the tone, conventions, and register entailed by the question.
Consequently, here are a few tips I’ve picked up, especially in the past year, that you can use to improve your writing and perhaps get more acquainted with its conventions. These tips concern any writing task you would expect to encounter as a high school senior, but really any student can benefit from them.
Go over the task in your head
Be it an exam, college essay, or English class prompt, this is the most crucial pointer. The key to adapting your writing skills to suit the needs of the task is to initially understand the full scope of the task. Before you begin writing, spend time organizing your thoughts and ideas, keeping in mind the amount of time you have. Also ensure that you are familiar with the basic conventions of the writing task so that you adhere to the format that’s expected of you.
During an exam especially, I often find myself nearly overanalyzing essay questions so I’m better able to arrange all of the points. I often underline the key words and phrases in the question so I know exactly where I need to focus my attention to maximize my scores.
During exams, it’s also essential to note that many questions often have two parts to them asking you to focus on analysis, evaluation, and explanation. Ensure that you take all of these command terms into account so that your answer falls in line with the expectations.
This is a rather conventional piece of advice every student, teacher, or parent would give you. It definitely goes a long way and helps you save a lot of time, as you spend less time thinking about completing the task and shamelessly procrastinating.
Sometimes beginning your work early can improve your writing and help you get more clarity and perspective about different subjects and concepts. Time can also give you multiple opportunities to rewrite and refocus. You can even use this time to read more and write multiple drafts so there’s more time for you to improve and perfect your work.
Get relevant feedback
When you’re practicing and trying to improve, ensure that you get sufficient feedback and insight on what you do. Ask your friends, parents, and teachers to read your essays so that you can get a second opinion after you finish your work. They can even give you their own interpretations and perspectives on the topic you’re covering and inform you of how your writing presentation comes across. While writing my personal statement, I asked my parents for their opinions so that I could understand how my writing and thoughts were being received.
I have to work a lot on writing with more brevity and focus, as I often resort to rambling and using “flowery” vocabulary in my written work, exceeding the word limit in the process. It was difficult for me to write well for examinations in subjects of that particular nature. Many times I was also asked to keep my sentence length, complexity, and structure in check.
So before you start to work on your writing, you should understand your weaknesses and the areas you need help with. Identify where you go wrong and how you need to adapt your writing style to each task. From there you can work your way steadily upward and become an expert strategic writer!
Proofread and review
Once you finally complete a task, you feel a sudden burst of relaxation. Once you dot the i’s and cross the t’s, you can finally enjoy the rest of your day or go on to the next task. But then you realize there’s still one more process you need to finish. Proofreading and reviewing are probably the most important aspects of writing. They’re especially important in fields of higher education and professional fields.
Even though proofreading doesn’t seem necessary and reviewing is often a time guzzler, as a student, you need to pay heed to it. After completing an assignment or a draft, be sure to go through it very carefully. If it doesn’t make sense to you or if you aren’t personally satisfied with what you’ve written, there's no way you could expect anyone else to enjoy it. Spend time going through your sentences and ensuring that your ideas have a coherent flow. The ideas you present must be logically consistent, accurate, and precise.
Practice makes perfect!
The key to truly mastering the art of writing is to write extensively. It’s like math or practicing a sport or instrument: the more you do it, the better you become. Practicing exam-style questions by writing them out is one of the most essential ways to prepare for big exams, as the language and style you employ contributes a lot to how you frame your answers and, eventually, score. The same can be said for attempting other tasks like the SAT essay or supplemental application essays.
Writing is a way you express your thoughts and ideas to the world. So why not spend the time in high school mastering it so you can use it for greater things in the future?
Looking for college essay writing advice? Visit our Application Essay Clinic!