There’s nothing like an approaching deadline to give you the motivation you need! No need to stress though, we’ve got some top tips that’ll help you out.
You may start out with good intentions the day an essay is set, but at some point during your time at university you’re bound to find you’ve left everything to the last-minute and have fewer hours than Jack Bauer to complete a 3,000 word essay. And you have to do it well.
We aren’t suggesting that you do leave it to the last day but, if you happen to, for whatever reason, you’re going to need this fool-proof guide.
Between nights out, procrastination and other deadlines, the days can easily creep by. Now you’re breaking out in a cold sweat and mentally resigning yourself to the idea that you may as well just drop out of uni now.
The worst thing you can do in this situation is panic, so keep calm and read on to find out how to nail that essay in unbelievable time.
Best-selling author Neil Strauss (wrote The Game ) once decided to see if he could write and design a whole book in a single day. Needless to say, he produced a finished 25 page book before sundown. Writing anything is not about how long you have, it’s about pure focus.
This guide can be applied to assignments for almost any degree subject, but especially well for ‘reading’ degrees such as English Literature, History and Law.
Fail to plan and you plan to fail, or so our lecturers say. Although you obviously haven’t embraced this motto, there are a few things you can do the morning you start work on your essay before you even get to the computer to maximise efficiency.
Fuel your body and mind with a healthy breakfast like porridge – the slow release energy will stop a mid-morning slump over your desk, which is something you really can’t afford.
Pick your work station
Choose a quiet area where you know you won’t be disturbed. You’ll know whether you work better in the library or at home.
Go equipped with two pens (no nipping to the shop because you ran out of ink), bottled water, any notes you have, and some chocolate to use as mini-rewards and to keep you going without having to take your eyes off the screen.
Try to avoid the caffeine early on because you’ll find yourself flailing within a few hours.
Shut out the world
Procrastination is every student’s speciality, so turn off your phone and refrain from checking Twitter.
A good tip is to get a friend to change your Facebook password for you for 24 hours and make them promise not to tell you it, even if you beg (choose a friend that enjoys watching you squirm).
Set yourself goals
Time management is of utmost importance 24 hours before the deadline, and you clearly haven’t excelled in this area so far.
By setting yourself a time frame to reach certain milestones before you start typing, you have achievable goals to work towards and the prospect of conjuring up 3,000 words from thin air doesn’t seem so daunting.
Let’s say it’s 9am and your essay is due in first thing tomorrow morning. Oh, it is? Ok, well here’s a feasible timeline that you can follow:
- 9:00 – 9:30 – Have your essay question chosen and an idea of your argument
- 9:30 – 9:45 – Break/Snack
- 10:00 – 12:00 – Write a full outline/plan of your essay
- 12:00 – 13:00 – Get your introduction sorted by 1
- 13:00 – 14:00 – Take a break and grab some lunch (you deserve it)
- 14:00 – 16:00 – Get back to your desk and do all your research
- 16:00 – 20:30 – Write all of your content (eat dinner in the middle)
- 20:30 – 22:30 – Edit and improve
- 22:30 – 23:00 – Print and prepare ready for the morning
- 23:00 – (morning) – If you have not finished by this point then it’s still possible. Make sure you have eaten well and have enough energy to last you until the early hours of the morning.
Schedule in a few breaks – you need to spend the 24 hours productively, and you can’t be on form for a full day without short breaks to rest your eyes. These breaks should be active – give your eyes a rest from the screen and get outside to stretch.
Choosing a question and approach
Time. 9am – 12pm
If you have been given a choice of essay questions, you should choose the one you feel most strongly about, or have the most knowledge about (i.e the topics you actually went to the lectures for).
24 hours before the deadline is not the time to learn a new topic from scratch (no matter how much easier the question seems).
Next, decide your approach, that is, how you are going to tackle the question. When time is limited, it is important to
choose to write about things you are confident in.
Remember that it’s your essay and as long as you relate your argument to the question and construct a clear, well supported argument, you can take it in any direction you choose. Use this to your advantage. You may need to Google around the topic to get a clear idea of what you can write about, but limit this research time to 20 minutes or you could be there all day.
As you work, jot down anything you could use to relate different points or talk about later.
Now, type out 3-5 key points that you will aim to tackle, and underneath use bullet points to list all the information and opinions/supporting arguments you have for each. Start with the most obvious argument, as this will provide something to link your other points to – the key to a good essay.
You will now find you have an outline of the body of your essay.
Temporarily use these key ideas as headings for each of your paragraphs to ensure you don’t stray from the question. Underneath each paragraph heading, organise the information you have in to a fluent argument.
Time. 12pm – 1pm
Sometimes the introduction can be the most difficult part to write, but by creating an outline of your essay you are equipped with an idea of your main argument and how you will support it.
Introductions are easy: introduce your topic and throw in a few relevant facts, identify the key points you have decided upon in your argument, and state how you will demonstrate these points.
Time. 1pm – 4pm
Now it’s time to gather outside information and quotes to support your arguments.
It’s important to limit yourself to a certain period of time spent on this, as it is easy to get distracted when Google presents you with copious amounts of irrelevant information.
Choose key search words wisely and copy and paste key ideas and quotes. If using books, give yourself 10 minutes to get anything that looks useful from the library and flick to chapters that look relevant. Paraphrase main arguments to give the essay your own voice.
Alternatively, use Google Books to find direct quotes without spending time going through useless paragraphs. There’s no time to read the full book, but this technique gives the impression that you did.
While you gather quotes, keep note of your sources – don’t plagiarise! Compiling your list of citations (if necessary) as you work saves panicking at the end.
Tip: Take quotes by other authors in the book that you are reading. If you look up the references you will find the original book (already credited in Harvard style) which you can then use for your references. This way it looks like you have read this book too.
Bashing it out
Time. 4pm – 8.30pm
Get typing! Now it’s a matter of reaching the word limit.
Get all your content down and try not to take breaks now as it will disrupt your flow of thought. Don’t worry too much about writing style, you can chop and change later. More will occur to you as you type so jot these ideas down on a notepad – you may need them to make up the word count or provide insight into arguments.
Use the research you have gathered to support the key concepts you already have in a concise way until you have reached around 2,500+ words.
If you are struggling to reach the word limit then do not panic. Pick out an argument in your essay that you feel has not been fully built upon and head back to your research. If you like, you can imagine that your essay is like a kebab stick. The meat is the essential points and you build them up and build around each piece of meat with vegetables to make the full kebab.
Time. 8.30pm – 10.30pm
Ensure all the things you wanted to talk about are explained fully, are supported with relevant information, and the facts are correct. Make things more (or less) wordy to hit your word count.
You should also check that your essay flows nicely – are your paragraphs linked? Do a quick spell check and make sure you have time for printer issues – we’ve all been there!
A lot of students overlook the importance of spelling and grammar. It differs from uni to uni and subject to subject but your writing style along with spelling and grammar can account for up to 10-20% of your grade.
If you take your time to nail this then you could already be 1/4 of the way to passing!
While completing essays 24 hours before the deadline is far from recommended and unlikely to get you great grades, using this guide should prevent tears in the library (been there) and the need for extensions. Remember this is a worst case scenario solution.
Now, why are you reading articles, we all know you should be doing something else!