Good writing capability is a great skill to have. From acing exams to emailing at work - writing is an intrinsic part of any human communication. A lot of people undermine the importance of writing well. What you write and how you write it reflects a huge part of who you are. If you have worked hard on something, but fail to communicate it in the right manner - it's all in vain. Therefore, mastering the correct writing techniques is extremely important.
When it comes to academics and exams, writing is even more complicated. You may know all your answers, may have burnt the midnight oil to master your subjects yet, all this hard work can won't pay off unless you are able to write and accurately express your knowledge.
It’s one thing to write well in your day to day life, and another thing to write for exams.
You might have a robust poetic flair, but when it comes to your anthropology class, it’s a different structure of writing that will get you good grades. Similarly, creative writing may be your forte, but you’d need to master a different format when it comes to acing your business papers.
In this article, we’ll apply the hugely popular SMART methodology to create a step by step structure of writing that can be used to your college exams, both at undergraduate and graduate levels.
Writing Techniques Using SMART Methodology
emerged from Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives
. According to Professor Robert S. Rubin (Saint Louis University), SMART has come to mean different things to different people
. Here are the commonly used definitions of the SMART acronym for goal setting.
To ensure that your goals are clear and compelling, they should have the following parameters defined:
- Should have a clear definition
- There should be a number or factor that it should affect
- Well within the means and resources available
- Backed by evidence, historical analysis or have a strong hypothesis with a reasonable argument
- Should be completed within an assigned period of time
Usually, SMART goals
are used in a work setting or professional team setting. However, they can also be applied to strategic exam writing.
Here's How To Be SMART About Writing
S - Specific
Write down a headline statement using just 1 line - not more than 10-12 words. If you can’t think of 1 line answer to the question, then you definitely need to work on organizing your thoughts better. Tight writing is a product of tight thinking.
It’s essential to have one overarching statement that you’ll base your descriptive answer on. This statement should be specific to the question - you may have read multiple things on the same topic, but in that quick moment, you need to decide which direction you want to go.
M - Measurable
If you were the professor, what parameters would you use to measure how right an answer is? Try to put yourself in the shoes of the grader and then create a list of 2-3 three parameters
that each of your answers should have. For example, if it's a social sciences exam, your response should focus on strong opinions that are fact by data. On the other hand, if it's a literature exam, you could focus on a narrative writing style that provides more of a story rather than an argument.
A - Achievable
You have only limited minutes to answer all your questions. Is the length and breadth of your answer achievable in those hours? Sometimes when you are well prepared for a subject, you can get excited about pouring in your heart and soul into each of the answers. Ensure that your excitement to make one answer perfect doesn't eat away the time from others.
R - Relevant
What you add to your answer needs to be relevant to the question. It’s a no-brainer. However, a lot of students tend to include materials just because they have read them and not because of their relevance to the particular answer.
T - Time-bound
Again - time each of your answer. If you have 10 mins to write one answer, using 15 minutes will hamper the rest of your questions. Always remember that answering more questions will add to more marks than mastering just one answers. To stay within your time limit very aggressively.
8 Commandments For Exam Writing Practice
1) Set a writing routine
At least before a month of your exam, set aside a fixed time to just write what you study. In the Psychology of Writing
, cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg explores how work schedules, behavioral rituals, and writing environments affect the ratio between the amount of time invested in trying to write and how much of that time actually get used effectively.
Writing rituals can be quite helpful in setting your creative juices flowing. Regular writing is more effective in building your skill than writing for 3 hours in one day.
2) Follow the logical writing structure
Get your basics right about different logical formats of writing. Very few people make a conscious effort to approach writing methodically. Writing well combines an element of creativity as well as mechanics. Knowing these six common structures of logical writing can help you determine under which structure your answers/subjects should fall. Practicing for an evaluative answer can be very different from a comparative answer. You can do it effectively only when you know the tenets of both. The commonly used logical structures include:
Categorical, Evaluative, Chronological, Comparative, Sequential, Casual
3) The Set and the Setting
To practice writing for exams, create a similar setting when you sit down to write. Keep away your mobile phone, prepare a question paper and time yourself for 2-3 hours depending on how long your exams tend to be.
4) Active reading
is essential to good writing. Whether it’s an online article, magazine article, journal or book, be cognizant of the writing style. What are the elements used - alliterations, assonance, hyperbole, metaphors, similes, personification, etc. Notice the structure, word choice, and voice of the authors. Active reading initiates your brain to imbibe these styles into your way of writing. Good writers hone their skills by being constantly aware of what they’re reading.
5) Improve your ‘effective vocabulary’
By improving vocab, we don’t mean memorizing the dictionary. We have already know the meaning of a lot more words than we actively use in our day to day speaking or writing. The “effective vocabulary” is the one that comes into play in your writing. The best way to improve this vocabulary is to read relevant materials on similar topics and note down any new word along with their meaning and contextual usage. In general, it’s always a good practice to keep collecting words from scholarly newspaper articles and using them actively a few times till they come naturally to you.
6) Active Voice vs. passive voice
Active voice is always a better idea than passive voice. Passive voice sentences often use more words, can be vague, and can lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases. Active voice is easier to read and comprehend and leads to fewer mistakes in sentence structures.
7) Structuring & Mapping
Don't start writing the minute you get the questions. Take a moment to lay out the structure of the answer. This works exceptionally well for descriptive answers, short or long essays. On a rough page, quickly create a skeleton of the answer before actually beginning to write. It gives your mind the time to choose the right information that should be included. If you don't do this, you can wander off in different directions while writing.
Once you are done writing, you HAVE TO
proofread it. Even the best authors and literary geniuses employ proofreaders and editors. No matter how confident you're about your writing, it's imperative to set aside at least 8-10% of your exam time for proofreading. For a two hour exam, that would be 12 mins of proofreading.
Like any other skill that needs patience and perseverance, master the art of writing also requires time commitment and practice. Writing is perhaps a form of meditation - the more you do it, the more you become aware of your inner ability. Even if you don’t aim to become a distinguished writer, being able to write well can be a potent tool even beyond your classroom grades. So inculcate this habit early on. It’ll go a long way in your professional life. If you look around, many jobs require strong writing skills - sales, account management, marketing, content management, product management, business analysis, PR, market research and many more functions would need you to write.
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