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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Reading and Study Strategies

Use the tabs to find guides to help you read academic texts in a way that helps you remember and use the information.

Timed Writing Strategies

Preparing for a timed writing assignment or essay exam? 

  • Be Prepared. You will stay calm if you know you've studied the content well ahead of time. Try to anticipate exam questions.
  • Read the questions slowly and with care. Pay attention to tricky vocabulary words. If your instructor allows it, use a paper dictionary to look up words you're unsure about.
  • Watch the clock. Be aware of your available time.
  • Think before you write. On a sheet of scratch paper, take the time during the exam to brainstorm and outline your responses before writing on the exam itself.
  • State your thesis in the opening paragraph. More clarity is always better. Underline your main points.
  • Keep to the point. If you're running out of time, skip wordy supporting examples.
  • End well. Even if you aren't able to finish the supporting points you had planned, add a conclusion. Your reader may never know you weren't able to finish the body of the essay if your conclusion is strong.

Practice analyzing essay questions:

  1. Underline the topic words (what the question asks you to consider).
  2. Place the question word in red (what you’re asked to do).
  3. Highlight any restrictions or hints.

Compare and contrast the wet tropics and the wet-dry tropics. Give examples of each.

How did the Reformation affect the political structure of Western Europe? Pay particular attention to the economic and educational results of the Reformation.

Analyze the causes of the American Civil War.

Christopher Lasch has criticized American society as a “culture of narcissism.” Explain what Lasch means by this term and write an essay in which you agree or disagree with this assessment.

What event in your life told you that you were no longer a child but an adultDiscuss.

Formulaic Writing

Academic writing is formulaic. This means you must organize and present information in a way that conforms to readers' expectations. Argumentative essays, personal narratives, research proposals, literary analyses, and lab reports all conform to specific conventions. Your job as a student is to learn the formula.

Read samples. Request samples from your instructor, ask a librarian to help you find published examples, search online for examples, or visit the Writers' Center and ask a Responder to point you toward resources.  

Sketch outlines of these samples and use those outlines as rough blueprints for the structure of your paper. Studying another's work for guidance about organization and style is not plagiarism. The ideas are yours; the structure is borrowed. This is how you learn to talk the talk.  

WARNING: Never copy the samples word for word. 

Example formula for an argumentative paper:

  • Introduction
  • Thesis
  • Body paragraph 1
  • Body paragraph 2
  • Body paragraph 3
  • Concession/rebuttal
  • Conclusion

Example formula for a research project: 

  • Problem statement
  • Historical view
  • Literature review
  • My findings
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion

The bad news: If you have brilliant ideas, but do not conform to the academic formula, you will probably be unsuccessful.  

The good news: Samples are everywhere. All writers can conform to academic expectations. Seek and ye shall find.  

Good luck, scholars!