For the past eight years, I’ve taught composition classes where students turn in final portfolios rather than taking a final exam. That changes this year: at West Point, cadets are required to compose a final three-hour timed writing during exam week, called a Term End Examination essay, or TEE. (The Army loves its acronyms.) The composition TEE is an odd and interesting thing, because the department writing program’s rhetoric is ostensibly so invested in the writing-as-process revision-based model, and then we go and put a one-shot do-or-die capstone on it. Furthermore, the cadet TEEs are randomly and anonymously group-graded by three faculty members each.
As faculty, we’ve done grade norming, and it’s good to know that we’re all pretty much within a half grade point of one another when it comes to student essays: standards are clear and consistent. But being a portfolio person, I felt some unease looking forward to the TEE, so I assigned an early practice-run timed in-class graded writing exercise today. Interesting results, and a much wider range of apparent writerly skill than I’m used to seeing with drafts and revisions — which means I’m going to need to offer my students some timed test-taking essay-writing strategies.
Which is where you come in, dear reader: I’d like to ask you for your help. What are the most successful strategies and pieces of advice you’ve been able to offer your students for writing under time constraints? Certainly, the process approach is an invaluable and welcome luxury — but what best advice might I offer my cadets when that approach is not an option?
The format is fairly consistent: given three hours and a specific audience, read a ten-page article and draft an argument that in some way responds to that article, usually proposing some course of action. And in such a format, I’m horribly inexpert, and hoping for guidance: in such situations, what do you offer students that helps them to succeed?