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Chapter 21. In the Hot Seat: Writing Und... > What's the Big Idea? - Pg. 238

In the Hot Seat: Writing Under Pressure 238 Relax. Feeling nervous in a pressure writing situation (or in any tense circumstance) is natural. You wouldn't be human if you didn't get a little hot under the collar when you're put on the spot. Besides, being nervous by itself isn't an issue. That's because a minor case of the nerves can actually work to your advantage, since it keeps you alert and focused. But too much of anything is bad--especially when it comes to being nervous. Understanding what you'll be called on to write can help you tame your raging tension, so let's look at the types of questions you're most likely to be asked. What's the Big Idea? There are more pressure writing situations than ants at a picnic, but odds are that you'll plunge into this particular ring of hell most often if you're enrolled in a class. Whether it's high school, college, graduate school, or any other kind of professional training, the essay test is ubiquitous. Like designer water and people who have no right wearing spandex in public, you can run, but you can't hide. Why do so many instructors make you show your stuff in a pressure writing situation? Here's what they're looking for: 1. Recall.Your instructor wants to find out what's sunk in. Having everyone write en masse in class is the only way the instructor can be reasonably sure that you're dredging up your own learning and not cribbing from some poor sucker. In this situation, you must merely recall, to regurgitate facts and summarize them in a cogent essay. For example: "In an essay of 350 to 500 words, trace the primary events of the Russian Revolution." Analyze.With these essay questions, your instructor wants to find out how well you've made sense of what you've heard in class and read at home. Did you get the Big Picture? In this case, you're being asked to analyze information. When you analyze, you separate something into parts, examine each part, and show how they relate to the whole. For example: "What crops or products have shaped the world? In what ways? You have one hour in which to write." Evaluate.Here's where the teacher says, "Show me the money" by requiring you to make judgments. This is called evaluation and involves applying your own value system to the in- formation that's germane to the topic. For example: "Are fathers necessary? Explain why or why not in an essay of no more than 750 words." Synthesize.This is the toughest nut of all, because you're being asked to combine several elements to create something new. Synthesizing generally requires the most creativity be- cause it includes all the other tasks--recall, analysis, evaluation--and then some. For exam- ple: "Describe a person, real or imaginary. Through the description, reveal something about that person's character." 2. 3. 4. To do well on essay tests, then, you must first be able to figure out which of these skills the test demands, because each skill requires a different approach to writing. Let's look at each writing situation in turn. Author! Author!