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In-Class Essays (a.k.a the Bane of My Existence)

Crate-fuls of essays!
In general, I'm okay with essays. When my teachers aren't assigning them in crate-fuls (*cough cough* like they are now, since it's Hell Week), they can even be sort of fun to write. I like analyzing literature (not that I'm very good at it), and even those terrifying historical investigations are sometimes interesting. Still, a lot of work goes into essays, from the thinking to the outlining to the drafting to the revisions to the final, final, final edits. It takes a while to write them, like at least a few days if not a week.

Fifty-one minutes, however, is hardly sufficient.

Because yes, my lit teacher decided that he would give us an in-class essay that would be worth approximately 400% of our grade. When we walk in, he would give us a passage from the book we read (Black Boy by Richard Wright - fascinating book, by the way) and make us analyze it. In fifty-one minutes.

When I got the passage, it was my worst nightmare come true: there was nothing I could find to analyze. I spent five minutes sitting there in a growing pool of sweat, wracking my brain, before deciding that I would just come up with random junk and call it an analysis.

I scanned the passage. Frequent use of the word "I" and phrases like "the others", "the boys", and "white people"? Evidence of society-permeating racism isolating him! Saying "could not" five times? Evidence of society-permeating racism leaving him hopeless! Using short, choppy sentences? Evidence of society-permeating racism leaving him as flat and dreary as the sentence structure!

Yeah, I kind of just pulled all of that out of the air. Trying not to think about how horribly weak my arguments were, I moved on to the next part - drafting. I realized that with only about forty minutes left, I didn't exactly have time to both draft and revise and edit, so I decided to do the worst possible thing - combine all three processes.

I frantically wrote for a while, tearing through my pile of loose-leaf paper, and then doubled back and scribbled out half of what I'd written, replacing it with sentences that said more or less the same thing. Then I went on, reading and rereading the passage if I got stuck and trying to remember all those Deep Thoughts we came up with in class discussions.

I changed my thesis five times mid-essay. In the end, I'd crossed and re-crossed it out so many times that I had to squeeze it in the margins and use arrows. After the final thesis change, I still had to write about my main point and then do the conclusion.

I glanced at my watch. 2:15. Fifteen minutes? That was plenty of time! I would even have time to do a quick proofread at the end. A warm feeling spread throughout me as I thought about how I could possibly get a high enough grade to maintain my 96 average (got an 88 last trimester, hence my need for a 96 this one).

Then I realized that the class didn't end at 2:30. No, it ended at 2:20.

I surveyed the mess of papers surrounding me, swallowed, and began to write as fast as I could. My pen scratched the paper so hard that I made several tears, and my wrists and fingers began to ache like nobody's business. But my grade was on the line, so I kept spewing out words.

At last, with two minutes left, all I had left were a few sentences to finish up my conclusion.

Except I couldn't think of what to write. Not a single word came to mind. For 120 long seconds, I sat there, numb and getting numb-er. A series of images flashed through my mind: failing the essay, failing lit, failing high school, unable to get into a good college, forced to take to the streets, becoming a hobo, dying alone and hungry with a change-filled plastic cup....

With nothing to write, I picked up my hastily scribbled brainstorming from the beginning of class. And, right there:

Say [blah blah blah] at end of conclusion? 

There! My life was saved!

"Izzy? Class is over." I looked up to see my lit teacher and an empty classroom around me.

"Wait, I just have to write a few more sentences!"

"It's 2:25."

As he and I spoke, I ignored the cramps in my hand and scrawled the final words down. "Done," I said, with a sigh of relief, handing in my seven-page monstrosity.

But hey, at least I won't be a hobo.


Kate Evangelista said...


I'm Kate Evangelista, author of Taste, and I just wanted to take this time to introduce myself. If you have the time, please stop by The Coffee Bar by using the link below:

I hope to see you there.


Lilly Bear ♡ said...

400% of your grade on one 51 minute paper? I'm sweating just thinking about it!

Lamia (The Book Eater) said...

I loved this post! Also, this happens to me all the time, it's just that I usually have 3 hours to write it, and I decide to wake up after two hours and think "hmmm. Maybe I should start thinking about my thesis. Or something". I'm barely exaggerating. I never did like writing essays about books haha. Thankfully, I'm studying biology so that's okay.

Teacher/Learner said...

That sure takes me back...You hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing an essay in under an hour. I think most of my in-class essays were Joycean--random streams of consciousness :D

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

Oh wow! That is intense. When I was in high school, our class periods were a hour and 30 minutes so I don't think I've experienced anything of the sort.

Anonymous said...

That's horrible! And it's really making me nervous because I'm taking a writing course right now and for our exam we have to do three things:

1) analyze a paper
2) write an essay about creative writing
3) write a 500-600 word original story

and we have 2.5 hours to do all three. 2.5 HOURS! I think my brain will explode 1.5 hours into the exam :P

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