Preparing For The Test Writing Genre

This is writing like no other writing we do! It’s artificial, strange, and yet we owe it to our students to teach them how to deal with it. If we treat it as a genre study, it can be dealt with more effectively!

The following ideas are presented in no particular order. I am offering them as suggestions. It is aimed at providing students with essential understandings for dealing with this abnormal writing situation. I am not advocating 'test prep' as I have too often seen it practiced. I am suggesting that we teach these strategies in the normal course of writer's worskshop.

Provide plenty of opportunity to write narratives!

Continue to encourage talk as a pre-writing prompt. It encourages thinking, and while students do not get to discuss their writing intentions under the test writing conditions, we certainly need them to activate their thinking around an idea for writing, so talk will facilitate this action. On the day of the test, this action will hopefully take place in their mind. This pre-writing scaffold will support thinking and ultimately the quality of the writing produced.

Teach them to brainstorm ideas. Given the time constraints that the test puts upon them, students need to practice thinking quickly and effectively.

Teach them to how to make a bulleted lis,t or how to document ideas under the headings -beginning, middle, end –a rudimentary plan to guide their writing ideas. This is a critical step in establishing a story framework or sequence. Young writers need that scaffolding.

Discuss and document the difference between the writing we normally do and the artificial writing we compose under the heading ‘test genre’ Do a compare and contrast chart and display it in your classroom. It is essential that the artificial nature of this test writing genre be exposed and known for what it is. That way students are fully versed in what they are dealing with and are therefore, better prepared.

Provide students with the opportunity to practice ‘speed writing’ where they write to a prompt for a designated time period without any external support. Build their stamina for writing through regular speed writing opportunities.
-Write for a set time (start with five minutes) on the topic of … (Choose something with which students are familiar) Repeat this a number of times -say three.
-Write about a strong memory
-Write about a place you know well
Write about an animal you know a lot about.

Calculate the number of words they generate within the allocated time. Make it a personal challenge to generate more words as they become more attuned to writing against a set time limit.

Make students aware of the fact that the person who will assess their writing will remain a stranger to them. Therefore they have a limited time and opportunity to impress this person. Writing an effective LEAD or introduction becomes a significant issue for your students as writers!

Teach students time management of the task.
How much time do they devote to brainstorming an idea?
How much time do they spend listing their writing ideas
How much time should they allow for proofreading, revising, editing at the end?

Practice writing for a set time –say 30 minutes, allocating 5 minutes for brainstorming and planning, 15 minutes for writing and 10 minutes for revising.

Students have to achieve this writing task in the space of roughly one page Beginning, middle and end! This might just be the structure many of them need to have in their head to achieve the outcome required. Maybe three paragraphs could be the objective? -Orientation, Complication, Conclusion.


  1. Your ideas gave me much to think about as we head into the writing prompt season of the year. I am doing much of what you covered, but realize I need to label some of our work as writing prompt strategies and broaden their awareness.


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