An essay must be unified by a theory but must use an established theory

The history of the world's cultures, philosophies, religions, and political movements and the artifacts from prehistoric times that we interpret as relating to political movements, religions, philosophies, and cultures before history began illustrate that human beings have always been engaged in conflicts and struggles over ideology. Don't become bogged down attempting to sort out the truth during the hour or so that you have to write a timed essay.

The academic judges - whether they admit it or not - will judge your writing based on how much they value the content of your writing. Usually the topics used as writing prompts for timed essays are purposely simplistic: A TV star who is a good role model, the best methods for study while in college, reasons for shopping in a large mall. The purpose for these kinds of prompts is to give an equal chance for success to those with specialized knowledge and those without knowledge that might be used in a response to a more academic prompt. But those with knowledge should use their learning for an advantage nevertheless. Just because a topic seems to imply a simplistic and simple-minded view of the world doesn't, of course, mean that the essay responding to the prompt must present a simplistic and simple-minded view of the world.

For example, prompts often are often presented that may be rephrased as questions that ask what something means, what happened, what will happen, or how was something done. Lots of academic theories relate to meaning, narration, prediction, and process analysis. If a writer is knowledgeable about a theory, the writer can use the theory to develop an essay even though the theory doesn't relate directly to the topic. He or she can create an analogy.

Say that you learned about the democratic process of government in terms of Hegel's dialectical reasoning (law, dissent, and referendum as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) in an American Government class - and the prompt that you are given for a timed writing is "A trend in today's fashion world." Both democracy and fashion trends are processes, both imply a question that asks how something occurred. The writer can use his or her knowledge of the theory to present an interesting and well-written essay that will be evaluated as excellent by the academic judges. The writer could explore the history of body modification and present evidence about how criminals used to be marked by tattoos by law abiding citizens like the mark of Cain in the Bible. Next, the writer could discuss how criminals glorified these marks by developing an artform from them while in prison. And last, the writer could discuss how today many law-abiding people are permanently modifying their bodies as fashion statements. These paragraphs could be presented in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The writer could title the essay "The Dialectics of Body Art," and an academic reader is going to be impressed.

Prepare for an essay by remembering academic theories that will give you a framework to organize a response around, theories that can be used to develop responses to topics that may be rephrased as questions that ask what happened, what will happen, what does something mean, and how does something happen. Remember, don't attempt to come up with your own theory or explain a theory that you invented. Use instead a theory that you have studied and learned in school, preferably in college. The academic judges will value your writing if you apply the theories of St. Anselm, Hegel, Adam Smith, Marx, Freud, Darwin, one of your textbook authors, or one of your instructors. These theories have been accepted by the academy and have probably been studied by your academic judges. Save a theory from a non-academic source or one that you have come up with yourself when you write an out-of-class paper and can take more time to collect evidence. You also have the advantage, by using a ready-made theory, of having already memorized the information about the theory for another class and the organization of the theory can help you to quickly develop a good essay.

In short, writing an academic timed essay is a game. If you play according to the rules, the judges will reward you. Save the truth for publication.