Throughout your education you will have to write many essays, and while the subjects and the occasions may vary, the basic formulae shown here will help you write a strong essay under a time limit.
Know the material. The first step in preparing to write an essay is to read all the material you need to know about the topic. Take notes and read over these notes regularly until you have knowledge of the topic, or print off prewritten notes. Make sure you have enough information available to you to know what you are writing about before you start to write.
Relax. Especially if you are writing an important essay, or an essay in an exam, it's vital that you relax before you start to write. Breathe in and out a few times and take a few minutes to read and think about the exam. If you start straight away, you will be feeling the stress and are more likely to write a bad essay than if you are composed and focused on the task in hand.
Read the question. Know from the start how long your essay is supposed to take you, the expected word count and any other instructions. Make sure that if a specific font or word size is specified that you use it, and keep the word count in mind as you write.
Analyse the question. Look for words that tell you what you are expected to do, such as 'state', which means to present the main points in a logical order. Other words to watch out for include list, enumerate, trace, summarise, review, discuss, criticise, evaluate, justify, show and explain.
Work out how long you have to write the essay in, and set up a schedule. If it's due in a week, prepare to write the plan tomorrow, write the essay over the next two days, leave a day free and then proofread and edit. That way you are sure to have it done and to a high standard by the time it's due in.
Jot down some ideas. Spend a few minutes figuring out exactly what you want to say and make these into a plan, complete with structuring a plan. This helps to make sure you don't repeat yourself and anything you do say is relevant and precise.
Start with a strong first sentence. Don't waste time composing a long introduction, simply state your main points clearly within your first sentence and use the rest of your essay to back yourself up.
As you're writing the essay, periodically check the question to make sure you aren't rambling. Don't pad your essay with unrelated information, and make sure you aren't repeating yourself.
Don't panic. If you are running out of time or things to say, remember that you can list the points you want to say and this will show that you did have the knowledge to answer the question. Don't rush, or try to ramble or cram, as this could undermine the rest of your essay. A simple one sentence conclusion emphasizing your main point should be a sufficient to sum up if you become too stuck.
Edit and proofread. Re-read over the essay, the next day if possible, and revise and edit. Check for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and inconsistencies. As you read you may realise you've left out important information, or that you need to move a sentence. Make sure you re-read after you've done your editing, to check the essay still makes sense and that it still answers the question.