Writing tests seem to be a necessary evil when applying to writing jobs. Sad, but true. We are in a profession where we’re often asked to prove our skills on the spot. Somehow, this one-off, time-constrained document will tell a potential employer whether you are set to succeed or fail in a particular position. So how can we prepare ourselves to perform our best under such unusual circumstances?
1. Read and Reread the Prompt
The first thing to do when you get your writing test is read the prompt. This includes any instructions that came along with the prompt in an email or separate document. Don’t miss a single word. Once you’ve read it once over, read it again. A sure way to fail a test is by not knowing or understanding instructions.
2. Ask for Clarifications
Now that you’ve read the instructions, this is your opportunity to ask for clarifications. Not sure what an element of the prompt meant? Ask. They will appreciate the time you took to understand the assignment. Plus, it will put you in a good place for knowing what you’re doing throughout the test.
3. Identify What It Is Asking You to Do
Once the prompt is clear, it’s time to start organizing a response. Pull out each element of the prompt. What is it explicitly asking you to do? Missing one of these elements is not an option, so make a list and prepare to check them off as you complete the test.
4. Determine What It Is Really Asking
While executing instructions is the goal, finding your “win theme” is a way to excel. This is where you determine why you’re taking this test. Do they want to see your writing ability? Interview skills? Formatting talents? When you know what they’re asking for beyond the explicit instructions, you get a better perspective to succeed.
In theory, you should have all you need to complete the assignment. But that’s not always the case. Take a moment to gather information from the prompt, company website, and online. Doing this now ensures that once you start writing, you don’t have to stop to find an answer.
With all this prep, don’t do yourself the disservice of disorganizing it all now. Take a moment to outline what points you want to hit and in what order. Make sure you group related information and hit every instruction. Set yourself up to write in one fluid motion without having to go back later and add a point that you missed.
And now you write. I know. Took long enough, right? But if you get to this point by hitting every step along the way, you’re golden. Write it out. Pay attention to grammar and syntax. Hit any style guide requirements along the way. If you weren’t given a style guide to follow, pick the one that you think is most applicable and follow it. Make it a clean first pass.
After you finish writing, take a breather. Look over the formatting of your document. Did you use headings and styles? Did you use tabs and appropriate spacing? Make sure that what you’re sending is flawless in look as well as content. This also allows you to step away from your text before you start editing.
9. Review and Edit
Regardless of any other goals, putting forward a clean document is most important. Too many minor errors can eradicate any other achievements. Read, review, edit, and then do it again. Take this time to make sure you hit every instruction and your “win theme”. Run it through the Hemingway App for good measure.
Final edits may seem like the final part of your test, but it’s not. Don’t undermine yourself by sending your test in with an email full of errors. Put just as much effort into reviewing and editing your submission. Attach the appropriate file with all saved changes. Send it to the right people. Don’t trip at the finish line. Take a deep breath, press send, and you’ll be good to go.
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.