Relevant Timed-Essay Prompts for High Schoolers

By request, here are some relevant timed-essay prompts for high schoolers.

Relevant Timed-Essay Prompts for High Schoolers

Relevant Timed-Essay Prompts for High Schoolers

We paid attention to one of the bits of advice that our homeschool graduates told us long ago: Teens need to learn to write timed essays.

Those early homeschool grads headed off to college to face “blue book essays” (remember those)? Blue books were literally  lined-page booklets with plain blue covers. On test day, the college students were given an essay prompt and a time limit. Their job was to write a coherent essay explaining all they knew about that prompt, with as many facts, quotes, examples and details as possible.

That kind of test can be pretty stressful for young college students who do not have much experience writing extemporaneously and under time pressure.

Our young homeschool graduates learned the ropes quickly but asked us to condition their siblings for writing timed essays. That way, their siblings’ college adjustment process would be easier.

Therefore, that is exactly what we did. We included timed-essay writing in each of the 7Sisters essay writing guides:

BTW- Homeschoolers need to do a lot writing during high school.

Of course, there’s not ONE right way to handle the numbers and types of writing but we have found that these types of writing benefits teens, whether they are college-bound or non-college-bound:

Here is a post with suggestions on how many papers that teens should write at various grade and interest/ability levels.

What are timed essays for homeschool high schoolers?

Timed essays are a test of a student’s knowledge, as well as the ability to apply that knowledge to a specific problem or question. In other words, timed essays are quite different than multiple choice tests where students are simply regurgitating information. Instead, in timed-essays, teens are showing they UNDERSTAND the information they have been learning.

With timed essays, therefore, students are given a prompt or problem, such as:

For American History class: The Declaration of Independence was a first-of-its-kind document. Explain the Declaration and why it was so important to American History.

For Biology class: Viruses can be a big problem. Explain the structure of viruses, how they replicate and what makes them contagious.

For Literature class: Some people think that The Chronicles of Narnia are books suitable only for children. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

For Music Appreciation: Who is your favorite composer and why?

Then students use that prompt to write an essay in the five-paragraph format:

  • Introduction with the prompt, thesis and three points
  • First paragraph detailing thoughts on Point One
  • Second paragraph detailing thoughts on Point Two
  • Third paragraph detailing thoughts on Point Three
  • Conclusion

Incidentally, homeschool high schoolers gain solid skill in this kind of writing in 7Sisters essay writing curricula. (With practice, even reluctant writers can learn to be confident writing essays.)

Most of the time when students are writing their timed essays, they will not have access to their notes, internet or other resources

This is because timed essays are a test. Teachers want to know if a student has actually learned the material well enough that they understand it and can apply it to a prompt or problem.

To prepare for a timed essay test in a particular subject:

Students should study their course material just like they do for any test. However, it will also be good for them to be able to explain what they are learning to a peer (or their parents). If they can explain what they are learning, they most likely understand it fairly well.

  • Not only that, but if they are able teens can prepare for essay tests by:
  • Memorizing a few details or facts (dates, locations, biological structures, etc)
  • Know two or three of specific examples or illustrations about the material being tested
  • BONUS: If there is a famous quote and they memorize it, that can add some sparkle to the essay

During the test:

7Sisters essay writing curriculum coaches teens through the timed-essay process, along with practice essays. Basically, though teens will use their five-paragraph essay-writing skills. The more practice they get during high school, the easier it is when they get to college. 

One important tip that parents can teach their teens: Take a deep breath before writing! Oxygen helps clear the brain and lower the stress hormones. (Hopefully teens remember this from their Health curriculum.)

However, the timed-essay prompts in 7Sisters Essay Writing curriculum are not testing for knowledge!

Rather, the timed-essay prompts are simply opportunities for writing essays:

  • In five-paragraph format
  • Without notes or internet
  • Under time pressure

In other words, the information is not what is important in these essays as much as getting teens highly comfortable with writing in the timed-essay format. Thus, there are not really right answers, only right format.

So, when your homeschool high schoolers are working on their timed essays, remind them to breathe, relax a little and remember that this is practice and skill building!

Each of the 7Sisters Essay Writing Guides include a timed-essay section, along with prompts. However, sometimes it is fun to have more essay prompt choices.

How long do you give your homeschooler to work on a timed essay?

That is up to you. You know your homeschool high schooler and where they are in their writing process. Think about giving a ninth grader longer than a twelfth grader. Give a struggling or special needs writer a long time and with breaks (use whatever adaptations they need, of course).

However, if you have a teen who tends towards perfectionism– they might think they need hours and hours to create their timed essay. This is a good time to talk about goals for timed essays:

  • The goal is not perfection
    • Instead, the goal is sharing the information they know as best they can within the time limit
  • That means: NO timed essay is perfect and that is okay
  • The secondary goal is following the format
    • Although by college, they will not really be thinking about this because they have the format internalized.

Timed essays build skills

Therefore, based on some 7th Sisters’ teens, here are relevant timed-essay prompts for high schoolers

There’s not ONE right way to practice writing with writing prompts on the timed essays. You can always switch out the prompts that are included in writing guides. You can create your own prompts based on your plans for your high schooler‘s core subjects for the year or their interests.

Remember: these are prompts that have the purpose of getting comfortable writing timed essays.

With that in mind, we asked our 7th Sisters in the 7SistersHomeschool Facebook group what their teens are interested in, so we could create some relevant prompts. (Hey, if you are not already a member of the Facebook group, join us! Lots of encouragement…and a great place to ask questions!)

Here are a few ideas for interest-based prompts:

  • Imagine you have a new friend at church whose family is not familiar with church camps. How can you explain camps to the parents and convince them they should let your friend go with you next summer?
  • Church camps can provide life-changing events for young people. How has attending church camp affected your life?
  • Many churches have an active youth group for their teens. Does your church have a youth group? If so, are you part of the group? Do you enjoy it? Why or why not?
  • Social media can be fun. Research has shown that in some cases, it can be harmful to teens’ mental health. What is your opinion about social media? Why?
  • Online gaming can be fun and a way to de-stress. It can also be addicting. Imagine you need to explain the pros and cons of gaming to your parents. What would you tell them?
  • Do you enjoy fitness programs and working out? How would you explain the benefits to a friend who is just starting to think about fitness?
  • Imagine that the leader of your church worship team heard that you sing well (or play an instrument well). The leader would like you to join the worship team. How would you talk to your parents about it?
  • What is your hobby? Imagine explaining your hobby to new friends. How could you interest them in joining you?
  • You want to get a part-time job but your parents are not sure that you can work and keep up your grades. How will you discuss the pros and cons of the job with your parents?

Here are some ideas for core subject prompts:

Language Arts

  • Imagine you are convincing your friend to read your favorite book. Explain why you love this book.
  • Some people say that fantasy novels are not quality literature and should not be included in high school Literature courses. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Think about books or writers that have changed the world around them. Do you know of one that has had influence for positive or negative change? Explain the book or writer and how they have been influential.


  • Imagine you like math enough to think about a college major in mathematics. What would be the benefits of being a mathematics major in college?

Social Studies

  • Pick an event in the history unit you just studied. Who were the key people involved. Why do you think they made the choices they made? Do you agree with their choices?


  • Think of a topic in the science unit you just completed. Imagine you had to explain that topic to your parents. Share as much detail as you can.

Fine Arts

  • What are the benefits of learning to play an instrument? Talk about the instrument that you play and explain why a friend might want to learn to play it also.
  • Some people think that the Arts are not true school subjects but rather, a waste of students’ time. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Here are a few irritation-based prompts:

  • Sometimes teens will enjoy writing about things that irritate them. Being irritated and questioning things is often part of the adolescent developmental process, so why not make the most of it?
  • Some teens feel that church music is boring (or vapid…whatever they complain about). How do you feel about music at your church? Why? What would you change, if you could change something in your church’s music?
  • Algebra can be a frustrating subject for many teens. Some of them ask, “When will I ever use algebra in my adult life?” How do you feel about algebra? Should you be able to drop the subject? Why or why not?
  • What is the most irritating book you have had to read for your literature class. Should students be required to read it? Why or why not?
  • Some people feel that so many academic subjects are required for high schoolers that they do not have time to learn practical skills for careers and life. Do you agree? Why or why not?

BTW- Each 7Sisters Writing Guide include rubric to help you grade your high schoolers’ essays. Also, rubrics help teens to be clear on expectations for their work. Thus, they can check their own work before handing it in. This helps build homeschool high schoolers’ editing skills. For more information and encouragement on goals and grading high school writing, check out this episode of Homeschool Highschool Podcast.


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Vicki Tillman

Blogger, curriculum developer at, counselor, life and career coach, SYMBIS guide, speaker, prayer person. 20+year veteran homeschool mom.

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