Panic! OK, now stop.

It's almost October, which means you might be getting bogged down trying to start your essays. To help jump start your writing, I'm sharing 3 exercises I use to help my students figure out what to write. All these exercises aim to help you answer that annoying but essential question: "Who am I?"

Exercise #1: Personality Inventory.

  1. Download and take the personality inventory (
  2. Identify your 4-letter personality type.
  3. Download additional info about your personality type (
  4. Find 3 sentences from the description that resonate with you.
  5. For each sentence, identify a specific moment in high school where you lived up to the description

Exercise #2: Values.

  1. Print out the list of values (
  2. Take 10 minutes to identify the 10 values that matter most to you.
  3. Take 2 minutes to narrow the list to 3 values.
  4. For each of these 3 values, identify a specific moment in high school where you upheld that value.

Exercise #3: Quick Takes.

  1. What’s your strongest trait?
  2. What’s your proudest high school moment?
  3. What do you do better than most people?
  4. How would you describe the world you come from - people, place, or ideas?
  5. What’s your biggest high school failure?
  6. When do you feel most alive?
  7. What’s the greatest compliment someone could pay you?
  8. What’s the worst criticism someone could make of you?
  9. When have you regretted not asking for help?
  10. What’s one thing you would do differently in high school if you had the chance?
  11. What’s one rule you always live by?
  12. What’s your ideal day?
  13. What do you want to be known for?
  14. I grew up when...
  15. What 5 websites, apps, and/or video games do you enjoy most?

Final Thoughts on Pre-Writing

None of these exercises is original; I've cobbled them all together over time from other sources. But all of these exercises are structured. And when you're totally lost about how to start, structure is good!

Good luck writing!


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.