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This study explored an alternative approach to short essay writing on language assessment tasks. Thirty-nine intermediate learners of French performed 2 essay writing tasks: writing directly in French as well as writing in the first language and then translating into French. Two-thirds of the students did better on the direct writing task across all rating scales; one-third, better on the translated task. While raters found no significant differences in the grammatical scales across the 2 types of writing, differences did emerge in the scales for expression, transitions, and clauses. Retrospective verbal report data from the students indicated that they were often thinking through English when writing in French, suggesting that the writing tasks were not necessarily distinct in nature. Since the study was intended to simulate writing situations that students encounter in typical classroom assessments, the findings suggest that direct writing in French as a target language may be the most effective choice for some learners when under time pressure.