Tag Archives: college

Take Note all Ye Who Struggle

So, in light of watching Freshmen struggle with their first year of college, I wanted to write a blog about effective note taking, because it’s a lost art form for many people. For any who are looking for note taking tips, look no further.

I’m taking general psychology as a senior. Poor choice, I know. But I wanted to take at least one psych class before graduating, and you have to start with the basics before going anywhere else. The main problem I have in the class, besides it being almost ridiculously easy thus far, is that I am surrounded by freshmen. Now, I’m not a freshman hater. In fact I often like meeting students whose hopes and dreams have not yet been crushed by seriously difficult college classes. However, my main problem in that class is how ridiculously long the lectures take, because the first year students have not yet learned how to take notes.

I’ll jot down the slide, sit there ready to go, and be pleased when the professor flips to the next slide, only to have to groan as she turns it back for the whining masses behind me. Honestly, it’s aggravating sometimes. And I know they want the information, but honestly, if they’d just learn some important skills it could save us a lot of time. So here are a few handy dandy tips to good note taking:

1.Summarize summarize summarize– ok guys, dumb it down! You don’t need every single word the teacher has used on the slide. You can get the general impression just from a couple of words without writing it into a full neat sentence. For example:

Example A: Why do we use pseudoscience? This is because our brains have a natural tendency to like creating order out of disorder and sense out of nonsense.

Now that’s a lot to write down in a short period of time. So let me suggest something like this:

Example B: Why pseudoscience? brains want order and sense.

Have I captured the same basic principles? Yes! And I saved myself massive amounts of time where I could have written down every single word in that sentence. No need for that, just get the basic point.

2. Use abbrev.– Professors sometimes use big words. Those take time. If there’s a way you can remember the basic word while cutting it down in size go for it, especially for a term you’re using over and over again.

Examples: Psychology- psych, mysticism- myst. Archbishop of Canterbury- ABC, Protestantism- prot. Legislative branch- leg. Derivative- deriv.

Some might complain, oh well I’ll get confused later. Context is everything. And as I said, especially for words you’re writing over and over again it’s a good idea. If you’re in a medieval history class (I was last year) and see ABC Thomas Becket- you’re going to know what you’re talking about. Have some faith in your brain. After all, as I already said our brains like creating sense out of nonsense.

3. Use your own words dude– This may seem counter intuitive to saving time, but what it really does is saves you time later. Look at the slide first, examine the basic point behind it, then try your best to logically summarize and replace words with your own if you can. When you’re just copying down from the professor it becomes harder for you to learn the basic concept. Now if you’re just a really slow writer, then don’t bother with this. But for anyone who has saved time in other ways, use this to save you time studying.

4. Type up later- I have terrible handwriting, but I’ve learned to decipher it in my own way. But for some people with neat handwriting, writing more quickly can make it hard to go back and study later. If you don’t want to just type your notes in the first place- personal preference or professor’s rules, it can be good to go back and type them after the class. This not only allows you to worry less about scribbling down the ideas (because you can make them neater later) but also gives you a chance to review everyday in transferring them over. Excellent strategy to keep putting the material in your brain everyday and thereby be more ready for the tests.

5. Synonyms work wonders– this goes with using your own words. Professors sometimes use big terms in their slides. Don’t just copy them down if they’re going to take up a ton of space. Look for other words that might be shorter and easier to write.

Example A (slides): Pseudoscience has a large over-reliance on anecdotes pushing observations rather than facts.

Example B (notes): Pseudoscience leans on stories/observations rather than actual facts.

Much shorter, easier to understand in the long run perhaps.

6. Don’t just stare at the slides– Ok, you want to get down critical information on slides, to be sure. But also make sure you’re listening to the professor. Sometimes they say critical things that aren’t on their powerpoints, and you want to be aware of those. Keep your writing succinct and then lend your ear to the verbal content to make sure you’re not missing anything. Sure you might not get it all down, but it’s better than missing content altogether.

7. Cut out pointless information- If you already know something on a slide, or it’s just common sense, or the professor is just filling space to introduce a new topic…do not write it down. I’m surprised by the number of times I set down my pen and notice others around me still helplessly scribbling. Take down the hard facts, but there’s no need to write information that isn’t worthy of a test.

8. Textbooks are your friends– at least in gen psych, much of what the professor covers in class is also in the textbook. So do your reading, keep up! Even take notes on that if you’re really struggling. If you get the sense the prof just covers what you’re reading anyways, know that if you miss information you can just go get it from the book later. Make a note for yourself, or look over a friend’s notes after class. Therefore this makes my last point all the more important.

9. Don’t Panic! Stay calm, getting upset only makes it worse. Remember there are other students taking notes,  you can always get some help from them if you need to. Look through your book, talk to your professor. But panic only makes the time you have seem shorter and your handwriting sloppier and just doesn’t work at all. You can do it, and you’ll get better with practice.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans take note. 🙂

So if anyone has any tips they’d like to add I’d be glad to hear them. Always looking for more notetaking help myself. What do you do to stay on top of it? Any ones you’d like to add?


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Effective Last Minute Essay Writing

Research paper 1

So it’s a weeknight and you’re sitting there at your desk realizing how much of a fool you were to spend your last few nights watching television, facebooking, or spending time chatting with friends. And now you’re staring at the empty page of what needs to be a five page research paper. And of course said paper is due tomorrow.

Well…unless you’re planning on failing your class it’s important to get that paper done, and with the limited time you have your strategies need to be effective.

Now, for any teachers or professors out there ready to blow a gasket because of the procrastination I seem to be advocating for, I assure you I definitely think it’s best to plan and write a paper a few days in advance if not more. However, when circumstances like these arise, I like to have strategies to solve the problem.

First a couple of tips about all-nighters:

  • If you have to have some caffeine use tea rather than coffee or soda. It doesn’t make you crash as hard when you’re done and is healthier overall.
  • Keep laptop screen on low brightness and your room lights on high preventing you from feeling too sleepy or your eyes from feeling too overworked.
  • Stretch and walk around regularly.
  • Avoid “napping” in between and try your best to push through and get a more solid amount of sleep at the end.
  • Keep some healthy snacks and water on hand.
  • Keep yourself cool and avoid laying down. It’s easier to fall asleep when it’s warmer and when you’re reclining.
  • Focus, focus, focus. I advocate for dividing out work into nice equal sections of time and setting a timer for 5-15 minute breaks depending on how much you have to do. Get rid of distractions (shut down facebook, pinterest etc.) and reward yourself for work with brief intervals of relaxation.

Research paper 2

Now about the actual essay process here is what I strongly recommend and along with my approximation of time used:

1. Make sure you know what your topic is.

2. Set about doing your research. I highly recommend not leaving this part for the last minute as it can be very hard to do. Research is where you should be spending much of your time (unless this essay is just a personal reflection). Gather sources. If you’re not doing this the night before spend some time reading through and sticky mark places that look useful. If the night before, skim through and grab bits that look useful. If a book seems to be rather unhelpful put it aside and look for a better source. See step 3. 1 hour + (less if sources are provided by professor and more if you do not already have any sources gathered)

Snapshot_201211203. Pick out quotes/information from your sources and collect it all onto one document. I recommend already citing the source if you’re using MLA format (“blah blah blah quote stuff here” (Randomwriter 33).) This saves you time later. Just focus on picking out any information relative to your topic/thesis. I advise forming a basic concept of what you’re writing about and then narrowing down your thesis after you have all your information. 2 + hours (depending on length and number of sources required)

4. When you’re finished with step 3 you should have a random “blob” of facts and information. Go through and see what facts fit together. Determine categories for your various bits of information and then shuffle pieces around til they are each in a separate category. If some pieces don’t seem to fit at all put them in a “random” section and save them in case you end up needing them. I always advocate for building your points around your facts rather than your facts around your points. It’s so much easier than flipping through books for hours to try to find something that supports the paragraph you’re currently working on. 1/2 hour +

Research paper 7

5. Evaluate each topic, decide which ones are most important and then organize based on a logical system. If you’re writing on history maybe try a chronological approach. Remember starting broad and narrowing in is usually a good system. For example writing on the portrayal of Native Americans in early American literature you might start with a broad overview of the racial interactions of the time, followed by a paragraph about how specifically one author evaluates these relationships. If possible find logical ways you could transition between each paragraph, building on the others. If for some reason your topics aren’t fitting together reevaluate your research or try to categorize differently. 15 minutes +

Research paper 5

6. Now that all of your quotes and facts are lined up in a logical outline all you have to do is fill in with your own commentary. Most of the paper is already written for you. Write up your introduction and get a solid thesis connecting your points. Then go through and start writing your own portion, putting in the evidence you’ve already built up. I recommend highlighting/bolding all of the information you use on your outline. This way it’s easier to keep track of what information and sources you’ve used. 1 hour +

Research paper 3

7. Remember those transitions between paragraphs. Try not to just “jump” to another topic but do your best to relate it back to your thesis. You don’t want to beat your main point to death, but clarity is important. 20 minutes

7. Finish up your paper with a brilliant conclusion tying it together. Make sure you restate your thesis, just not in the exact same words. Sometimes summarizing some of what you talked about in your paper is a good strategy to tie it up. 15 minutes

Research paper 4

8. Make sure to edit in some fashion or form. Either give it to another friend to look over. Even a roommate who doesn’t claim to be good at writing can probably point out a few simple mistakes you made due to fatigue. If there is no one else available because it’s three in the morning, read through it out loud. This helps you better catch errors. 1/2 hour plus

9. Check what sources you used to compile your bibliography/works cited page. If you followed my advice and highlighted each source used on your outline then your work shouldn’t be too hard. In my experience library catalogs and online research material often have the work already cited in a number of styles, check for that first to avoid having to individually cite out yourself.  15 minutes (depending on writer’s familiarity with citation style)

Research paper 6

10. Glance over rubrics/assignment sheets to make sure there’s nothing you’ve left out or forgotten. 5 minutes (more if mistakes are noticed)

11. Congratulations you have an essay finished and ready to hand in! Sure it might not get 100%, but if you’re a decent writer you should at least avoid failing*. For anyone lacking in writing talents I highly advise spending much more time on this process and for papers requiring 5+ sources or 5+ pages I definitely would recommend at least two nights.

*this blogger is not responsible for any of your grades on papers formed through this process as it is mere personal opinion and not a professional process.

As you can see for night-before papers I recommend at least 5 to 6 hours of work on an essay of about 5 pages (more for longer essays). So make sure to get an early start if possible and keep those all-nighter tips in mind. I suggest trying to get some sleep, especially if you intend to go to class the next day. Coffee can only do so much. And really…do try to avoid working on papers the night before they’re due. It’s a horrible habit.

So that’s all from me! Anyone have their own strategies to add? I always love hearing what others suggest for writing essays. The process is tricky but if you have a good strategy you can definitely do well.

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11 Study Strategies for Lit Tests


So while I wouldn’t call my major harder than any other, I would certainly agree that there are aspects that are challenging. And one of those aspects is the tests.

Sure we don’t have to do hard equations, but that often means that our tests are left somewhat ambiguous and therefore the study strategies must be very different from how you’d go about preparing for a test in another subject. We  can’t practice equations, memorize a bunch of answers, look off a study guide, or even look through a textbook (or at least in most of my lit classes). Therefore it is important as literature students to figure out some good means to ace those midterms and finals! So here are a few suggestions for how to get through your tests:

1. Read the Text- make sure you have actually gone through the important materials. It can be easy to slack off and get behind on the reading, but this can hurt you later on in the semester. Make sure you at least skim through if nothing else, but for the best results I recommend making sure you look at the assigned material.

2. Take Good Notes- as with many other classes it’s important that you actually attend class sessions and stay focused in on what the professor is saying. Make sure you’re writing down main points, and be sure to review all of your notes before the test. Also, when you’re reading a text (even poetry) make some notes about what you noticed most about the work.

3. Study Sessions- Get together with a group! English is not a one perspective subject, and often it’s nice to have other people’s input on what a text may or may not mean. They also might remember a certain part of a book better than you do. It’s good to have other people to talk your material over with.

4, Sparknotes It- Before English professors start ranting at me I will say that my first rule is to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS read the actual material first. Read through your assigned texts at least once before looking at Sparknotes. I find this a valuable supplement to remind me of the main points of the book (especially ones I read back at the beginning of the semester and don’t remember quite as well). Sparknotes helps fill in the cracks in your memory. It is not enough information to hold together your entire view of a work.

5. Study Style- often professors will do things like give you a line from a work and ask you to identify where it is from and what it means. As you’re reading each of your assignments take notes on what sets the work apart from others. This is particularly important when covering poetry. How is this writer different from the other poets? Make some flash cards for each writer to help you distinguish.

6. Fish Out Main Points- Often there is an essay section in your tests. As you’re going through the semester keep in mind what points the professor keeps bringing up. My professor stresses how important repetition is in a text, but this also goes for his class. The ideas he keeps bringing up often are the ones he wants you to know the best. Furthermore, try to look for main concepts that tie works together. For example if you’re studying modern American literature know the basic concepts that set this period apart and find examples you could compare and contrast in multiple works you’ve read. Try to pull together the works and see what similarities or differences you can find.

7. Distinguish Themes- As these are often what is mainly discussed in literature class make sure you have a good list of themes from each of the works you’ve read. Keep in mind some specific examples of each in case you have to write about it.

8. Outline- Outline some possible essay topics and how you’d choose to handle them. Also make some brief outlines of plots of the books if you feel this will help you.

9. Email your Prof- If you’re really lost always send out an email (unless your professor is just plain awful). Often professors respect students who ask for help and are more than willing to try to help you with that novel you just can’t seem to understand.

10. Find Your Own Strategies- If you’re an audio learner read things aloud to yourself or find a friend to ask you some questions. If you’re visual make some concept webs or other things you can look at. Fit your studying style to your own personal learning style.

11. Don’t Overwork Yourself- As with all tests keep in mind that cramming is often not the best strategy. Try to prepare in advance and if you’re deciding between pulling an all-nighter and studying less, always go for the latter because sleep helps you absorb more information and function better the next day. Keep a good attitude, eat some snacks, shut off electronics to delve back in.

So, keep your books in hand as you get ready for the test. The main thing is to have confidence in yourself and never give up no matter how hard it might seem. Besides, tests are only a small part of life and they define very little about how smart you actually are.

What are some of your study strategies for literature exams or any other types of tests you might take? What advice do you have for students? Have any good stories of your own study strategies or a test you succeeded in or failed in?

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