A Study in… Well, Studying. [And Essays!]

Guess what, friends? Exam time is approaching.

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I know, I know. Nobody wants to think about it. But if you start working on things now, you’ll feel much less stressed about it later. So here are a few suggestions about studying, and then a look at my (not-so-secret) method of writing essays quickly and effectively.

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1. Spending a few minutes (maybe 15?) a day on each topic will give you nearly two hours a week, and for some that will be enough. If that doesn’t suit you, map out specific times, on specific days, to study a topic. The most helpful days will be those when the class is not occurring, so you will help yourself retain the material.

2. Try to teach someone else. Even if they aren’t 100% interested. Bribe someone with a treat – or a meal, if you’re feeling generous! They say that you cannot truly understand something without being able to explain it to someone else. Maybe you aren’t great with words? No problem. Draw it out! Use examples rather than trying to just make it up as you go. Reference specific things mentioned in class so you’re sure to remember them.

3. Not great at keeping to your schedule? Or perhaps you get distracted on the computer while trying to read books? Try out tricks online. There is a website called Writer’s Block that will block everything else until a certain number of words has been reached or an amount of time has been spent, and it really does get you to do the work quickly (so you can go back to procrastinating!).

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As far as essays go, maybe give this a go: When I don’t know exactly where to start with a topic or how to order things, I make an outline. Then I make that outline more detailed, until I have paragraphs. Then I work in references. And then – and only then – do I worry about transitions or the exact vocabulary words used. We all hop to the thesaurus sometimes, if only to feel more positive about potential marks. But that isn’t as important at the beginning as the content and the argument.

If someone reads your essay, do they feel you have an argument? Does each paragraph link back to your thesis statement or answer the question? Do you work in your references, or are they thrown in without analysis? If a resource is not used within a sentence, it is less likely to be valuable to your essay. [Block quotes not included.] Tutors want to see that you can analyze the discourse, not simply quote it. So be sure to use them in places where you need the word of professionals, rather than just because you feel they’re supposed to be included.

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I’ve been writing this, actually, as a way of procrastinating a bit, myself, so it’s time for me to take my own advice. But hopefully these suggestions give you a bit of direction and help you feel more prepared come time to turn in essays or take an exam!

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