Effectively Efficient at Excellent Endeavors: 16 Ways to Become More Efficient

Before I begin, I want to say that I got published again at Thought Catalog. Woohoo! Please take a minute to head on over and read it. Here is the link: “12 Ways to Secure that 4.0 GPA in College.”  They changed my original title, but whatever. I got published again!

Anyway . . . .

I learned this week that as part of my PhD work and teaching assistantship (it pretty much pays for everything plus a stipend so, woohoo!), I will be teaching two classes this semester as well as taking my own classes. Now, if you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to school. I have never gotten anything lower than an “A” as a final grade for my honors undergrad and for my master’s work (read more about that here), and I did it all legitimately (you know what I mean). I don’t intend to change that pattern for my PhD work. Why? Because I’m a give-it-your-best-and-have-no-regrets kind of gal. I also intend to give those students my best efforts and prepare them for their future writing endeavors the best that I possibly can.

Unfortunately, I spoke with a friend about this, and was told that something has got to give, and that I can’t do the quality of work I’m used to doing, do high quality teaching, write what I want to, read what I want to, and still spend time with my family and fish. Luckily, I thrive on people telling me that I can’t do something.

I can give on the reading what I want to, and I’m willing to give up some sleep (that’s what concealer is for) but . . . that’s about it. I’m just not willing to sacrifice quality work, quality teaching, family time, writing time, or fishing time. What about dating you ask? Bwahahahahaha! If I ever hear anything from Jeremy Lin, then I’ll worry about dating. But, for now, I’m good.

Well, if I’m not will to sacrifice the above things in my life, then what can I do? The only answer is to become more efficient with my time. Therefore, I have done some research on how to use my time more efficiently than I have been using it, and the majority of my research has pointed to the following list of tips. Perhaps you can find some tidbit of wisdom that you can use too.

Those limbs don't look like they grew in the most efficient way, but maybe they did.  Either way, it sure looks neat. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Those limbs don’t look like they grew in the most efficient way, but maybe they did. Either way, it sure looks neat.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Set realistic, not ambitious, deadlines for tasks. Eh, I’ll still make them a bit on the ambitious side, but I can work with this one.

2. Organize my workplace. Does disorganized organization count?

3. Stock up on caffeine.  I’m not sure how efficient or correct this is, and, admittedly, no source suggests this except me. However, I know me, and I know that I’m going to need caffeine.

4. Cut down on multitasking. I don’t think that I can disagree with this one.

5. Cut down on the time spent on social networks. Noooooooo!  I can’t argue with this one logically but . . . nooooooo!

6. Have a routines built into my schedule. Kevin Daum writes in “8 Things Really Efficient People Do” that “efficiency fanatics create standard routines in their schedule so they can achieve a disciplined approach and be read for the important events.” Um . . . this one make take some time to figure out and implement on a regular basis.

7. Time your activities. Daum also writes that timing the activities I do will help me to identify where I waste time. This is perhaps his most useful piece of advice. Here is an article that explains how to make an “activity log:” “Activity Logs: Finding More Time in Your Day.”

8. Religiously take a multi-vitamin. This may sound strange, and I didn’t see it in any articles I that I read, but hear me out. When I’m busy, I don’t eat well. I simply forget to eat. Forgetting to eat leads to a run-down body, which leads to inabilities to concentrate and an increased likelihood of getting sick. Neither of these can be options for this upcoming semester.

9. Embrace the sticky note. Abby at Sixteen & Successful states in her “Study Tips for the Stressed Student” that sticky notes are a colorful and efficient way to jot down and remember tasks that may pop up. An excuse to shop at Office Depot? Count me in.

Cute sticky notes.  Check. Sticky Notes By: Post-it Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Cute sticky notes–check.
Sticky Notes By: Post-it
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

10. Make lists. Oh, I can make lists. I love lists. In fact, you can read about my love of lists here: “Listception: A List of Why I Love Lists.”

11. Reward yourself if you stick to your plan or get your tasks done on time. James Clear even suggests in his “8 Steps to Having Wildly Productive Mornings” that you should use food “as a reward for working hard.” I better stock up on chocolate.

12. Prepare for the next day the night before. Clear also states in the aforementioned article that by writing a to-do list for the next day the night before and by also writing an outline for an article that night as well, he can save up to “3 hours the next day.” I’m not sure about that, but I do like the idea of prepping for the next day (i.e., setting out outfits, writing to-do lists, getting my stuff together and ready to go, fixing lunch, etc.) the night before.

13. Prioritize tasks. Figure out what is most important, or due the soonest, and finish that project first.

14. Take breaks. I keep seeing this piece of advice in multiple articles. Most of the articles suggest something physical as your break, such as a walk. Well, I guess I found out when I’m going to find time to exercise. Catch up on my favorite TV shows? No. Read fun fiction books? No. But exercise? Yes. Oh, goody.

15. Work on similar tasks back-to-back. Forbes’s “10 Easy Ways to be More Productive at Work” suggests that you should lump similar tasks together and accomplish them one after the other. I guess that this is based on the assumption that it takes time for your brain to switch to different modes. Logically, I can see that. I can also see giving your brain a break by switching to something else, which is what I usually do. However, this is all about trying to be more efficient and trying new things, so okay. I’ll give this lumping thing a go.

16. Get good sleep. Yeah. That’s not going to happen.

Honestly, I don’t know if I will be able to do everything that I want to do at the quality level that I want and still remain sane. My friend may be right (she usually is).  However, I’m going to give it a try. I also don’t know why many of the articles that I read kept saying “easy ways” or “quick ways” to become more efficient than you currently are. This isn’t going to be an easy or quick change for me. It’s just not. Nevertheless, it looks like a semi-manageable process, and that, my friends, is a good enough starting point for me.

Here are some of the articles that I used for this post. Feel free to check them out.
“6 Steps to Becoming Hyper-Efficient”
“7 Ways to be More Efficient at Work”
“8 Steps to Having Wildly Productive Mornings
“8 Things Really Efficient People Do”
“10 Easy Ways to be More Productive at Work”
“Activity Logs: Finding More Time in Your Day”
“Getting to the Nitty-Gritty”
“Study Tips for the Stressed Student”

Testing, One, Two, Three, Testing . . . .

It’s nearing everyone’s favorite time of year again.  Finals week!  There’s no doubt that finals are stressful, but there are ways to make sure that you are ready to tackle those fiendish tests.  Then, with them all handed in to your professors, that cement block of stress will lift from your shoulders and you can welcome summer with a free and happy heart.

I believe that the tips below will give you more confidence going into finals week. On a side note, the expression on this little guy's face reminds me of my own face when I remember that finals are coming up.  Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

I believe that the tips below will give you more confidence going into finals week. On a side note, the expression on this little guy’s face reminds me of my own face when I remember that finals are coming up.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

While I know that finals week is about 1-2 weeks away for most folks, I want to post the links to this series that I did on testing tips for those of you who are starting your cramming now.  Also, what’s the use of studying tips if I post them after, or even during, finals week?  Good luck, and I hope that my tips help you to crush those tests!

“How to Study for A Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part One”
“How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA: Part Two”
“How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part Three”

How to Get an “A” on an Essay: Proofreading Tips

You’ve done your research, you’ve written your essay, and now it’s time to turn that sucker in, right? Nope. You have one more step—proofreading. Proofreading is an essential part of getting a good grade on an essay, and believe me, teachers will know if you haven’t proofread. Here are some tips on executing an efficient and successful proofreading that will hopefully earn you that “A” on your essay.

Proofreading using a physical copy of your essay and a pen can help you find errors that you may have missed when proofreading using only the computer. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Proofreading using a physical copy of your essay and a pen can help you find errors that you may have missed when proofreading using only the computer.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Look for any sentences that make you go “huh?” and rewrite them if necessary (which it probably is). By a “huh” sentence I mean an unclear sentence that simply does not make sense or that requires you to re-read it in order to understand what the sentence says. If the sentence confuses you, then it will probably confuse your instructor as well.

2. Look for, and eliminate, fragments. Unless the piece is a creative essay, then you should have no fragments in your paper. Really. You shouldn’t. (This is a blog. I can do what I want, so there’s no use in pointing out my fragments. Really. Don’t.) Remember, a sentence requires a main clause with a subject and a verb. Here’s a good website that explains what a main clause is: http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/completesentence.htm.

3. Look for homophones. A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another, but the two words have different meanings. For example, “two” and “too” sound the same, but the first refers to a number and the second means “also” or indicates an excessive degree of something as in “too much ice cream.” (On a side note, there can never be too much ice cream.) Sometimes a word processor (I’m looking at you Word) will replace a word with its homophone, and this can render your sentence into a “huh” sentence.

4. Make sure that you know what each word means in your paper. Upgrading your essay’s language to more academic language is great. However, don’t throw in seemingly big words like “pedagogy,” “mitigate,” and “eviscerate” if you don’t know what they mean, because if you don’t know what they mean, then you probably used them incorrectly. Look up the word in a dictionary or on a dictionary website if you’re unsure of its meaning (note: pressing shift F7 in Microsoft Word, while helpful, doesn’t really count as “looking up” a word’s meaning).

5. Try to condense/shorten sentences that go on for more than three lines. This is a quick trick to check for any run-on sentences that you may have and to check for wordiness in your paper. It’s okay to have a sentence that is over three lines, but try to make such a rarity as opposed to the norm.

6. Make sure that your quotes have citations. It’s better to over cite than to under cite. Admittedly, this has some exceptions. For instance, let’s say that I write the following about Ellen Meloy’s Anthropology of Turquoise using MLA style:

For example, in her essay “Heron Bay,” Ellen Meloy writes,

In genealogy you might say that interest lies in the eye of the gene holder. The actual descendants are far more intrigued with it all than the listeners, who quickly sink into a narcoleptic coma after the second or third great-great-somebody kills a bear or beheads Charles I, invents the safety pin or strip-mines Poland, catalogues slime molds, dances flamenco, or falls in love with a sheep. (186)

In the passage, Meloy’s humor shines when she plays on the cliché of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” by writing, “interest lies in the eye of the gene holder.”

Notice how I quote the passage in the sentence directly after the block quote, but I don’t have a corresponding citation. That is because I’ve already cited where I got the information and to do so again right near the block quote would be redundant. Now, if I decide to use those quotes again later in my paper, then I would put a citation of “(Meloy 186)” so that the reader is reminded of where the information originally came from.

7. Make sure that your formatting is correct. Make sure that your works consulted (or bibliography or reference page depending upon your citation format) is in alphabetical order if need be, that your in-text citations are formatted appropriately, that your title page and headings are right, that your margins are correct, that your page numbers are in the proper spots, etc. If you’re unclear on what your formatting style requires, either consult a manual (I rarely do because they’re annoying and confusing) or go to a reputable website (which is my preference). The Purdue OWL is usually the go-to website and it has copious amounts of information regarding MLA, Chicago, and APA. I’ve yet to have an instructor disagree with OWL Purdue. Here are two of many websites for CSE formatting: https://www.libraries.psu.edu/content/psul/researchguides/citationstyles/CSE_citation.html and http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/DocCSE.html

8. Look for subject-verb disagreements. What this means is that you find the subject of your sentence, find the verb that correlates to that subject, and then see if they agree in number. Here are some examples:

a. “While the text primarily targets English and women’s studies academics, the informal tone of the writing provides easy access to most people who wish to know more about chick lit.”

The subject of the first dependent clause (in this case, the stuff before the comma) is “the text.” “Text” is singular, so its corresponding verb (“targets”) should be in the singular form. For the main clause (the stuff after the comma), the subject is “the informal tone.” “Tone” is singular. Notice how I’m throwing out the article and the adjective when I try to ascertain if the subject is singular or plural. This is just an easy way to get at the heart of the subject. Since “tone” is singular, the corresponding verb should be in the singular form. Is “provides” in the singular form? Yes, it is. Yay!

b. “Each of them offers a unique viewpoint.”

Determining the subject of this type of sentence can be tricky, particularly if you’re in rush during your proofreading. The subject of the sentence is not “them.” Rather, it is “each.” “Each” is singular. The corresponding verb should be singular as well.

I know that scanning for subject-verb disagreements can be time-consuming and an overall pain in the butt. However, making sure that your subjects agree with their respective verbs can help make the difference between a polished paper and a “needs work” paper. For more practice on subject-verb agreement, you can visit this website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/ from OWL Purdue.

9. Get rid of contractions. Some people will disagree with me, but I believe that contractions do not belong in academic papers. If you’re doing a creative piece, then you’re welcome to throw ‘em in as you please. However, for academic papers, you should take the time to spell out your contractions.

10. Eliminate the word “thing.” Teachers hate “thing.” From what I’ve been told, most instructors feel like “thing” is a lazy word that can be replaced with a little extra thinking on the writer’s part.

11. Read your paper on a physical sheet of paper with a real-life pen in your hand. In an age when every essay must be typed, it can be tempting to proofread only on the computer screen. However, I believe that having your paper printed and in front of you accesses another part of your brain that will help you to find errors in your essay.

12. Read your paper out loud. This may seem weird, but hear me out. When we read texts silently, sometimes our brains will fill in the places in which we’re missing words or it will automatically fix something that is wrong. So, while your brain may perceive a sentence as being correct, that sentence may actually be missing a word. By reading your paper out loud, you engage your auditory mode of learning (something that I talk about in this post: How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part Two), and you may discover those errors that your brain corrected for you when you silently read your paper.

Much of my advice is aimed at giving your paper that polished feel that many teachers look for. Admittedly, proofreading will not save your grade if you turn in a trash paper in which you obviously half-butted the content. Many teachers prize quality of content over quality of writing. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, your content will have trouble shining if your essay is written incoherently. There’s a balance in play. You must have both quality content and quality writing. You must have the wax on to the wax off, the icing to the cupcake, the peanut butter to the jelly (unless you’re allergic to nuts, then that might possibly kill you and your essay grade won’t matter). Don’t panic if you do have one or two errors that you don’t find (and most of us do) despite going through your essay with a fine-toothed comb. Most teachers will give you a little wiggle room. However, proofreading and eliminating needless errors can help take your essay from being “good” to “great” and “A”-worthy.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂

Teamwork Allows You to Blame Someone Else: How to Deal with Group Assignments

Ah, group assignments. They have such possibility for good—shared knowledge, the bringing together of great minds, the lessons of camaraderie and cooperation. However, the potential good doesn’t always come to fruition. If you’re aiming for a 4.0 GPA or for improving your current grades, group projects may scare you. After all, you can only do your part, rely on the other members to do theirs, and then hope for a good grade, right? Wrong! Here’s a list of tips to help you get the best grade that you can out of a group project.

Remember to listen to your partners when you're working on group assignments. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Remember to listen to your partners when you’re working on group assignments.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Be the leader. If you want control over your grades, then you take control over the assignment. Does this mean that you should be a dictator? No. What it means is that you volunteer for the responsibilities of setting up meetings, keeping track of deadlines, and sending out reminders. As a leader, your job is to keep the group organized, make sure that you address all aspects of the project’s prompt, and that the group (including yourself) knows what each person is supposed to contribute.

2. Take responsibility. If something goes wrong or doesn’t get done, don’t put the onus on someone else even if he/she has earned that blame. Woman-up or man-up and fix things, even if that means that you have to do extra work.

3. Assign yourself the majority of the work. You want control? Then don’t put most of the assignment’s burden on someone else. You volunteer for the biggest parts, you make sure to get them done, and you do them well, which leads us to . . . .

4. Make sure that what you do is quality work. If you want to do the majority of the work in order to have the majority of the control, then you better make sure that you’re doing quality work. It’s not fair to take on that work only to do yourself and your partners a disservice by doing it poorly.

5. Make deadlines for the group’s work to be checked and meshed together, and make those deadlines be at least two weeks before the assignment is due. Will you actually make these deadlines? Probably not, so don’t get discouraged. These deadlines mostly act as nudges to yourself and to your partners to get going on the project.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to try to get the members of your group in synch with one another. Photo By: Elizabeth Presotn

As a leader, one of your jobs is to try to get the members of your group in synch with one another.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

6. If you’re the weak link in your group, be up front with your group members and make up for your weaknesses in other areas. I took a biology lab in which we had to capture bugs with soap traps, empty the traps each week, and then categorize each insect. This was an awful assignment for me for a couple of reasons: 1) I think that the loss of life is ridiculous. Yes, I know that they’re just bugs, but bugs feed other animals—you know, the whole “circle of life” thing that Rafiki kept talking about. It felt wasteful and wrong to capture the insects and kill them only to pour their little bodies down the drain once we were done. 2) I don’t do well with bugs. Hey, just because I don’t want to kill them doesn’t mean that I have to like them. If the insects are out of a fly fishing environment, then I get a little freaked out by them. I told my lab partners about my issues with bugs, and they were very kind and said that they would deal with the categorization of the insects. In return for their understanding, I wrote up most of the collective lab report, made sure to be the scribe for our group, and designed the majority of the experiment. They never asked for this (they were too kind), but sorting out the insects was a large part of the experiment in which I wasn’t participating. It was only right that I do extra work to make up for the work that I wasn’t doing.

7. Remember that very few assignments are too big for you to do the majority of the work for. I once had a professor say (after we turned our project in, of course) that she purposely made the assignment too big for one person to handle so that group members would be forced to divvy up the load. Little did she know that I did 90% of my group’s work because one member had a family to take care of and I think that he was a little overwhelmed, and the other member was . . . well . . . let’s just say that we weren’t bosom buddies. They knew that I was going to do the work, and, quite frankly, neither seemed to care if we earned a good grade or just a fair grade on the assignment. This happens sometimes. Did I feel overwhelmed? Yes. Was I ticked off? Yes. Still, I got it done, and you can too. If you really feel like you can’t handle the load by yourself, enlist some of your true friends or your family to help you. Also, if you have another group member who is giving the assignment his/her best shot, then go to that person, explain the situation, and see if he/she is willing to help shoulder the load.

8. Don’t tattle. After doing 90% of the work in the group project mentioned in #7, you would think that I would be justified in going to the professor and telling her who did most of the work. Maybe I was, but I didn’t go to her because there’s no point. When you do most of the work on an assignment and get a good grade, going to the teacher and tattling amounts to little more than vengeance. Also, many teachers don’t care who did most of the work. As a professor once told me, “It’s a group project. I’m grading you as a group. You’re going to have to figure it out.” As unfair as it may be, “figuring it out” oftentimes means that you do most of the work. Get angry, tell your friends, complain to your family, and then be happy with the good grade that you’ll probably get because the project is quality work coming from you.

9. Let the squabbles go. This one can be hard. No matter how much you try to collaborate with, and be respectful of, someone, sometimes you’re simply not going to get along. One partner and I ended up in a spat in which he questioned my intelligence and I questioned his honesty. Uh-huh. Things got real. When it came time to give our presentation, he disliked me and I dislike him. However, we managed to put our loathing of one another aside, gave the presentation, and got an “A” on it. This is one of the pillars of collaborative work—working together toward a shared goal and ignoring the other stuff. Sometimes, with group work, you’ve just got to get through your fights and either 1) have a discussion in which you agree to a temporary truce, 2) talk with one another and, in the words of today’s youth, “squash it,” or 3) you forget about your pride for a moment, be the bigger person, and try to move on as best as you can.

10. Try to pick your partners if you can. This ups your chances at avoiding confrontation and at working with people you like and trust.

Don't ask something from your group members that you aren't willing to do yourself. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

There should be give and take in group projects.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

11. Have trust in your partners if they’ve already shown themselves to be hard workers and if they consistently do excellent work. I was once doing a group project with my friend. I knew that she was a terrific student and writer and that she cared about doing well on the assignment. We had missed all of our early deadlines (see #5) to mesh things together and to check each other’s work. I was done with my part, but she hadn’t finished hers because she’d been dumped on with work by her other classes, work, and teaching obligations. She apologized for not having everything done yet, and my response was: “If it was anyone other than you, then I’d be freaking out. But it’s you, so I’m good.” That’s a pretty laid-back response for me, but I trusted her, and guess what. She came through and our presentation dripped with awesomeness and earned an “A.” Sometimes, you’ve got to let go of the control and trust your partners.

12. Be okay with giving and with compromising. When group assignments go well, they can bring the best out of each person. If a member really wants a certain part of the work, or feels truly passionately about something that isn’t inherently wrong (such as ignoring the prompt, which is pretty much always the wrong thing to do), then you should let that member have his/her way. Listen to your partners, because their ideas could be completely awesome and take your project to a whole new level of greatness.

Group work can be fun and bring out everyone’s strengths. When you get a good group, man, it’s a sweet deal. However, group work can also become the bane to your existence. My advice is to trust your group members, just as they are trusting you, and go into the project with a positive attitude and positive thoughts. Then, if someone refuses to do the work or blatantly doesn’t try, well, then be like a camel and shoulder the extra baggage. It’s your grade, so it’s your responsibility to protect that grade.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂

Obscure Guidelines for College

Winter break is just about over, and college is gearing up soon. I know, I know. It’s sad. But instead of being upset over the end of break, maybe try and be excited about all of the possibilities that the new semester can bring—new year, new semester, new beginnings. Plus, the end of break signals the return of the 4.0 GPA series on this blog. Yay! In order to help you start off your semester on the right foot (yes, I used a cliché, and no, I’m not ashamed), I’ve compiled a list of random advice for you college students.

Do you ever feel like this when you realize that winter break is ending? Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Do you ever feel like this when you realize that winter break is ending?
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. When turning in a major project/paper to an adviser for review, you must give the adviser two weeks (yep, two) to go over your work and give feedback on it, unless you’ve made other arrangements with your adviser. Apparently, two weeks is “common courtesy.” Is this in any handbook that you’re given at the beginning of college? Of course not. It’s just something that you’re supposed to magically pick up. Unfortunately, I learned this one the hard way. 😦

2. Please don’t smoke while walking to class. Maybe this is just my thing, but I always hate it when I get caught in the salmon stream (i.e., you can’t move anywhere else but straight ahead because you’re hemmed in by people) that is walking to class and get stuck behind someone smoking. You can’t escape the smell, and your lungs can’t escape the smoke. I understand needing a fix (okay, maybe I don’t because I’ve never smoked), but can’t you wait to smoke until people aren’t walking behind you?

3. Teachers can tell when you plagiarize, so don’t. They’re trained to spot it. Heck, I was in a class that devoted a great deal of time to spotting plagiarism and dealing with the academic crime. Also, if some other student in the class plagiarizes the same text as you, then consider yourself doomed.

4. Bring paper and a writing utensil to every class. I’ve seen students come in with nothing. Nothing! Then, they ask someone for a pen and paper. You’re in college. It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to need something to write with and something to write on.

5. Teachers can tell when you’re texting, so text at your own risk. All of the teachers I’ve talked to (both seasoned and newbie) say that they can tell when a student is texting. Also, every one of them said that they are annoyed by students texting during class.

6. Open those food wrappers quickly. Everyone call hear that wrapper that you’re trying to open. Just own it, rip it, and get it over with.

Think of the positive side of winter break ending--we're one step closer to spring. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Think of the positive side of winter break ending–we’re one step closer to spring.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

7. Couples, please stop making out in front of everyone. A kiss—fine. But a full on eat-each-other’s-faces make out session should not be for public viewing. I get it. You’re in love. Mazle Tov. Now, go find a dark corner somewhere away from where I’m studying. Thank you.

8. Don’t bring smelly food to class. I can smell your Kung Pao chicken, and it’s making my mouth water and my brain focus on that deliciousness instead of on the lecture. So, unless you want to share, please put it away.

9. If you want to feel more like a seasoned college student, then walk around with a cup of coffee or tea in your hand. It works every time.

10. Perfume, perfumed lotion, and perfumed hand sanitizer are all no-nos. Wait until you leave class to put them on.

11. Don’t carry on a long, drawn-out conversation with your friend while the instructor is talking. You think that you’re being quiet. You’re not. You think that no one can hear you because it’s a big auditorium. Fun fact: every whisper is magnified in a big classroom.

12. Don’t show up to a tutoring session high or drunk. You think that we tutors/consultants can’t tell. We can. By showing up in an altered state of mind, you make us feel uncomfortable, you’re probably not retaining anything that we say, and you’re wasting both of our times.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the random advice and that it helps you to begin the spring semester (or quarter if you’re on the quarter system, and if that’s the case, you have my sympathies) in a positive manner. If you have any topics that you would like to see covered in the 4.0 GPA series, please feel free to tell me in the comments section. Also, I’ll be setting up a contact page soon. I’m not exactly sure how to do that yet, but I’ve put together a chair from Ikea before, and it can’t be harder than that.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Picture Post Part Two: Celebrate Winter Break, Come On!

Congratulations!  You’ve survived finals week!  Now, how good do you feel?  Okay, maybe you’re sleep-deprived and running on candy- and caffeine-fueled fumes, but still.  It feels good to be done, doesn’t it?  Sit back, relax, and let the grades be what they will be.

As part of celebrating the end of finals, I’ve decided to do another picture post.  This one celebrates the Christmas season.  Enjoy!

Also, be sure to check out the guest post that I wrote for Sixteen & Successful: Break the Boredom for Winter Break.  It has some of my favorite winter pictures that I’ve taken, and it includes some advice on how you can maximize your winter break (don’t worry, it’s fun stuff!).

That tree has 5,000 Christmas lights on it.  That's right.  5,000. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

That tree has 5,000 Christmas lights on it. That’s right. 5,000.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

I don't really understand why eggs are a big thing at Christmas, but whatever.  I'll go with it. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

I don’t really understand why eggs are a big thing at Christmas, but whatever. I’ll go with it.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

It's supposed to be a sleeping mouse. I just like how the light comes through the ornament. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

It’s supposed to be a sleeping mouse. I just like how the light comes through the ornament.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Look, the three blind mice got glasses.  My parents have had this ornament since before my birth.  :O Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Look, the three blind mice got glasses. My parents have had this ornament since before my birth. :O
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Amen, Mr. Snowman.  Amen. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Amen, Mr. Snowman. Amen.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part Three

Ah, finals week is upon us, and, in honor of finals, here’s a poem before we dive into testing advice for specific academic subjects.

Students with knowledge all stuck in their heads, hardly sleeping or lying in their own
Not a student was resting, not even the profs, all hoped finals would be over and they could finally say “I’m off.”
And the ones who did care what grades they would get, studied so hard, their own fates they would set.
They raced to this blog, hoping tips would be found.
They knew here was help, some of the best advice around.

You're almost there!  You're almost done with the semester!  Can't you see that light at the end of the tunnel? Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

You’re almost there! You’re almost done with the semester! Can’t you see that light at the end of the tunnel?
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Yeah . . . that’s all I have. I’m not a poet, and I know it.

Anyway, in honor of finals week, I’ve doing a three-part series on how to study for tests the 4.0 GPA way. In Part One, I gave some general advice. Last week’s Part Two was all about how to memorize the material. This week’s Part Three contains some tips regarding specific subjects.

For lab exams, make sure that you can use the equipment. I don’t know why, but the day of my final exam for my biology lab, I couldn’t figure out how to work the microscope. I switched to three different microscopes, but I just couldn’t get the lens to focus. Don’t let this happen to you. Before going in to the test, practice on the equipment. Also, make sure that you understand the measurements that you’re using. Any terms that were italicized or bolded in your lab handouts will probably be on the test as well.

Understand and be able to use the various measurements and conversions. Know when and how to use formulas, and be able to show each step of your work. This requires actual understanding of how the formula functions and why it is used in the first place. If any of your labs or handouts had “objectives” on them, look at those objectives, and make sure that you understand them. Here’s a website from the University of Illinois at Chicago with additional tips for studying for chemistry tests: “Chemistry Study Tips.”

Computer Science
Honestly, I’ve only taken one basic computer science class, and it was all about memorizing definitions. Here’s a website that has more knowledge than I do about studying for computer science tests: “Exam Tips: Computer Science A.” I would pay particular attention to the section entitled, “Free-Response Questions.”

Graphs. Graphs. Graphs. If your teacher drew a graph on the board, you can bet that that graph will be on the test. You’ll probably have to reproduce it (with everything labeled), explain what the graph represents, and then discuss the significance of the graph. For instance, if the demand curve shifts to the right, then supply does what? How does the graph change? Remember, supply slopes upward, and demand (like the word “decline”) slopes downward. Economics finals will also hit you hard with regard to analysis and application. This means that you need to be able to analyze the theories and laws (say what they are, define each term that they use, explain their significance, and discuss who/what they relate to) and then apply them to some semi-real-world example (the more concrete the example, the better). For instance, let’s take the law of diminishing marginal utility. First, you need to analyze the concept by stating what it is and how it works. During this analysis, make sure to define the terms that you use (i.e., define “utility”). Then, provide an example of how diminishing marginal utility works. Consuming ice cream is a simple, but reliable, application for this. This website does pretty much what you would want to do for this particular essay question: “Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.”

English can be a tough topic for which to study. If you’re in a linguistics class, make sure that you know your parts of speech like you know how to spell your own name. Also, practice drawing trees for simple and complex sentences, and practice your phonetic transcriptions. Your homework should give you ample examples on which to practice. If you’re in a regular English class that tests you on the books that you read, your best bet is to go back over the notes that you made in your book (please tell me that you made notes in your book). Pay attention to overarching themes, be able to analyze a passage, and make sure to describe, define, and give an example of any literary techniques that your instructor discussed in class. For example, if one of your books is Mary Clearman Blew’s All But the Waltz: A Memoir of Five Generations in the Life of a Montana Family, your teacher probably talked about Blew’s heavy use of italics and em dashes. You better believe that the test will have a passage that uses italics and em dashes, and that you will have to explain the effects of these techniques on said passage. You need to explain what the literary techniques do for a passage—does it make it clunky-feeling, if it does then what is the effect of the clunky passage on the reader, etc. For each essay question, try to generate a thesis. This thesis will essentially be your answer, and then you will go on to support that thesis with your analysis. In essence, you’re going to be writing mini essays. Most teachers look for content rather than grammatical correctness here, so don’t panic. However, after you write your mini essays, you should have time to go back and look for very basic grammatical things: subject-verb agreement, subject-pronoun agreement, if any sentence makes you do a double-take, etc.

The glow of the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit are calling to you.  Just get through these finals. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

The glow of the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit are calling to you. Just get through these finals.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Foreign Languages
Vocabulary is going to be huge for these tests. Make sure that you know which diacritical marks go where (i.e., don’t get the accent aigu mixed up with your accent grave on your French test). Make sure that you know which adjectives go before or after the noun. Know how to conjugate and use basic verbs in the language, such as the ones that correspond to “to be,” “to make,” “to go,” “to come,” and “to eat.” You’d be surprised what just those five verb forms can do for you. Also, if your teacher has any other verbs that you were forced to conjugate more than once for homework assignments or that are in the list of terms at the end of your textbook’s chapter, then you’d be smart to study those as well. Unfortunately, gender markings play a pretty big role in these tests as well. Heaven forbid that you forget that “table” is feminine and “bread” is masculine in French. Oy vay.

It’s all about the cause and effect. Americans went after the dream of “Manifest Destiny.” So what? What did that dream cause to happen? What caused that dream to happen? Mao Zedong killed people left and right. What caused him to embark on such a blood bath? What were the outcomes—short- and long-term—of his massacre? Essentially, view events as pebbles thrown into a lake. Your job is to explain who threw the pebble, why that person threw the pebble, and who the ripples touched. Obviously, names and dates are important too, but the big points are going to be in describing the cause and effect of the events.

I’ll admit it. I dislike math. I took the bare minimum in college, despite having taken all honors math classes in high school. It frustrates me, and I could not care less about the quadratic formula. However, I still aced my two college math classes. How? Notecards, my friends. Notecards. If your teacher allows you to have a notecard, then fill up that sucker. Use a mechanical pencil because it has the sharpest tip and you will be able to write the smallest with it. When you have a formula, write down the formula and then have an example of its application directly next to it. This way, you’ll be able to take that example, plug the new numbers from the test into it, and calculate away. Also, make sure to separate your concepts and examples by drawing lines in between them. You’ll thank me later.

But how does one truly ace a philosophy exam? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Anyway, philosophy is about description, analysis, and application. Be able to say what the theory is (including who thought it up and what the theory might have been a reaction to), what the implications of the theory may be (so what, why is this important), and what an example of the theory is (for instance, you can never step in the same river twice; interestingly, this is both the philosophy of Heraclitus and of Disney’s Pocahontas). Here are two websites that discuss preparing for a philosophy exam: “Preparing for Philosophy Exams – 5 Tips” and “Guide to the Study of Philosophy.”  Make sure to pay attention to the “Writing Essay Exams” section on the second website.

Political Science
From what I gather, studying for a political science test is very similar to studying for history. You’re looking at cause and effect. Why did someone do this? What were the effects (short-term and long-term) of that person doing something?

One of my minors is in psychology, and every psychology final I had was about definitions and descriptions. Many of the essay questions looked something like these questions: “Describe Piaget’s stages of cognitive development” (and you were expected to list the substages too), “Describe what this graph shows and the significance of its findings,” “Explain why the following is considered an optical illusion and what happens in the brain,” “Describe how we see and process information,” and “The following wavelength is associated with which type of monkey neuron.” The multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions were pretty much all definitions. So, your best bet for psychology is probably to pay attention to the big concepts that your teacher spent time talking about, and then spend some time on the bolded terms in the textbook.

Studying for a sociology test is pretty much the same as studying for a psychology test, except instead of graphs, instructors often like to give you statistics and then ask you to analyze those numbers.

Well, there you have it. The conclusion to the three-part series on how to study for tests the 4.0 GPA way. I would tell you not to panic, but, honestly, I panicked before almost every final I took, and I got a 4.0 GPA. So, if panicking works for you, then panic. However, try to take comfort in your brain, in the work that you’ve done throughout the semester, and (if you’ve followed my advice) your copious and thorough studying. You’ll be okay. 🙂

Bonne chance, mes amis!

I’d love to hear if this advice worked for you, and what else you’d like to see me tackle with regard to academics. If you have any suggestions, questions, or general comments, please feel free to write them in the comments below. 🙂