How to Write a Great Term Paper in One Evening

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If youve ever procrastinated like I have, youve probably had to research and write an entire term paper in one night.

Its not the ideal way to write, but Ive been able to write some of my best papers during this time. Im not sure if its the adrenaline or what, but writing things last minute seems to be the muse that I need.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself staring at a blank word document at like 10 p.m. – and your paper is due the next day – this blog entry is just for you.

Ive included an approximate time length for each step below. These are just approximations that will obviously fluctuate with your particular assignment. The purpose of setting times for each task is to quickly move your paper along.

Step 1: Relax Your Mind (15 Minutes)
Before you get started on this paper, I want you to relax your mind. This doesnt mean grabbing a beer. It means calming yourself down and focusing your mind on the paper topic. You have one night to finish this paper, and you can do it. Turn on some classical music if it helps you stay relaxed and focused.

Step 2: Develop a Great Thesis Statement (45 minutes)
Alright, once youre relaxed its time to focus your attention on writing a great thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what will keep your research and writing on topic. This is the most important part of your paper. Spend some time reading thesis statements in Google Scholar or whatever journal article database you have access to.

Use whatever you find as a springboard for writing your own argument. Make sure to save citations and quotes from any relevant journal articles you find.

Step 3: Write a Killer Introduction (15 minutes)
The way to start your paper with a bang is with a great introduction. You need an introduction that not only grabs the attention of your professor, but focuses the paper on the topic at hand. You should have one or two intro sentences, and then jump right into your thesis statement. If you cant think of an introduction, simply use your thesis statement.

Step 4: Defend Your Thesis in a Brainstorming Session (30 minutes)
You should brainstorm a bunch of reasons why your thesis statement is true. Brainstorm for 30-minutes and think of every reason why your professor should be convinced of your claim. Write down the key arguments because those become your supporting paragraphs. Each argument is a mini-thesis that helps you support your paper.

Step 5: Start Your Research to Defend Your Thesis (2 hours)
Professors sometimes will give you a minimum number of references they want to see in your bibliography. That should be your minimum too, so make sure to list more than whats required. Log into your colleges library database and start researching your topic.

This is the part that most people wast time, so give yourself just two hours to copy and paste your citations into your paper. Try to organize the quotations within an appropriate argument (from step 4). More than likely, youll find more arguments for your topic when researching. So add these arguments to your list.

Step 6: Time to Write (4 to 5 hours)
Select your best arguments (with supportive references) and use them as the introduction for your supporting paragraphs. Convince your professor that your thesis is true with strong arguments leading each paragraph. Write as if your professor was right there, and make sure to think of possible weak spots in your argument. You want to write a flawless paper, so keep your argument tight.

Its easy to get stuck when you first begin to write, so dont worry much about your sentence structure and argument process. Focus more on getting all your ideas down on the page. Just start writing, and use your main arguments as writing prompts.

Step 7: Think of Critics Would Say About Your Thesis (1 hour)
If you have time, make sure to cite what critics might say about your arguments. By responding to what critics say, youre strengthening your paper by revealing that you understand other points of view. This shows youve spent some time thinking about the topic, and are prepared to answer objections.

Step 8: Summarize Your Thesis At the End (30 minutes)
When youve completed your paper, wrap it up by restating your thesis (with some support). Make sure to leave your professor with something to think about at the end of your paper.

Step 9: Cut the Fat (1 hour)
When youre ready to edit, its time to eliminate everything that doesnt support your thesis. Cut out passive verbs (to-be) and rely on action-oriented words whenever possible. Eliminate any sentences or paragraphs that slow down your paper or weaken your main argument. Make sure your arguments are clear and easily understood.

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How to Improve Your Memory Power – 7 Effective Techniques

When I was an undergraduate student, I had to take 5 classes in a foreign language to complete my degree.

I took classes in Spanish, classical Latin, and ancient Greek to fulfill my requirement – and needless to say – Im glad thats over with.

Ive literally spent hundreds of hours memorizing verb conjugations. And Ive probably killed many trees with all the note cards Ive used up.

The more I memorized, the easier it became – not because I was getting smarter – but simply because my brain was used to memorizing a lot of information every single day.

Pretty soon I was able to memorize stacks of vocabulary cards very quickly. It just took practice, and anyone can do it.

Here are some of the strategies I used to help me memorize my vocabulary terms and conjugation rules quickly:

Make Creative Associations
When I was memorizing a new word or grammar rule, I tried to develop a fun way to make it stick. The more outlandish the association, the better it would stick. For example, lets say that I had to remember that word domus is Latin for home. I would simply imagine a huge dome hanging over moose. (The classical Latin pronunciation sounds like Dome-oose.) That association would help me remember the word easily. I know this sound simplistic, but it really works. I would sometimes draw out fun associations on the back of my vocabulary note cards to really make these bizarre associations remembered.

Break-up Your Study Time
Our brains tend to remember less the longer we study. Thats why its often easier for us to remember the beginning and end of a lecture than all the details in between. So I found that by studying in short one hour stints helped me remember more. Everyone is different, so find out what amount of study time is perfect for you. You might find that you can memorize more in three one-hour sessions than one four-hour session.

Use Your Mind and Body
Sitting at a desk staring at some grammar rules might work for some people, but I always learned quicker by actively doing something with the information. I would draw association pictures or read my book aloud to help make things more permanent in my mind. I also found that studying note cards while walking around campus was a way to keep myself energized and focused.

Repeat What You Need to Know
One way to help something stick in your mind is to recite it to yourself. Read it aloud to yourself – and then read it again. The key here is to saturate your mind with the content in every way possible. One fun way to do this is to imagine your vocabulary cards or textbook being read by someone you think is funny. Imagine your textbook being read by Jon Stewart. It will at least keep things a bit more interesting.

Reduce the Noise

Some people study well listening to music. It really depends on the subject matter. However, if you find yourself drifting off, or focusing on the words of the song, its probably best to dismiss the music for a while. If you enjoy music, listen to some classical music or some other music that helps you focus. You basically want to situate yourself in a place with the least amount of noise interference.

Stay Positive (if possible)
Youll remember far more information about a subject if you try to find it interesting. If you think the topic is boring and useless, than youre going to make memorization that much harder. Look for some sort of connection on how the subject you need to learn about fits in with your life.

Study When Youre Most Productive
Everyone has their best study time, and often its during the daytime. Theres just something about memorizing and studying when its daytime that can keep you more motivated and more focused. I find that Im most productive during the early morning. I often go to a coffee shop around 6:30 a.m. and just drink coffee while I write and study. Find your best time to study and keep on that schedule. It will do wonders for your memory power.

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Book Report Hack: How to Analyze a Book Quickly

As an English Literature major in college, I had to read 4 to 5 books per class. This meant that within a 10 week quarter, I would have read over 20 novels. It was a lot of work, but here’s a technique I used to help me analyze the books quickly:

1. Read the Plot Overview First
You can find plot summaries of most books online. I recommend checking out sparknotes.com, cliffnotes.com, or wikibooks.org. Plot summaries can give you a general understanding of the plot before opening the book. It will spoil the ending for you, but it will help you focus on the major plotline while reading.

2. Read the Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Sparknotes.com offers a Themes, Motifs and Symbols section for every book within its database. This will give you a snapshot of the major themes to watch for. If you know the themes and symbols ahead of time, you can start highlighting any reference in the book that relates to that theme.

3. Underline, Highlight and Write Notes
After you know the plot and major themes, you’re ready to start dissecting your book. As you study, start underlining the key passages that relate to the major plots and themes within the novel. Then make sure to catalog all your notations on a separate piece of paper. Write down page numbers and a brief comment of why that page or section is important to the main theme or plot you’re studying. This will be extremely helpful when you start writing a report or essay about the book.

4. Read Journal Article Abstracts
If you have time, it also helps to search for journal articles about the book you’re reading. I don’t mean start reading through dense journal articles. That takes too much time. I just mean that you should skim journal article abstracts so that you know what scholars are thinking about the book you’ve just read. Simply visit Google Scholar and type in the name of your book. Read the article abstract to give you ideas of what to write about.

Lastly, if you really don’t have time to read the book at all, then start reading through chapter summaries from sparknotes.com or cliffnotes.com. It’s not the best choice, but it will give you some preparation prior to a test or writing an essay.

How to Deal with Crummy Professors

Spend time on RateMyProfessor.com and youll find a huge list of complaints from students about their various professors.

Thankfully, Ive been lucky to have mostly good professors throughout my college experience.

However, there are a few Profs who were lousy.

In fact, I dreaded going to their classes because they didnt care about teaching – and they obviously didnt care about us (their students).

Most of the time, Ive been able to avoid these Profs by dropping them, but sometimes theres no way around it. Sometimes that course is mandatory – and sometimes that professor is the only one teaching it.

So what do you do?

Well, here are some steps that Ive taken to help me get through those class successfully . . .

Ask good questions.
One way to improve your relationship with these professors is by staying active in class. Participate as much as possible and ask good questions.

Read your professors journal articles and/or books.
If you want to make an honest effort to befriend one of these professors, you should spend some time skimming through everything theyve ever published. Through reading their writing, youll get a glimpse into what theyre interested in – and will arm you with info on how to write papers theyll enjoy reading.

Visit them in office hours.
Its rare for students to visit their Prof during office hours, so youll automatically stand out. Plan on making one or two brief visits during your semester. Even one visit will go a long way. You dont have stay long. Just visit to get clarification on an assignment – or to ask a question about your reading. Youd be surprised how this can really benefit you.

Talk with your professor after class.
Be ready with one question at the end of some of your classes to ask your professor directly. Many students are scared to talk to teachers like this – so you can really make waves with him or her by stepping up and getting clarification on a paper assignment or the lecture.

Email your Prof an article you think they might find interesting.
If you find a website or article you he/she would appreciate, email it to them. They will probably thank you for the email.

What are some of the ways youve dealt with a lousy teacher?

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10 Foods to Sneak into the Library to Improve Your Productivity

When I visit the library for research, I’m most efficient if I plan on staying there for as long as I can.

I don’t want to leave until I accomplish certain research goals – which mean I’m usually there for at least 4-hours at a time.

I usually get hungry, so here are a bunch of foods that I often sneak into my backpack to make me more productive:

Trail Mix. I like to get a good trail mix – the ones with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and craisins. This can keep me going for hours.

Oat bran muffin. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying the vegan oat bran muffins at Trader Joes. These muffins are filled fiber, and have raspberries mixed in. It’s low in sugar, and provides a great energy boost.

Raisins. Raisins will definitely give you a boost of energy – and they’re full of antioxidants.

Soybeans. Soybeans taste great, filled with nutrition, and easily mobile.

Bag of Carrots. Carrots aren’t for everyone, but I really like to munch on them. Very healthy – but you have to try and keep quiet when you crunch them in the library.

Beef Jerky. Protein-rich foods like beef jerky can give you more energy.

Peanut-butter & honey sandwich. These sandwiches are delicious, and packed with energy, protein, and vitamins. You just need to have a drink on hand or water fountain nearby.

String Cheese. Cheese contains calcium, vitamins A and B12, potassium and riboflavin. A great energy boost – and tastes better at room temperature.

Cheerios. A bag of cheerios is packed with vitamins – and tastes great. Besides, who doesn’t like cheerios?

Dried berries. I’m not talking about Cap’n Crunch Berries – I mean: dried blue berries, dried cranberries, dried gogi berries, etc. These berries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins.

These foods will help you stay much more productive – and are far healthier than anything in your school’s vending machine.

What foods help you stay more productive?

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How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

If youd like to improve your reading comprehension, try the SQ3R method. This is an acronym that means: Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review.

Heres how it works:

Survey Your Text
Prior to reading, take a few moments to scan through your text. Get an overall feeling for how much youre going to read, and how the text is sectioned off. It helps to read through all the headings and any thesis or conclusion statements during this time. This will help you understand the point of the reading prior to beginning.

Question Everything
After surveying your text, ask yourself some questions prior to reading. What questions do you have about the subject matter youre about to read? What does the title of the text suggest? What does the author want to tell you about this subject? Whats the most important information on each page? Asking these types of questions will focus your mind on the text, and will help you pay attention. If you start to daydream, ask more questions and try to answer them.

Reading
As you read, try to find answers to the questions you have. Think through what the author is saying, and try to develop more questions as you read. If you have a lot to read, plan on dividing up the text so you can take adequate breaks. Studies suggest youre more likely to remember the first and last things that you read. So divide up the text and take breaks.

Recite the Text
After reading a chunk of text, take a break and try to recite what youve just read. Try to summarize your reading as best you can. If you have trouble, look back at your reading to see what youve missed. This might take some practice, but pretty soon youll start remember what youve read a bit quicker.

Review
After youre finished reading, review what you just read. Ask yourself the same questions you had in the beginning of the reading, and see if you remember the answers. Think how the reading material fits with your class or assignment. Also think about possible ways you might be tested on the material, and you can best prepare.

Something thats not mentioned in this method is the importance of taking notes. Note taking is very important to help you remember key facts. Just dont get too wrapped up in taking notes without thinking through what youre writing. Take notes on the most important parts of your reading, and something that will help you quickly review what you just read.

The Nuts and Bolts of Time Management

If youve been reading productivity blogs for a while, you probably already know the basics of time management:

  • Making your “To Do” list
  • Focusing on one task/goal at a time
  • Creating deadlines for yourself
  • Rewarding yourself for accomplishing your goals
  • Avoiding procrastination
  • Making time to relax

Its easy to understand these basics, but its another to actually apply them in real-world situations.

As you know, its very easy to lose focus on our daily goals – especially with email, Digg.com, Google Reader, yada, yada, yada.

So thats why Ive found these online resources on time management very practical:

Managing Your Time
Dartmouth developed a nifty list of online resources for time management. The article includes links to a time management video, planning documents, and free calendars to download in both Word and Excel.

Beating Procrastination
The best way to defeat procrastination is to identify it the moment its happening. This article provides 3 practical steps to overcome this weakness in all of us.

10 Tips for Time Management in a Multitasking World
Even though this article is focused on todays office environment, it definitely fits with the life of a busy student.

12 Hours to Better Time Management
Lifehack.org developed a great article on time management. Pay close attention to the first section that discusses how to set up your calendars.

61 Time Saving Tips
This article starts by saying that You DO have enough time for everything and then gives you a laundry list of ways to help you accomplish all your goals.

8 Ways to Avoid Managing Your Time Effectively
Sometimes it helps to read the opposite advice to think clearly about what were doing to waste time.

Time Management Principles for Students
The University of Minnesota Duluth compiled this list of time management strategies for students. Simple and practical.

TimeTracker
TimeTracker is an online tool to help you track the time you spend on each of your tasks. It can help keep you on focused – which is helpful when you need to write a lengthy paper.

Time Management [Video] – Randy Pausch
This lecture was recorded at the University of Virginia – and runs over an hour. Its both informative and entertaining.

5 Ways to Study for the LSAT While in College

In this guest post, Steve Schwartz from LSAT Blog gives 5 tips to help students balance their college courseloads with graduate-level exam prep.

If you have a full college course load and a decent social life, its probably hard enough to balance the two. Add studying for the LSAT to the mix, and you may feel overwhelmed. This post gives you 5 ways to balance studying for the LSAT (or GMAT, MCAT, GRE, etc.) with school and life obligations. Ill speak with regard to the LSAT throughout this article, but just apply my advice to your relevant exam.

1. Start your LSAT prep early.
Its much easier to do a little bit each week over the course of several weeks than to cram all your studying at once. Its less stressful, and it wont detract as much from schoolwork or your social life. Plan ahead and treat the LSAT as if it were another college class, and study for it over the course of the semester.

2. Fit in studying wherever you can.
Doing an LSAT Logic Game or a couple of Logical Reasoning questions between classes can keep you in the LSAT mind-set even if youre not studying for a few hours each day.

3. Set aside specific days and times each week to study.
This will ensure that a few weeks or months dont go by while your LSAT prep books gather dust in the corner. Create a study schedule and stick to it.

4. Stay off AIM, Facebook, and Gmail, and close your laptop.
I know computers and Internet are ubiquitous on college campuses, especially for socializing. However, you dont need a computer to study for the LSAT, and having one around will only serve as a distraction. Get rid of these time-suckers and stick to the books.

5. Form a study group.
If you can find people on your college campus (or in your neighborhood) who are also preparing for the LSAT, it may help to form a study group. Try to find study partners whose abilities complement your own so that you can help each other. Meeting on a regular basis will take some of the isolation out of test prep, and, like a gym buddy, a study partner will help motivate you to study.

Steve Schwartz is a professional LSAT tutor living in New York City. He updates LSAT Blog every week with free LSAT tips and tricks.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Asher

The Pros and Cons of Recording Your Class Lectures

Ive only used an MP3 recorder a couple times in my college career, and these were for classes where my professor would spit out tons of information in a brief amount of time (and my pen couldnt keep up).

Here are some pros and cons of recording lectures:

The Benefits of Using a Recorder

The class lecture is complex and difficult to understand.
If youve ever had to sit through a lecture about Foucault, you know how difficult comprehending a lecture can get. And thats where listening to a lecture a second or third time can help.

Youre going to be absent.
Ask a friend to record a class lecture if youre going to miss it. Sure, you could just copy his or her notes, but a recorded class lecture in its entirely will make sure you dont miss a thing.

You want an audio archive.
If youre scared you might lose paper versions of your notes, then you might want to consider having an audio version available as a backup.

You cant keep up with how fast your professor is lecturing.
I have horrible penmanship, and my handwriting is too slow. So if you have a professor or TA that lectures fast, you may want to consider recording the lecture to catch anything you missed.

The Problems of Using a Recorder

Listening to Recorded Lectures Takes Time
The biggest downside of using recorded lecture notes is that it takes time to listen. Its another hour or two out of your day to scan through an old lecture. Its a time killer.

Recording Lectures Encourages Half-Listening
When you know everything is getting recorder, youre apt to daydream or not pay full attention to whats being said.

Recorders Require Batteries and Might Not Work Properly
You never know when your last battery dies, or when the recorder didnt capture everything your professor said. You also miss out on any notes your professor writes on the board.

Common Recording Problems
Here are some recording problems Ive encountered: batteries died, pause button left on, volume too low, and recorder microphone not close enough to the speaker.

For the most part, I never used a recorder – but what about you?

How to Add RAM to Your Brain – 8 Memory Hacks

You can instantly retrieve more information faster and easier by memorizing data in organized patterns.

Here are 8 ways to make information cement in your mind:

1. Acronyms
I’ve used acronyms throughout my college and grad school career. They’ve helped me memorize information for class presentations, and helped me memorize details for exams. An acronym is simply a word wherein each letter represents another word. For example: HOMES (The Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)

2. Acrostics
Acrostics are sentences in which the first letter of each word helps you remember items in a series. For example: Zoe Cooks Chowder In Pink Pots in Miami (The Essential Minerals: Zinc, Calcium, Chromium, Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iodine, Magnesium).

3. Act it Out
Use your acting ability to make a connection with the material you’re trying to learn. For example: reenact a dialog between two historic figures – or carry on a debate between two different philosophers, politicians or literary critics.

4. Categories
Organize information into broad categories to help you remember information faster. For example: Types of Joints in the Body (Immovable, Slightly Movable, Freely Movable).

5. Peg Words
Develop a chain of associations between whatever list you need to memorize and a peg word. Peg words are associated with numbers (e.g. zero is hero; one is a bun; two is a shoe; three is a tree; four is a door; five is a hive; six is sticks; seven is heaven; eight is a gate; nine is wine; and ten is a hen). Here’s how peg words work with the atomic numbers in a periodic table: (1) Imagine a hydrogen hotdog on a bun; (2) Imagine a helium shoe balloon; (3) Imagine a lit tree on fire (lithium); (4) a door made of berries (beryllium); (5) a hive with bored bees (boron); and the list can go on. The odd pairing helps you memorize information quickly.

6. Rhymes
Make up a silly rhyme or pun to help you memorize information. For example: Brown vs. Board of Education ended public-school segregation.

7. Recordings
Make a recording of yourself giving a lecture about the subject you’re studying. This is especially helpful for foreign language classes or a vocabulary section on a standardized test.

8. Visualizations
Turn an abstract idea into an image of something that is as specific as possible. For example, visualize a scene from a historic period. Make it as real as possible in your mind. Use all your senses and imagine what it must smell like, feel like, etc. The more specific you are, the more you’ll remember.

What are some strategies you use to memorize information faster?

[Photo by Rofi]

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