The Pros and Cons of Recording Your Class Lectures

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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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How to Proof Your Paper Like a Pro – 8 Proofreading Tips

I used to work as a proofreader.

It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it helped me become proficient at proofreading ads and documents very quickly.

Whenever possible, it’s always best to have someone else review your essay.

However, it’s not always convenient to get someone to edit your paper at the last minute (when most papers get finished).

So here are 8 tips to help you proof your own paper like a professional:

1. Read your paper backward
A surefire way to find misspellings is by reading your essay backward to yourself. This makes every word stand out. And this is a great way to focus on the punctuation of each sentence.

2. Read your essay out loud
One simple way to proof is to read your essay aloud. This will help you focus on the rhythm of your writing, your punctuation, and any glaring errors in your sentence structure. If any sentence sounds confusing, you should revise it.

3. Cut the fat
Eliminate passive verbs whenever possible.

4. Proof in stages
I always proof my papers in stages. This means that I’ll typically plan on proofing my entire paper in a variety of stages. For example: (1) Focus on every word; (2) Focus on punctuation; (3) Focus on subject/verb agreement; (4) Focus on argumentation; (5) Focus on pronouns . . . etc. You get the idea.

5. Pay attention to apostrophes
Examine every word that ends in “s” and ask yourself if an apostrophe belongs there. Remember that apostrophes should never be used to make words plural.

6. Focus your attention on every comma and semicolon
Scan your paper to find every comma and semicolon. Make sure you’re using them properly in the sentence.

7. Proof headers and subheads
You’d be surprised how often headers and subheads get misspelled. This is because most people who are proofing are focusing on the details, and they often miss the big glaring error right in front of them.

8. Proof in the morning
You won’t catch as many errors if you’re proofing right after you’ve finished writing. So take a long break before editing the paper.

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Super-Sized List of Online Academic Databases

Ive been spending a lot of time writing and researching this semester.

Im actually having dreams about one of my papers – and I have so much more research to do.

Anyway, here is a list of online databases that Ive been using to find journal articles for my lit reviews.

Most of these databases require a student ID and password, but Im listing them here because its quick access if youre in a school library:

Where to Find a Librarian 24/7

If you ever have any research trouble, you should seriously consider contacting a librarian.

They can cut your research time in half – and help you find exactly what you need.

And you never need to visit a library to talk with them.

Simply chat with them online with one of the following online services:

Amherst College Librarians
Amherst College librarians are available to chat through ICQ, Yahoo, MSN, Trillian, and AIM. Check out their website for details on how to contact them.

Ask a Librarian
The Memorial Hall Library allows you to email one of their librarians or call them at 978-623-8401 x31 during their library hours. Ive never tried emailing them, but their websites says theyll respond within 24 hours.

Ask Here PA
Ask Here PA is a library service based in Pennsylvania. They promise to answer your question within 15 minutes.

Brown University Librarians
This library chat service is intended for students at Brown University, but Im sure theyll help you out if youre nice.

Cornell University – Ask a Librarian 24/7
Cornell librarians are available to chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also email them with any questions you might have.

Florida Ask a Librarian Service
This website connects you with Librarians in Florida. This online chat service is available until midnight (Eastern Standard Time) Monday through Friday. They are also available to chat with you on Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library allows you to email your question to a librarian. The only problem is that it takes about 3 days to get a response.

Library of Congress – Ask a Librarian
Librarians at the Library of Congress can also assist you with your research. They promise to respond by email within 5 business days.

MassAnswers.org
MassAnswers.org allows students to chat with a librarian online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After youre done chatting, theyll email you a transcript of everything youve discussed. I found this service very helpful.

Peoples Network
The Peoples Network will hook you up with a librarian in the United Kingdom. They have a real-time chat and email system to help you answer your questions.

Princeton University Library
Chat with a Princeton librarian on AOL, Yahoo, MSN, or ICQ. They arent available 24/7, but you can catch them online during the day.

Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library also provides a 24/7 online chat program to help you with your research. Theyre chat system is connected to librarians across the country.

Please leave a comment if there are other library websites people should know about.


How to Cram for Final Exams

Its final exam time, and that means many students are having all night cram sessions right now.

Cramming isnt the best way to study, but sometimes its your only option especially if you havent been keeping up with your class readings.

Here are some cramming tips from around the web:

Divide up your time.

  • Figure out what you actually have time to do. Tally up your total study hours and estimate how much time youll need to spend studying each major concept, allotting the most time to the material you are least familiar with. Tackle the most unfamiliar concepts first, while youre still fresh, and save the material you know best for last. If you need to re-allot your time, donate more minutes to the lowest-ranked material to make sure you understand it fully.
  • Work steadily, but take frequent five- or ten-minute breaks to conserve your energy and avoid getting overwhelmed. Take a walk; get a snack and some fresh air. Move around often to prevent fatigue.

How to stay alert.

  • If youre having trouble staying alert while youre cramming, and you have no time for sleep, drink some coffee. If youre tired right before your test, drink some more. Caffeine aids mental alertness. Tea has also been proven to aid concentration.
  • Run up some stairs or do some jumping-jacks. Exercise gets blood flowing and relaxes you. It also increases your alertness.
  • It has recently been proven that the smell of cinnamon and peppermint can help you stay alert. So chew on some gum if youre feeling worn out.

How to remember.

  • Recite, recite, recite. Recitation will burn facts into your mind like no other study method. Recite the material out loud until youre sure that youll be able to recall the information selected.

Study selectively.

  • You have to decide which information is most important to remember and concentrate upon those facts and ideas. Resist the temptation to try and learn all of the important-looking material. Youll need to use as much time as you have to remember the material youve chosen.
  • As you go through your notes, find important definitions, concepts and equations. If you dont know them by heart, write them down on a separate piece of paperyour cramming notes or, better yet, on 3X5 note cards. This will help you identify what you need to know, and youll have a handy set of flash cards. The process of rewriting may also help you memorize the content.

Eat a good breakfast.

  • Eat a good breakfast the morning of the test. Fueling up with nutritious foods will help keep your nerves steady and your brain engaged. Leave yourself enough time to give the test material one last review before you leave for school, but dont look at the material after that.

Where Do You Study Best?

Although studying in a dorm room is convenient, it is often a poor place to learn. There are simply too many distractions.

Thats why its important for you to choose a study spot where you can focus and not have opportunities to goof around.

Here are some tips on how to find your best study area:

Study Where Youre Alert
It is difficult for me to stay alert in a library. Sure, I can stay focused for a while, but I easily fizzle out without caffeine. So thats why I prefer reading and writing in a local coffee shop. Theres something about drinking coffee and having people around that keeps me energized and focused on writing my papers. I know coffee shops are not ideal study areas for everyone, but it works for me.

Study Where You Can Focus
I know this is obvious, but its important to study in a location where you wont be bothered. This means turning off your cell phone and going to a location where nobody else knows who you are. This can help you maximize your productivity.

Study in the Same Location
Ive read about the importance of studying in the same location regularly. Your mind and body know where you are. Using the same place to study helps train your mind and body to focus your attention more quickly. So whether you enjoy studying at a particular desk, or reading in a particular chair at a coffee shop, try and stay consistent.

So where do you study best?

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How to Prepare Yourself for Final Exams – 5 Smart Ways

So were all about one month away from final exams.

And that means that its time to start preparing ourselves mentally for the exams ahead.

If youre taking four courses, then you probably have to write four final papers; review notes from 40 different lectures; finish reading 8 to 12 different textbooks; and find time to prepare for final exams.

It can seem overwhelming, but if you start preparing yourself now, youll feel a lot better about getting everything accomplished.

Here are 5 ways to help you prepare your mind and body for a successful final exam season:

Spend Time Studying for the Tests that Carry the Most Weight
Not all final exams and papers are weighted the same. Make sure you know what percentage each paper or final exam is worth to your grade. That will give you some perspective on how much time you should designate studying for each class.

Focus Your Time on Difficult Classes
If youre pulling a solid A in American Literature, then you obviously dont need to spend as much time studying for that class. Instead, spend most of your study time on the difficult classes where your grade is borderline.

Spend Time Reviewing Class Notes Now
Do yourself a favor and spend at least one hour per class reviewing class notes. That means youll have reviewed all your class notes in just 4-hours. Highlight all the areas that are important, and look at the syllabus to narrow down the key areas you should spend your time studying. By simply going over all your class notes, youll get a good overview of the specific areas you should start studying. This will also provide your mind with a good summary of everything youve been learning this quarter (or semester).

Organize Study Groups
Most students wait until the last minute to form study groups. And those group meetings often turn into cram sessions. To avoid this, organize your study groups now to go over class notes and areas that should get studied. Youll all feel ahead of the game if you start your study groups now – and thats a huge way to reduce stress during finals week.

Design a Study Schedule and Stick to It
Make a commitment to spend at least an hour a week (per class) to focus on the final exam. By setting aside time now to focus on the final exam, youre preparing your mind for whats ahead. And youll also find areas that you have questions about. This will provide you plenty of time to get answers from your professors.

Group Study 101 – How to Avoid Goofing Off

I love to study in group sespecially before an exam.

The only problem is that if you dont have the right people in your group, you can end up wasting a lot of time. And thats not helpful for anyone.

Here are some tips to help you avoid goofing off when studying in a group:

Find the Right Students
There are many ways to stay productive during a group discussion, but it all starts with finding the right people. I recommend selecting the members for your group yourself. You know who in your class participates in class discussions. You know who seems to be serious about their education. Its those people that you want to join your group. The more motivated everyone is, the better off youll be. I know its fun to join a group with a bunch of friends, but those are the types of groups where its easy to goof around and not study productively.

Limit Your Group to Under Six Students
The larger the group, the more difficult it can be to keep everyone focused. If the group begins to grow for some reason, I recommend splitting everyone up into groups of 5 or 6. I tend to find that small group sizes work better together.

Set an Agenda
Once everyone arrives for your study group, decide on a quick agenda (if it makes sense). An agenda will keep everyone focused on whats ahead, and what they should be concentrating on. Set approximate time lengths for each item, and try to assign various tasks for each person (depending on what youre studying). Sticking to an agenda is a key to good productivity.

Discuss Class Notes
If everyone is studying for a particular test, have everyone make copies of their class notes. Everyone takes notes differently, and its helpful to look at a range of notes from different student perspectives. Everyone will benefit from seeing everyones notes. This could also spark some great discussions on areas that should get studied.

Discuss Possible Test Questions
Tell everyone in your group to bring a list of questions they think might be on the test. These questions are a great way to get the groups mental juices going. If possible, email your professor or teachers assistant ahead of time to get a list of areas to focus on. All the questions brought to the group are a great way to keep everyone thinking about the exam. It will also highlight particular areas that need more attention.

Everyone Should Teach
Some students are going to understand test material much better than others. If it makes sense to the group, have each person talk about the particular area they know very well. Have them explain what they understand about the particular topic, and have them field questions from the group.

What are some ways you keep your study group productive?

How to Write a Fascinating Thesis Statement

No professors or teaching assistants want to read a boring paper. They want to read a paper that engages them; a paper that is compelling and clearly articulated.

So how do you write one of these papers?

Well, the most important part of writing a fascinating paper is to develop a great thesis statement.

You see, your thesis statement is the spine for your entire paper. Its the glue that holds your paper together. The more complex, specific, and interesting, the better your paper will be.

So here are some steps to breathe life into your next thesis statement:

Get Excited About Your Topic
No matter what you have to write about, you should try and get excited about it. The more interest and excitement you put forth, the better your paper will be. Even if your paper topic bores you, this is your opportunity to get creative and think of a way to make it exciting. Thats your challenge – and you can do it.

Develop A Strong Opinion About Your Topic
Writing a great thesis statement means you need to develop a strong opinion about your topic. This is how radio talk show hosts keep their audiences – they spew strong opinions that attract listeners and phone calls. If youre not sure how to form a strong opinion about your topic, start reading through journal article abstracts. Check out Google Scholar and read through thesis statements pertaining to your topic. Jot down any strong opinions that look interesting to you.

Use Exciting Adjectives to Spice up Your Thesis
Dont just say that something is good or bad, empower your nouns with exciting adjectives that describe what you really think. Adjectives like oppressive, tyrannical, and bloodthirsty are powerful because they portray a strong point of view about something or someone.

Focus Your Thesis On One Main Idea
As mentioned in the introduction, your thesis is the glue for your paper. Make sure your thesis doesnt divert into different directions. Stay focused on one main theme to keep your paper organized and your reader on topic.

Get Extremely Specific in Your Thesis
A generic thesis statement weakens a paper because the reader isnt clear exactly what youre going to be arguing about. However, if your thesis includes specific details about your argument, it will prepare the reader for whats ahead. It also helps you stay on task as you argue your points with specific examples.

Keep a List of Interesting Thesis Statements
Just as copywriters have a swipe file of powerful headlines, you should develop your own list of powerful thesis statements. Whenever you come across a thesis statement that intrigues you, add it to your list. The longer your list of thesis statements, the more ammunition youll have when you need to craft your own.

Here are three examples of thesis statements to get you going:

Weak Thesis:
The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

Average Thesis:
While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Strong Thesis:
While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

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