The Critical Benefit of Flash Cards

Flash cards are 100% old school. They can also 100% work. Here’s how.

When to use them

Flash cards are best used when you have to memorize something. In my how to write good exam answers blog post, I discuss three different types of exam questions: the recall, the argument, and the application. Flash cards work best for exams that have recall questions: these are the right/wrong objective evaluation type questions.

Why to use them

Flash cards can help you in two ways. First, the very act of making the flash cards is a review in an of itself–assuming you are writing out the flash cards by hand. When you physically write out information, you are engaging both your visual and kinesthetic learning areas. Second, reviewing the flash cards, especially if you can answer yourself aloud, also engages two learning centers: your visual and your auditory. In short, flash cards can help you get the information into your brain twice.

How to use them

The most effective way to use flash cards is by drilling. Flipping through them over and over until you know the answer to each prompt. In order to speed up the memorization process, I would recommend filtering out the ones you get right as you go through them so that the ones you are not as clear on get extra face-time. This will cut down on the total amount of time you spend studying. However, it’s always good to end with a final go through of ALL the cards.

Tips for Improving Class Notes

Taking notes in class can be a challenge. Figuring out what to get down, making sure that you have access to the resources you need, and the eternal struggle of the professor flipping through the lecture slides at breakneck speed all add up to a frustrating experience when trying to figure out how to take notes. Here are a few easy ways to improve your class notes.

1. Take Handwritten Notes

One of the first recommendations I make to students at the beginning of each course is that they consider taking handwritten notes. Often, students think that taking notes on a computer is an easy way to fix several of of the class note problems discussed above. Most of us (myself included) can type far faster than we can write by hand, alleviating the fear of missing getting down an important point. Typed notes can be cleaner than handwritten ones, making studying down the road easier. Typed notes can also let you have up multiple resources at once on your screen: you can even take notes directly into the powerpoint slides, assuming your professor handed them out before the lecture. So why do I persist in trying to convince my students to take notes by hand? It’s not because I’m anti-computer, or computer illiterate. It’s because research shows that taking handwritten notes can get you better grades.

When you handwrite your notes, you have to figure out exactly what is important enough to write down because you cannot write as fast as the professor is speaking. That additional mental step, which can often also mean writing down the lecture in your own words, has been found to improve student recall of class material over students who typed their notes. In short, handwriting notes keeps you more engaged with the lecture because you have to work a little harder. But the payoff is that you’re likely to do better come exam time.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s an article about the research in Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

But, sometimes, handwriting notes simply isn’t an option: maybe you need to have access to the internet for class resources and the desk area is limited, maybe your handwriting is worse than chicken scratch. Whatever the reason, there are better and worse ways to use technology to take notes.

2. Do make good use of new technologies

Some of the new tablet options are really awesome when it comes to blending technology with class note taking. If your handwriting could star in a horror film, you may want to look into features like the ability to turn your handwriting into typed notes. This kind of feature would allow you to reap the benefits of taking notes by hand while allowing you to make them readable down the line. It’s also probably going to force you to review your notes, so win-win.

Another cool feature you could consider is the sharing functions in programs like Google Docs or the online versions of Microsoft. Shared notes are a neat way to see what others picked out as important, and has the potential of giving you a more complete version of notes. This isn’t ideal in every situation, however, so tread with caution.

3. Don’t take down a transcript of the lecture

DON’T: try to take down a verbatim transcript of what your professor is saying. Remember the above tip about how processing the information while in class helps you later on? When we type up verbatim transcripts, we have a tendency to “check out” mentally. Believe it or not, we can actually take down every word someone is saying pretty passively.

Along these same lines, I’d avoid trying to take notes into the notes section of an existing powerpoint, especially if the powerpoint is text heavy. You’ll end up passively listening to the lecture and note writing down anything because it’s already written down for you.

4. Try using a split screen

Split screens have the advantage of allowing you to move around the lecture slides independently of the professor, but still give you space to write out your notes in a clean document. This can be helpful in a number of ways. First, it allows you to take notes more actively, since you will likely be recopying at least some of the information from the lecture slides. Second, it allows you to control the lecture slides independently from the professor. If they skip through slides too quickly, you can flip back briefly in order to make note of what you need to fill in your notes later.

5. Avoid the temptation to have open multiple non-class related windows. 

When you are not actively taking notes or using your laptop for class purposes, the professor totally knows. How, you may ask? The two main ways come from how you are using your keyboard. Like it or not, keyboards make noise. If you are typing at a time when no one else is chances are you are probably working on an assignment for another class or sending an email. If you are not typing when everyone else is, but you’re still staring intently at the computer, chances are you’re browsing some kind of social media site. So even if the professor cannot see your screen, they have ways of knowing whether or not you are engaged in the material. I can firmly attest to this, both as a professor, and as a student who has definitely gotten called on while browsing a non-class related website. THEY KNOW, and it won’t make them happy.

So, how do you avoid this kind of temptation? Obviously, using a notebook and not a laptop is the easiest solution. However, the split screen recommendation can also aid in keeping you focused on just the screens that you need to be looking at. Other options include turning off notifications (if you don’t know there’s an update, you’ll be less likely to check it), or installing a focus browser extension (personally, I’ve had good luck with Stay Focused, a Chrome extension, but there are multiple options out there).

Ultimately, there’s no perfect way to take notes in class. These are simply some of the biggest techniques and stumbling blocks that I’ve seen and experienced. What are some tips and tricks you’ve used for better class note taking?

 

Why You Need a LinkedIN Profile and How to Set It Up

Last week I attended a conference where I served as a co-chair of a roundtable. The conference delegates were all undergraduate students, who were representing their respective universities. The students were a truly impressive group and at the end of the conference, I told my students to stay in touch and to request me on LinkedIN. However, some of the students expressed uncomfortability with LinkedIN. This post is designed to give you a brief introduction to this important and necessary tool.

Why You Need LinkedIN

LinkedIN is a critical networking tool for professionals, but it’s also a really important tool for students as well. LinkedIN is a professional social networking site. The benefit of using LinkedIN is that it allows you to stay in contact with professional contacts. It’s useful for keeping up with where people work or attend school, finding their most current email address, etc.

But the most useful part of LinkedIN is that it allows you to engage in social networking in a strictly professional setting. You can engage with people you meet without also sharing the broader aspects of your life that you might share on other platforms like instagram or facebook. That’s because LinkedIN’s profile functions like a digital resume. You can list past employment and educational history, skills you’ve gained, and even give and receive recommendations.

How to Set Up Your Profile

LinkedIN’s basic features are free to use. You simply need to create a profile using your email address. I would recommend using your school email address and not your personal email address, as your school email address is your “professional” email address now.

LinkedIN will walk you through setting up your basic profile. However, sometimes LinkedIN’s profile functions can be confusing at first. Here are some simple rules of thumb as you fill out your profile:

1. For your position, you want to list “Student” at your University, even if you also have a part time position or are working while in school. If you are a part time student who also works full time, you have the option of listing your permanent position instead.

2. You also want to provide a summary. This section is open to some interpretation. However, some things you may want to consider listing include your major and minor, if you are looking for employment or an internship, and if you have a portfolio or personal website, this is an excellent place to list that as well.

3. Work Experience is the next major section that you’ll want to be sure to fill in. In this section, you will want to list places you have worked. (Told you this functioned like a resume). In this section, you also get the opportunity to write a brief summary of the job. In this area, you’ll want to give a brief description of your job responsibilities. You can do this in narrative (sentence) form or with a series of bullet points. Keep the description concise and to the point and be sure to highlight areas of leadership and particular skills you used/learned.

4. The education is the last section you should definitely fill in in an initial profile set up. This section should be fairly self explanatory, and most of the time need only list universities. You’ll have the opportunity to list additional information for these entries as well, and this can be a good place to put your major, or any major honors (for example, if you graduated cum laude).

If you fill in the four sections of the LinkedIN profile suggested above, you will have a profile that you can feel confident having people see. So, the next step is requesting connections. LinkedIN will automatically suggest connections for you (even if you do not give them access to your contact list). As you scroll through the list of suggested connections, click on ones for people you know (really know and not just know OF). I do not generally recommend requesting to connect with individuals you have not met simply because they are suggested.

Taking a Sick Day in College (Responsibly)

I missed posting last week because the start of the year virus finally caught up with me and tried valiantly to take me down. But it got me thinking about how to and how not to take a sick day in college. Here are a few definite DOs and a few definite DON’Ts when it comes to taking a sick day in college

DO: Attend Lecture if you can

Depending on your personality, you will probably approach sick days in college in one of two ways. Either your reaction is: I’ve got the sniffles, better skip my 8am class all week and sleep in OR your reaction is: If I skip any time studying I’ll never catch up, I’ll fail, and my life as I know it will be over. Neither is a healthy or appropriate option.

Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to figuring out when to take a sick day and when to power through: If you are contagious–and I’m talking the flu level contagious–do everyone a favor a and stay home from lecture. BUT if you are just feeling under the weather with a cold, take some cold meds and try to power through an attend the lecture class. Generally speaking, it’s hard to make up missed lectures, so if you can make it you should try. But be respectful and arm yourself with hand sanitizer, cough drops, kleenex, etc.

Critically, do not skip lectures in favor of attending extra curricular or other university events. Especially do not tell your professor that you missed class due to illness but that you “had to attend the football game.” Not only will your professor absolutely take this very badly, but it’s also unprofessional. If you are a full time student, attending class is your full time job.

DON’T: Email your professor with an in-depth explanation of your symptoms

I feel like this one should be self explanatory, but the number of times I have unsuspectingly opened a student email and come away feeling like I now know far too much about their illness is not insignificant. No one really wants to know your symptoms. If you do send an email, you might consider using the following guide:

Dear Professor X,

I am feeling unwell today, and will be unable to attend class. I will make sure to review the lecture materials/readings/etc. and will attend office hours if I have additional questions. If there is anything that will be assigned in class today and due for next class, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.

Sincerely,

Student.

Keep it short, keep it sweet, and most importantly keep it symptom-detail free.

DO: Follow Guidelines for communicating with your professor

Make sure to read your syllabi at the beginning of every semester and figure out what your professors’ policies are with regard to absences due to illness. For example, in my class, I give my students a certain number of absences “no questions asked” that they are free to use for sick days. As a result, I tell my students not to email me if they are taking one of their excused absences. In contrast, one of my former colleagues preferred having students email him every time they missed class as a way of taking attendance. The key is to follow the stated policies in the syllabus.

Sometimes there are also university policies regarding absences due to illness, and you should make sure you know what those are and follow them as well.

DON’T: Expect the professor to repeat a missed lecture for you during office hours.

Expecting the professor to teach you the lesson during office hours is an inappropriate use of that time. If you missed a lecture due to illness, it is your responsibility to do the assigned reading, take advantage of any online supplementary materials (i.e. posted slides), get the notes from a peer, and generally make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material.

DO: Ask the Professor questions you have about missed material during office hours.

If you do miss class and your do make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material and are still unclear, then it IS appropriate to attend office hours to ask for help. The professor is usually happy to help clarify material when you demonstrate that you have tried to understand it on your own first.

DON’T: Continue acting like you aren’t sick, even if you are “powering through” lectures.

Acting like you aren’t sick when you are is the fast track for being sick for a much longer period of time. Even if you are feeling well enough to power through your lectures, you may still want to take it easy and rest up when not in class. Consider skipping extra curriculars, slow down on the studying and generally spend extra time resting.

The strategy I used in school was what I call “intense sick days.” Anything that I absolutely had to attend (class lectures, work, etc.) I went to, but 100% the rest of the time, I was in bed, fully medicated and alternately Netflixing and sleeping. The strategy behind doing this is to get better as soon as possible so that you don’t loose valuable study time and get behind. Taking a few intense days off and being able to bounce back is much more efficient than working through the illness and staying sick for a longer time.

DO: Try to stay healthy

Getting sick during the semester is no picnic. Make sure that you ensure that you are doing your part to keep yourself healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, wash your hands/use hand sanitizer, and consider getting a flu shot.

I hope these guidelines are helpful in navigating your way through college sick days! While staying healthy is the ideal, the keys to taking a responsible college sick day are to be mindful of your university and professors’ guidelines, do due diligence when you have to miss class, and make sure that you take care of yourself when you do get sick.

Common Writing Mistakes and Some Easy Fixes

Below are some of the most common writing mistakes I see in student work. Many are mistakes that are relatively minor but can have a major (negative) impact on the overall quality of the writing. Luckily, these mistakes often have easy and fast fixes. So, before you turn in your next paper, check to see if you’ve made any of this errors. Fixing these small problems can lead to higher grades!

Mistake #1: Not specifying what “this” is

The Mistake: This mistake is the most common mistake I read in student writing–and it’s a mistake that I made myself until my undergraduate advisor brought it to my attention with a series of large red circles all over my papers. In short, students will often use the word “this” as the sole subject of the sentence. This is bad.

The Problem: If you write “This is bad” the question is what? What is bad? “This” is imprecise and unspecified. It makes your writing open to interpretation–it makes the reader have to guess at what specifically you are getting at.

The Fix: Put a noun after the word “this.” Instead of writing “This is bad,” write “This sentence is bad.” Anytime you see the word “this” in your paper–make sure it’s followed by another noun. You will sound more confident and your argument will automatically be improved.

Mistake #2: Leaving a hanging dependent clause

The Mistake: So often, I see students leave dependent clauses out to stand alone like it’s a full sentence on its own. An example of such a hanging clause: “While I love to teach.” If you read this phrase, you should immediately ask: why? While you love to teach, but what? The idea is incomplete on its own. It implies that something is to follow it.

The Problem: It’s a problem because the grammar is wrong and your primary school grammar teacher will haunt you for making such an elementary mistake. But seriously, this is a problem because dependent clauses cannot act as independent sentences (thus they are dependent on another thought or idea).

The Fix: Read your paper through before turning it in–bonus points for reading it aloud. Reading your paper through should allow you to notice those “but what” or “and what” questions when you encounter a dependent clause. This will work better if you give yourself a few hours in between the writing and the final review.

Mistake #3: Using jargon from class because you think you should

The Mistake: Using jargon–or buzzwords–from a course in your paper just because you had to learn the terms in class. Many students throw key class terms into their papers to show that they “payed attention/learned/did the reading.”

The Problem: If you do this without actually understanding what these terms mean AND how they are used in the context of the subject, you aren’t going to slip under the radar. Instead, your paper is going to light up like a beacon of “I am bullsh*ting this writing assignment.” If you use words wrong–your professors can tell.

The Fix: Most obviously, make sure you do the readings and pay attention. Beyond taking this step, make sure you also follow up with any terms you don’t understand. Ask the question in class or after class or even send your professor an email. A simple “Dr. B, I want to make sure I am using the term hegemony right. If I say: ‘The United States has achieved hegemony after the Cold War because it was the most powerful state in the world’ does this work?” Is a quick, easy email for me to reply “yes!” to. But the fail safe fix here is to avoid using the word if you don’t know what it means and don’t have the ability to check on it.

Mistake #4: Not reading over your paper before turning it in

The Mistake: This is another HUGE mistake I see students make all the time. The mistake here is not failing to revise, but rather failing to review–as in grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. I have literally had students turn in their paper with incomplete sentences: they obviously walked away from their computer mid thought, and returned later beginning afresh.

The Problem: Hopefully, the problem here should be fairly obvious: you’ve left your paper vulnerable to any number of copy editing mistakes. It makes you seem lazy/sloppy.

The Fix: Read over your paper before turning it in. You can do this any number of ways: print it an read it aloud to yourself; put it into google translate and have google read it to you; the newest versions of Microsoft word will actually read you the text on the paper. However you do it, DO IT! I cannot stress this enough.

Mistake #5: Trying to “sound smart”

The Mistake: Frequently, students think that they need to “sound smarter” by using overly long sentences and/or using extra words to communicate their ideas. They end up with paragraphs that run over multiple pages, or sentences that are as long as an entire paragraph.

The Problem: Making your writing more complicated doesn’t actually make you sound smarter. Rather, it makes it more difficult for the reader to truly understand your ideas. All writing should be written for an audience, and if your reader has to re-read the paragraph (or sentence) multiple times in order to make sense of what’s on the page, you’ve got a problem.

The Fix: Keep. It. Simple. Follow the KISS Method is the #1 piece of advice I give my students about their writing. The simplest way to communicate your idea if often the best way to communicate it. It also makes your ideas and your arguments really stand out and it makes them clearer and stronger.

These are five of the smaller, more common errors I often run into in student writing. Double check your next writing assignme

Strategies for Dealing with Large Reading Loads

If you are looking at your syllabus for the semester and panicking because your professor has assigned you more reading than seems humanly achievable, then you’ve come to the right place. Every once in a while, whether due to a particularly demanding professor or your first entree into graduate school, you run into a reading list that makes you question your professor’s sanity. Unless you can in fact read like Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds or are in possession of Hermione Granger’s time turner, you’re going to need some strategies for tackling this reading load.

Strategy #1: Make Some Friends

One of the easiest ways to deal with huge reading loads is to collaborate with your peers. Split the reading list between a small group of people, assigning a few readings to each person. Each group member is responsible for reading their section in depth and creating detailed, neat, and easy to understand outlines/notes for their assigned section. A day or so before class, exchange the outlines (so everyone has time to read over the notes before class).

Pros of this strategy: It significantly cuts down on the actual reading you’ll do; you end up with a complete set of notes to accompanying your readings for studying

Cons of this strategy: You have to depend on others pulling their weight; you won’t have immediate contact with all of the material and will be depending on the insights gathered by classmates (who might pick up different things than you would have)

Strategy #2: Skim

Most people don’t actually have any real skimming strategies, and think it means reading fast/looking at all the text. WRONG! To successfully skim, you want to read the introduction and conclusion in their entirety. Then, you read the first and last sentence of each paragraph in the body of the text. This will give you a broad understanding of the main ideas within the reading. If your professor has provided discussion questions or reading objectives ahead of time, you can use this to intensify your skimming, focusing more when you hit those sections that your professor has identified.

Pros of this strategy: you will have looked at every text yourself; you will get the main points from the text.

Cons of this strategy: you will probably miss some important details; it will be harder to take good notes

Strategy #3: Read Selectively

This strategy works better if you have been assigned whole books or reports to read. For this strategy, take a look at the “road map” of the work. This can usually be found in the preface/introduction/executive summary. Then, pick out the chapters or sections to focus on, skipping over ones that cover similar points/topics. For example, many social science books are laid out as follows: chapter 1 introduction; chapter 2 theory; chapters 3-7 empirical (evidence) chapters; chapter 8 conclusion. Read the introduction, conclusion and theory chapters, and then pick 1-2 of the empirical chapters to read (If one focuses on statistics, and the others on case studies, read the statistics chapter and one case study).

Pros of this strategy: you both engage with the text deeply and can take good notes of the sections you read; you will get the main points from the text

Cons of this strategy: you might miss an important detail; your notes will be incomplete.

The Bottom Line

Your best bet is to use a combination of these strategies, given the time you have. For example, you may want to form a study group, but also use strategy 2 and 3 to supplement what you get from your study group. If you have no friends in your class (or no one you trust enough with your grade), you might want to use strategy 3, and skim the chapters you don’t read in depth. In the end, you want to pick a strategy that works with your strengths.

On My Bookshelf: The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington

The University is officially on summer recess, and grades are in (don’t forget that professors end up working a few extra days beyond the end of the semester to grade all final exams and projects, enter grades into the system, and deal with any outstanding issues). That means that even I can finally take a deep breath and start acting like an actual human being who does normal things like not working 6-7 days a week and actually sleeping. So it seems fitting that I’ve been reading The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington this week.

The Sleep Revolution is Huffington’s second book. Her first book Thrive is about general well being and getting unplugged. It’s also a great read that you should check out. But The Sleep Revolution focuses in on what Huffington considers the most critical part of taking care of yourself: sleeping.

As she notes in the book, our current culture is obsessed with the fear of missing out–and she writes that for most of us, this fear starts in college. The trilemma of “good grades, a social life, and sleep–pick two because you can’t have all three” can become a huge part of college life. It often seems impossible to split your time efficiently between studying, friends, and still have time for sleep. Plus, for many traditional college students, this is a point in life where you feel just a bit invincible: who needs sleep when you feel like you can function just as well on 4 hours a night as on 8.

But as Huffington notes in the book, racking up a big sleep debt can have some pretty intense consequences on everything from your ability to make decisions to your ability to perform on tests. Stay awake for more than 24 straight hours, you are in the same state as if you were legally drunk. But, take a sleeping pill and you could be facing a whole slew of scary side effects (think extreme sleep walking).

What is fascinating about sleep is that scientists still do not really know why we get tired or why we sleep. But, as Huffington details in the book, science is beginning to discover how critical sleep is for our health, our well being, and our happiness. Our brains do some pretty nifty things while we are asleep.

I track my sleep by using a Fitbit, and generally my sleep log tells me that I do not get enough sleep. The reasons usually vary from being disrupted by loud noises (I’m looking at you train conductor who blasts the horn at 4:30 every morning) to not falling asleep early enough (I’d like to thank Netflix continuous play for making this possible). This book was a bit of a wakeup call for me to start taking this lack of (good) sleep more seriously. So, I’ll be buying some ear plugs and I’ll be trying to get into the habit of reading a real physical book at night instead of binge watching The Office.

While the book does not present a truly in depth series of practical advice on how to overcome insomnia, it does do a really great job of exploring why we do not get enough sleep and what the consequences of skimping on sleep are.

So, embrace your summer break (even if it’s just a week before you start a job or internship, or summer classes), kick back, and make up some of your sleep debt!

5 Tips for Staying Calm, Cool, and Collected During Finals Season

Browse through social media during finals season and you’ll see no end of students lamenting the state of their mental, emotional, and future lives. Generally accompanied by a meme depicting the end of their life as they know it. Funny? Sure. Inevitable? Not even.

Getting through finals week does not have to be a painful, life altering experience. Below I’ve got five quick tips on how to make your finals week less painful.

1. Get Enough Sleep

For many students, finals week is better termed “see how far I can push the limits of my ability to stay awake for 24, 36, 48 straight hours” week. Aside from studies that show that sleep is necessary, forgoing sleep for 24 hours is the same as being legally drunk, staying in your normal routine means that you’ll just generally be under less stress. Getting a proper amount of sleep means that you’ll be more awake, alert and focused on the exams that sit in front of you.

But what about final projects or papers? You might gasp. Consistent and good sleep also makes you more productive. Have you ever felt yourself hit that wall, where the ideas just won’t make themselves legible on paper and you end off staring into space? Or maybe you work late into the night and it ends up taking you twice as long to write that final page as it did the first one. Guess what? You’re tired and it’s showing. (Please note: there is a case to be made for procrastination as a positive force or creativity, but I’m leaving that argument for another day.)

2. Eat Protein

During a long study binge it is often easier to reach for a candy bar, bag of chips, or Starbucks Frappuccino. And while your brain needs carbohydrates for function properly (read: do not try to start a crash diet during finals week), your body actually burns through carbs pretty fast. This means you’ll get a burst of energy from the sugar, followed by a nasty crash. During finals week, make sure that you are reaching for good sources of protein (whether that’s chicken, eggs, or even peanut butter) to help you stay full (and therefore focused) longer.

3. Eat Breakfast (or a small meal) Before an Exam

In a very similar vein to the advice above, it’s important to grab something to fuel your brain before going into a test. This will allow you to make sure that you aren’t distracted by hunger pangs mid-exam (and your peers will likewise thank you for keeping your stomach quiet!). One trick I used during my time in college was to keep a protein bar in my bag. This was especially helpful if I had the dreaded schedule of having finals back to back. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or protein shake also make good, portable options.

4. Get to the classroom early and pick your seat wisely.

Two-for-one advice here. First, set your alarm so that you can get to the classroom early. This will let you take a few minutes to review any last minute notes, or ask the professor any last minute questions. It also give you the opportunity to hit the bathroom if needed, make sure you have your pencil and that your phone’s ringer is turned off. Having a few minutes to take a deep breath before you begin the exam means that your energy will be focused on tackling the difficult questions, not on whether or not you managed to put your shoes on the right feet as you raced across campus at the last minute. If you are a commuter student, I’d recommend leaving even more extra time to account for traffic, or other unforeseen problems.

Second, pick your seat in the room wisely. If this is the room the class has been held in all semester, sit in the same seat you’ve sat in all semester. Doing this will help you to better recall the class material during the exam because you’ve given yourself a physical clue in the location.

5. Moderate Your Caffeine Intake; Drink Water instead

There are several reasons for doing this. First, while caffeine can be useful in keeping you awake, it can also make you fidgety. Being unable to sit still during an exam, or stand relaxed during a final presentation is going to make it harder for you to concentrate on the task at hand. Second, caffeinated drinks are often diuretics, meaning that they’ll give you a desperate need to use the facilities. You really don’t want to end up having to turn in an exam early simply because you…well, had to GO. (For more on how to avoid this problem, see #4). But, you say, I’m contradicting myself by suggesting that you drink water instead. Won’t that create the same problem? Maybe, but only if you try and drown yourself right before or during the exam. The reality is that most Americans are dehydrated most of the time and this makes you tired. If you bring a water bottle to sip out of during the exam instead of slamming an espresso or five hour energy beforehand, you can alleviate some of the tiredness and improve your alertness without the ill side effects of caffeine. (Note: you should not take finals week as an opportunity to go cold turkey on caffeine, as that will leave you with a nasty withdrawal headache. Drink your normal amount and no more).

These are five tips that helped me sail through finals weeks in my past with a relative amount of ease. What do you do to make finals week less stressful and more successful?

A Guide to Reading Academic Articles: The Case Study and the Book Chapter

In my last post, I discussed the difficulty with reading academic articles–they can be dry, long, and full of jargon. In this second post in this series, I continue to offer suggestions that make academic article reading a bit simpler.

Remember, there are two key steps to approaching an academic article reading assignment:

(1) Identify the article type

(2) Identify the key takeaways

In this post, I’ll be covering the case study article and the book chapter.

The Case Study

Case study articles are, generally speaking, more likely to show up in a social sciences or humanities course than a physical science course. Similar to a research article, the goal of this kind of article is to test whether or not a theory (explanation of how the world works) holds up to evidence. In this kind of article, the scholar is exploring a particular case (country, event, person, etc.) in depth, and this may make the article appear to be more like a story. But ultimately–regardless of what discipline you’re working with, the focus of the case study will be “what causes what.”

In order to pull out the key information from this kind of article, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions as you read.

1. What is the case? What (event, process, person, etc.) is the author trying to explain?

2. What causes what? What is the main cause (could be people, particular decisions, outside events) that leads to the eventual outcome? (You might want to try and diagram this. For example, if you’re reading about the events that led up to WWII, your diagram might look something like this: Hitler gains popular support from German people –> Hitler is elected –> Hitler annexes Austria and the Sudetenland –> Hitler directs the German military to invade Poland–> World War II breaks out. The key is Hitler is a main driver of many of these incidents.)

3. What does the author conclude? What does the author tell the reader they have learned?

The Book Chapter

A book chapter is going to be fairly easy to identify–mostly because the title will include: “Chapter X…” or because it will very obviously be copied out of a book. But the key to approaching an assigned reading that is one (or perhaps two) chapters from a longer book, is to remember that you are only getting a piece of the story. Thus, the first question you’ll have to ask yourself is: “Is this an edited volume or is it written by a single author?” Generally speaking, if the book is an edited volume, you’ll be able to tell because the author name will be listed at the beginning of the chapter. If this is the case, you should be able to approach the chapter as if it were a research article. If the book is written by a single author, you’ll be dealing with a bit of a different situation. The questions below pertain to a book chapter assigned from a non-edited volume (and making the assumption that it is also not a textbook chapter).

To get the key Takeaways from this kind of assigned reading, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions as you read.

1. What is the main question the author is attempting to answer in this chapter?

2. What is the author’s argument/answer to their question and what evidence do they present?

3. How does this connect to other themes or concepts from my class? (Why did my professor have me read this?)

A Guide to Reading Academic Articles: The Research Article and the Review Article

Unlike textbooks, academic articles can be hard to read. They are: long, dry, unnecessarily complicated, and sometimes bury the lead. In short, it can be hard to figure out what you are supposed to get out of reading an article for class. This is the first in a series of posts that explores how to successfully tackle the academic articles on your reading list. Each post will cover a few

There are actually several different kinds of articles you might be assigned to read for class. But regardless of what kind of article you are tackling, there are two key steps to reading academic articles:

Step 1: Identify the article type

Identifying the type of article you’re reading can go a long way towards figuring out what your professor wants you to get out the reading assignment. Specifically, knowing the type of article gives you insight into what the author was trying to accomplish by writing the article and in turn, it lets you grab onto the main ideas from the article.

Step 2: Identifying the Key Takeaways

Once you know the goal of the article, you can ask yourself a few key questions about what the author was trying to communicate through the paper. Because each article type has a slightly different goal, you’re going to want to ask slightly different questions for each article type.

In this post, I’ll be going over two of the more common types of articles you’ll find (regardless of your field–physical science, social science, or humanities).

The Research Article

By far the most prevalent type of academic article, the research article is a write up of results from a research project conducted by the author. These types of articles can be identified by their focus on something new: new data, new results, or new application. The goal of a research article is to communicate this new finding to the scholarly community.

To pull out the key information from this kind of article, you’ll want to ask yourself these three questions as you read:

1. What question(s) was the author(s) trying to answer?

2. What did the author(s) argue? (i.e. what was their theory? Or what was their answer to the question?)

Note: often authors will review how other scholars have answered this question in the past–kind of like a critique. Don’t get confused by this. Their answer will usually be pretty obvious through phrasing: “We argue that…” or “This paper suggests that..” etc.

3. How did the author(s) support their argument? What evidence did they use? How did they test their argument to see if they were right?

The Review Article

Review articles are papers that can show you how other scholars answer the same question using different theories (or different answers). These types of articles are great for helping you understand how other scholars agree or disagree. A review article will always present you with two or more sides to an argument and often present themselves as a “state of the discipline” type piece.

To pull out the key information from this kind of article, you’ll want to ask yourself these three questions as you read:

1. What question is the author discussing?

2. How does the author present the different theories (different explanations) by the different authors? How does the author sort the different articles into different groups?

3. What specific theories fit into each section? (Bonus points if you can summarize each of these into one sentence!)

In the next post, I’ll discuss two other types of articles that you’re likely to stumble across: the case study and the book chapter.