How to Not Get Stressed Out throughout the Semester

This semester had been incredibly smooth and calm for me so far. Even though the midterms are coming, I feel collected and in control. Everything seems to fall into place and the stars seem to be aligning. So in this post, I will share some advice about how to get into such a state in College or High School so that you don’t end up freaking out the week before exams.

1.) Cut Down on Procrastination and Social Media

I know, you love Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and probably can’t imagine your life without it. Which is why I’m saying “cut down on it” instead of “eliminate it.” Although “eliminating it” would be ideal.

By “cut down on it”, I mean that you should not be checking it every 5 minutes while you are studying or sitting down in class. This behavior will make you unhappy in the long run because you will not be in control of your life. Check it when you are taking a study break or (ideally) once a day before you go to sleep. If you have to use social media as a tool to organize your extra curricular obligations, promote a certain product, etc… than use it for those purposes only and set up specific times during the day for that type of social media use. If you just can’t keep your hands off of social media, than download a website blocker and block every social media website on your laptop for the time periods when you will be studying (and lock your phone away as well, of course).

Once the social media problem is resolved, half of the battle with procrastination will be won. The other half is not watching YouTube videos instead of doing work, talking to people, and entertaining yourself in other ways. To clarify, you can (and should) do all of those activities. Just not when you are studying. This type of multi tasking will only cause procrastination, force you to do everything at the last minute, and inevitably lead to stress. In order to stop yourself from procrastinating, remove as many distractions as possible, establish a special environment for studying, and if all else fails, find a friend to scream at you every time you decide to procrastinate.

2.) Make Yourself Look Presentable

No. I’m not suggesting that you should wear a suit every day to class or make yourself look like a Victoria’s Secret model.

All I’m saying is that you should look neat. This means that you should not through on the first thing you see lying around in your room. Make sure that whatever you choose to wear doesn’t look like something that you went to sleep in (Yes. There are some people who actually look like this at my university).  Make sure that you brushed your hair, your clothes are clean, and everything in your bag is somehow organized.

The point of doing this is NOT to attract attention or to make you look attractive in front of someone you like. In my personal opinion, you shouldn’t worry too much about that issue in High School/College anyways. The point is to make yourself feel organized and “put together”. Doing this is much easier when you look the part than when you don’t.

And yes, you should also keep your room clean. Being in a clean environment will help you feel more organized.

3.) Establish a Routine

This is probably one of the most important items on this list. You should create a rough schedule for when you are going to work on your assignments and stick with it. This schedule should not be too strict because things will come up that you will need to take care off and too strict of a schedule will make you feel stressed out when those issues come up. However, having no routine will cause for your life to be all over the place, which is equally as bad.

Look at your schedule and decide when you can dedicate a certain amount of hours on studying each day. If you have a long term project (academic or otherwise) that you are working on, include it in your “schedule” and commit on working on it at least 3 times/week. If you are in High School, this part will be easy because most likely, you will have time to do homework after you come home from school. If in college, you will have more freedom of studying whenever so use this freedom wisely and study when you feel the most focused during the day. If you have a new extra curricular activity, part time job, or any other commitment that you want to add to your life, revise your schedule to include that activity.

You should allocate enough time for studying so that you can always be caught up with all of your readings and have most of your writing assignments/homework done a day in advance. You should also allocate some time for ongoing unassigned practice of the course material. If you do this, studying for the actual tests will not take that much time. With all of this said, I would not recommend going as far as allocating time for studying each specific subject. You might simply not have anything to do during a certain day and doing something simply for the sake of doing something is a waist of your time.

4.) Don’t Over Think

When it comes to academics, don’t make your life harder than it has to be and stick to the rubric. Do what you know is expected of you. Do not spend too much time crafting a perfect short story if your goal is to get an A and it doesn’t have to be perfect for you to get that goal. Don’t get passionate or attached to your academic work. You are not getting graded on”passion”. You are getting graded on standards and benchmarks that you must match. No one, except for your teacher, will read your work. Your work is mostly meaningless and is there for you to build up your skills, not to make significant contributions. Don’t spend too much time thinking about each specific assignment. Simply get it done, make sure that it matches the standards, and move on to doing something else. If you are obsessing too much over your academic work, it means that you have too much free time on your hands and you should get yourself another hobby, a part time job, an extra curricular activity, or anything else that’s productive and that you will find more significant to stop this behavior.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying to not take your academic work seriously. In fact, you should take it seriously and do all of your assignments thoroughly. However, there is no need to obsess over one assignment for days and days. In fact, doing this will most likely cause for you to have a lower grade on that assignment. So do your work, edit it, check the rubric, submit it, and move on.

5.) Have a balance of activities, not just academics

In order to resolve point #4, you should start doing things outside of academics. You are probably thinking that this advice will make you more stressed out because you will have more work to do. However, I found the opposite to be true. Having a hobby that you can focus on, a club that you attend, a part time job, etc… will help you 1.) get experience on your resume, which will decrease your stress later when you will be looking for a job or a summer internship (or help you with college admissions if you are still in high school 2.) do something that you enjoy and take your mind off of academics 3.) help you get out of the house and talk to people 4.) stop you from over thinking your school work and 5.) have experience with the “real world” outside of academia.

For specific activities, I would recommend doing 1-2 major/career related activities (or activities such as community service that will help you get into college if you are still in High School. Yes. I am including part time jobs and internships in this category) and 1 activity that you find “fun” so that you can relax. This is what you should do at minimum. If you find yourself having too much free time as mentioned in point #4, you should get yourself another activity. I’m using the term “activity” loosely here and don’t mean just extra curricular activities but also internships, part time jobs, hobbies that you might do alone at home, etc… If you are doing the IB program, than obviously you will already have guidelines in terms of extra curricular activities that you will have to follow. I have already described my advice on that in my post on IB so follow that guideline instead.

6.) Hang out with Friends

Even if you have a lot of school work to do, you should not allow for that to stop you from having social interactions. Going out with friends will allow for you to get advice, encouragement, and much needed social interaction in the week. Your friends will help you feel less stressed out. I usually hang out with friends a minimum of once a week. Again, I’m using the term “friends” loosely here and mean “anyone who you want to talk to”. For you, it might be going out to parties and meeting random people, speaking with a mentor, or going out to a restaurant with your best friend. Basically, you should have at least one “social” activity a week. This will help you get out of the library/house and not turn into a socially awkward person.

7.) Think of Education as You Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

Now that I am done with the more practical items on this long list, I am moving on to more of “things that I think about to remain chill through out the semester” type of items.

The most important thing that you should do in order to stop yourself from stressing out about schoolwork is to start thinking of the education process differently. Instead of thinking about how you “must get a certain grade”, think of it as a process of you becoming the best version of yourself and your grades being there to help you reflect on what you did wrong. This doesn’t mean that you forget about grades. You still pay attention to them and do your best to get the highest grades that you can get. You are still striving for excellence. However, you are focusing on the process of studying, completing assignments, and improving in order to get good grades rather than on the actual grades. Once you get a score on the test, you reflect on what you did wrong and change your studying/test taking strategy. You don’t start freaking out over your GPA or stressing out about needing to get all 100s on other tests to get an A. You concentrate on learning, not making the same mistakes again, and becoming the best version of yourself. If the subject is actually significant and you enjoy it, than you focus on doing your best for that reason. If it’s a stupid elective, than you think of the class as teaching you how to complete assignments on time, improve your time management skills, and soft skills of figuring out what the teacher wants you to say.

If you always do your best, good grades will follow and you will have nothing to worry about.

NOTE: point #4 is still valid. You do your best on assignments but you don’t over think them. You think of them as “practice” and “work that helps you become better” not as “masterpieces that I need to spend countless hours perfecting”.

8.) Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Your focus should be internal (on yourself) not external. You shouldn’t care about what other students are doing, what grades they have, and wether or not they interned at Facebook this summer. Their life is the their life. Your life is your life. You don’t know for how long they have been getting good at something, if they have connections at those firms, and other circumstances in their lives. Instead, you focus on comparing yourself with yourself, looking at wether or not you are making improvements, and wether or not you are achieving your own, individual goals. Yes. You should ask what other people are doing in order to get ideas about what you should be doing. However, they should be just ideas and not what you “absolutely must do to be successful”.

9.) Focus on What you Can Control

You do not think about “what if” scenarios or complain about what happened in the past. You can’t change the past and you can only react to situations as they arise. You can’t change global events. Therefore, you should not worry about them. This should apply to everything that you do in your life but because we are discussing academics (college/high school life) here, I will apply this concept to academics.

For example, if you got an F in a class during your first semester, that sucks but their is nothing you can do about it now. Therefore, worrying about it now makes no sense. You can’t control or change the past. What happened, happened. Let go and move on. Also, you do not spend a lot of time thinking about how you will do a certain academic program or assignment, unless you are actually in that program or working on that assignment. You don’t start worrying about the IB Program at the beginning of 10th Grade. Why? because you are not yet doing that program. You think and address  everything when it comes up not when it might come up.

So this are the main points about what I do this semester to remain calm and in control. A lot of those points will probably help you become a better student as well. Just remember that stress is an emotion that (just like any other emotion) you are in control of (or you can learn to be in control of).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Audience and Purpose of Essays

When a copywriter writes and advertisement, he considers his target audience and tailors his writing to them in order to increase sales or brand awareness. When screenwriters at Disney write a script for a new movie, they also consider their audiences. So if all of those important people and companies consider their audience and purpose, doesn’t it make sense for you to do the same when you are writing essays?

Most students do have some understanding about those concepts. For example, most of you probably have enough common sense not to write swear words in an academic essay (unless it’s part of a quote that you are analyzing, of course). However, a lot of people do have some misconceptions about audience and purpose of High School/College Essays.

There are a lot of different types of essays that you will write and they all require a slightly different approach. There is the essay that your teacher assigned to you, the essay that you write at home vs. the one that you write on an exam, the SAT essay, the scholarship essay, the college application essay, and probably other types of essays that I forgot to mention. For the sake of time, I will focus on essays that your teacher assigned to you as part of the course/class (I will not make the distinction about wether it’s on an exam or you have time to write at home) and college application essays (for the US). However, for all of this essays, you should consider your audience and purpose so this post applies to those as well.

An Essay that Your Teacher Assigned

Purpose: A lot of students think that the purpose of an essay is either 1.) to do research 2.) to learn something 3.) to express themselves 4.) to inform the teacher about the topic or 5.) to show the teacher what you know about the topic. All of those explanations might be accurate from the perspective of the teacher. However, we are focusing on your perspective not the teachers.

From your perspective, there are only 2 purposes for writing an essay:

  1. To get a good grade on the assignment
  2. To make your teacher like you

This means that you write what your audience (teacher) wants you to write and in a style that your audience (teacher) wants you to write it. You should focus on those two aspects more than on actually expressing your opinion on a certain topic or choosing an exciting topic to research. Save your ideas and opinions for your diary, your blog, your novel, or your collection of short stories. Feel free to express yourself freely outside of class. However, the classroom is not the time and place for you to do so.

Audience:  The audience of an essay that your teacher had assigned is obviously your teacher (Or in some cases, your TA’s). However, knowing this fact isn’t enough. You need to figure out what your audience (in this case your teacher or TA’s) like and doesn’t like.

Most teachers like:

  1. Formal, academic language and the use (overuse and abuse) of relevant jargon/key words. By key words, I mean words that she had defined or that were defined in your textbook.
  2. As much information as possible that had been covered in class.
  3. Boring, long sentence structure, word choice, organization, and tone. In fact, if you want to fall a sleep while reading your essay, you are probably doing something right.
  4. If the teacher wants to see an outline, you should submit an outline. And you should stick to that outline. Even if that means that your essay will sound unnatural.
  5. Paragraphs (this one is obvious)
  6. Introduction (can be boring, in most cases), body paragraphs (minimum of 3) and conclusion (will be even more boring than the introduction).
  7. Longer than it actually has to be. If something can be written in 10 words instead of 1, you should write it in 10. The longer you write, the better. Even if there is a word limit, teachers almost always over estimate how much you should write. So you will end up using a lot of useless words to fill up space.
  8. Whatever aligns with your teacher’s personal and political beliefs and what she thinks is the best answer. If your class contains controversial content, you choose the side of the teacher. If your teacher is a liberal, you write about how affirmative action is good, economic inequality is bad, woman are being oppressed by the patriarchy, etc… (Obviously, it should be relevant to the lesson. Don’t just list random facts that match with your teacher’s political beliefs). If your teacher has a certain interpretation of a novel and you believe in another interpretation, stick with your teacher’s interpretation. In most cases, assume that your teacher/professor/TA is liberal (Statistically speaking, there are more of them in Academia)
  9. Over explanation of the analysis. Even if something sounds like common sense, it’s always better to explain it.
  10. And of course, it should have good grammar, spelling, and match the rubric.

WARNING: This is an awful way to write anything in the real world. This advice only applies to how you should write in the classroom. Outside of school work, you should do the opposite of most items written above.

Now, what I have listed is what most teachers like/expect to see. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some teachers want to see counter arguments. Some, do want their students to challenge their ideas and play devil’s advocate. Some want the writing to sound pretty. For example, one of my teachers wanted all of our essays to be  poetic because she was obsessed with Shakespeare. (In this case, you better start reading Macbeth and learning poetry). Therefore, if you know who will be grading your work, you need to figure out what that person wants. If you can’t figure out who, specifically, will be grading your work (there are 10 TA’s in the class and the professor randomly hands out essays for them to grade),  stick with the outline above. It’s the safest bet.

How to Find out What Your Teacher Specifically Wants?

If you know the exact person who will be grading your work, than you are in luck. You know who to tailor your writing to. Now, what you should do is conduct “research” (figure out what your teacher wants).

There isn’t one way of going about research. Also, some methods work and others don’t in certain situations. With this said, here are some ideas of how you can go about this:

  • Ask for samples of work from previous students that got A’s. Make sure that that student was in your teacher’s class and that she is not simply handing out some old exemplars from the department.
  • Ask people who had previously been in her class about what the professor/teacher is looking for.
  • Read Ratemyprofessor.com and other websites. You might find something on them.
  • Talk to the teacher during office hours or recess (if you are in High School). No. Don’t ask your teacher, “what do you want me to write?”. That’s a stupid question. You will not get a good answer. Instead, ask for specific advice, casually talk to her to understand the type of person she is, ask her what she thinks is “good writing”/”bad writing”, etc… During this conversations, what she says is often less important than how she says it.
  • If your professor/teacher talks politics, pay attention. If your teacher emphasizes something over and over again, pay attention.
  • After you get feedback on your first assignment, make sure to read it carefully. This feedback will give you an idea about the type of writing that the teacher wants to see in the future.
  • Find a classmate who got an A on the assignment and ask to read his/her work. Chances are, at least one of the A students will agree.
  • Talk to the TA’s (if in college). They might have important insights that they might share with you.
  • Do a quick, Google search of the teacher. And no. Don’t friend your teacher on Facebook or stalk her.

College Admission Essays

Purpose: Similarly to the teacher case, the purpose of the college admission essay should not be about expressing yourself, about telling “your story”, or about being honest. There are a bit more variation when it comes to the purpose of your college admission essay (from your perspective). The purposes of the college admission essay are:

  1. For you to get accepted with an unconditional (preferably) or conditional (less preferable) offer.
  2. Get a scholarship/grant/financial aid (if this is important to you).
  3. To get directly excepted into the specific school/major/honors program, etc…

Similarly to the previous case with your teacher, this means that you have to write what your audience (admission officers) wants to read. This means that your admission essay should not be your diary or your honest account about your life. You are not trying to convey to the admission officer who you are. You are trying to convey to the admission officer what you think she wants you to be. You are trying to sell yourself and make yourself sound like the “perfect candidate” that the University wants to have. This probably will not be the real version of you. So feel free to lie (as long as it’s something that can’t be checked) in order to “sell” yourself to your audience.

Audience: Your audience are the admission officers of the University. So similarly with the previous example, you should figure out what they (most likely) want to hear. Unlike with the teachers, you will not be able to identify the actual people or person who will be reading your work. So you will have to think about the “most likely scenario”. If you are absolutely obsessed with doing research, try to find something on College Confidential or contact students that already got accepted by the University. Maybe, they will say something useful.

The admission officers most likely want to hear:

  1. About how you want to “make the world a better place” and “save the world”. Basically, make yourself sound like a nice, caring person who cares about social issues, loves volunteer work, and wants to work for a non-profit. It doesn’t matter if this story is true. However, to make it more believable, volunteer or participate in some fundraising activity at some point during your 4 years of High School. Also, keep in mind that it is extremely unlikely that the University will check the exact details of your “story”. So feel free to exaggerate the truth but don’t go over board.
  2. Leadership experience: If you had an official leadership position/title, than you are in luck. Just like with volunteer work, feel free to over exaggerate your involvement. If you did nothing extra but was named the team captain, feel free to talk about how you gave speeches to motivate your team before the games in the locker room, gave feedback to everybody after the games, helped the coach organize practice, etc… It’s extremely unlikely that the University will actually check all of those claims. If they do decide to conduct an informal “background check”, they will just ask your school “is it true that John is the team captain of the football team?” not “is it true that John gave feedback to players after every single game?”. The admission officers are human beings and human beings are lazy. They will not check every single claim and part of your “story” as long as your “story” sounds realistic.
  3. Liberal bias: Your admission officers are most likely liberals so avoid writing anything right wing.
  4. Diversity: If you are a minority, make sure to highlight that somewhere in your application. Universities are obsessed with diversity now days. This will make you look like a more attractive candidate and also lower other expectations/requirements, which will make it easier for you to get in.
  5. Special circumstances: If you were bullied as a kid, your family was poor, your parents got divorced, you were sick with a life threatening disease, your mother died, you are physically/mentally disabled, etc… make sure to include this in your essay. In fact, you might even decide to make one of these points the central part of your essay. Similarly to the other cases mentioned above, if it’s 1.) hard to check or 2.) it’s easy to check but you can come up with proof, feel free to include it. This point on it’s own will not help you get in. However, this “special circumstances” will make your other achievements sound more impressive, which will help you get in. For example, if John got a 3.9 GPA and was a captain of his Speech and Debate team, this sounds impressive but not too impressive. However, if we also know that John’s family was incredibly poor so he had to work while going to school to financially support himself, his mother was extremely ill and so he had to take care of her, he got bullied at school every day due to his families’ income, and he managed to get a 3.9 GPA and become the captain of his Speech and Debate team despite all of this adversities, all of a sudden, John’s accomplishment’s sound extremely impressive.
  6. The writing style should be better than the one you use for essays assigned by your teachers. It should not be boring.

So by this point, I’m guessing this post turned into a “college admissions essay” advice. 😀 However, the main point of this post was about how you should consider your “audience” when writing for schoolwork, just like authors consider their “audience” when writing for other purposes in life.

 

XOXO

 

Katy Bronsk