Should You do Your Homework?

I’m not a teacher and this blog is mostly focused on expressing my opinion about the education system. So, no, I will not make a statement about how “you should always do your homework”. Doing that is simply a waist of your precious time, which you do not have a lot of. With this said, never doing your homework is also an awful idea. So in this post, I will outline when I consider it being logical to do the homework/readings and how thorough they should be done.

When Should you do your Homework?

  • When you know that your teacher will grade it or check it. Yes. If your teacher will not give you a grade on the homework but you know that she will check if everyone had done it, you should still do it. Not doing it, will make the teacher dislike you, which will cause for you to get a lower grade in the class. (Unless you know that the class is graded externally or all exams are multiple choice).
  • If the class is more focused on problem solving/application of knowledge, rather than memorization. For example, you should do your math or accounting homework. However, if it’s psychology and your teacher will not check it, feel free to skip.
  • If the class actually has significance to your real life.
  • If there is a lot of material in class that you know it will be hard to catch up on.
  • If you are trying to turn around your “bad girl” image and want to get the teacher to like you. Doing homework and than asking for help from the teacher (even if you don’t need it),

When Should you not do your Homework?

  • When you have something more important happening than school work. For example, if you have an interview with Facebook coming up, it’s way more important than one homework or reading assignment. Even if that assignment will be graded (assuming it’s a small percentage of your grade), skip it and focus on the interview.
  • When it’s busy work and you know that your homework will not be checked.
  • For the readings, if you know that all of your tests are based on the lectures, don’t bother doing the homework. Likewise, if you know that all of your tests are based on the readings, feel free to “check out” during class and do homework for your other classes or day dream.
  • Extra credit. Seriously, get your normal work done correctly and than you will not need extra credit.

To summarize, you do not go around doing extra work if it will not make your life better (in this case, help you get a good grade). You have or should have enough of other things to focus on apart from obsessing over doing unnecessary homework that will not help you. If you don’t, than go and join a club, get yourself a part time job or an internship, or spend more time with your family or friends. Homework that is busy work should not be the most important part of your day. If it is, you are doing something wrong.

How Thorough do you have to be?

  • When it comes to doing the readings, I would recommend actually putting the work in to making the notes on the readings. Otherwise, you will forget what you’ve read and will have to reread it before the test anyways. Which means, either don’t do them at all, or do them properly by taking notes. Don’t waist your time. And yes, this notes should be thorough, neat, and readable by you. 
  • For busy work assignments that you know will be graded, do the minimum amount of work to get an A.
  • For math, do it thoroughly and make sure you understand everything (unless the problems are so easy that it turns into busy work). 
  • For classes that will not relate to your life, do the minimum amount of work. 

Basically, ask yourself if the class matters, if it’s a challenging class, and if the homework will help you do well in it. If yes, put the effort into doing it and seek to understand. If not, do the absolute bare minimum to get a good grade for the homework. Feel free to google the answers, ask your trusted friends for them, etc… 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing Classes

This has been my first week of my Sophomore year and I spent most of it Adding/Dropping classes to make sure that I had the schedule that I was mostly O.K. with and having the subjects that I wanted to have. Some people who are studying in Europe do not have the luxury of choosing individual classes and schedule. They simply get assigned the classes that they have to take. However, if you do have this opportunity, it will be a shame to not take advantage of it.

How Many Hours/Courses Should You Take?

This question is extremely personal and depends from person to person as well as from different situations. An easy answer will be “as many as you can handle while having a normal social life, extra curricular involvement, and (maybe) a part time job.” I have some friends who took 12 hours and always complained about having too much work. And I had other friends who took 18 hours and were fine.

This question gets more complicated if you want to graduate faster, declare a major faster, raise your GPA, transfer, or get into a certain program. In this case, you might have to take more hours than you otherwise would have been comfortable with. The transfer reason or the GPA reason are not the best ones to take on more classes and you should be cautious about doing this. It’s better to get a 4.0 taking 12 hours than a 3.0 taking 18.

Also, if you have more “hard” classes, you should take less hours. If you have more “easy” classes, you can afford to take more hours.

Maintain a Balance of Hard/Easy Classes

I know. A lot of college counselors will say that all classes are hard classes. However, this is simply not true. Some classes (such as certain electives) are simply easier. With some subjects, you might find them easier than other people because you are either naturally better at the subject or you had a background in the subject that other people might not have. Which ever the case might be, not all classes are created equal and you will find some classes easier than others.

To determine which classes are easier, you should ask other people for recommendations of easier classes and electives. You should also utilize tools such as Ratemyproffessor.com to decide on which specific class to join based on the professor. You should also assess your own strength and weaknesses and decide on what you find easy and what you find hard. If other people are saying that something is easy and you understand that this type of subject is playing to your strength, than it probably will be an easy class for you.

Once you have determined which classes are easy and which ones will be hard, you should try your best to maintain a balance of easy/hard classes. This way, you will not end up being overwhelmed during a certain semester while having nothing to do and being bored out of your mind during another semester.

Make sure to take the pre requisite classes for your degree to progress

Look at your degree planner and determine, which classes you need to take in order to declare your major, to be able to take upper level courses for your degree, to get into a class that you really want to get into, etc…. This classes should be your #1 priority. Without them, you will end up being stuck with a bunch of electives during one of your semesters and your degree will not be able to progress smoothly. This means that even if you will be stuck with an 8 AM class and your professor will be the worst person in the world, you should still take the class this semester rather than waiting for the next one.

I have this situation with my Business Administration course this semester. Without it, I would have been stuck with a bunch of electives next semester because the class is considered a requirement before you can take most other business courses in my University.

Core Classes and Electives

By core classes, I mean stuff like History, Art, and other subjects that everyone has to take regardless of their major. This type of classes are usually useless and a waist of time. Therefore, you should choose the easiest professors for this classes (the ones who give out the most A’s) and spread them out through out the 4 years (if possible). Make them into easy classes (again, if possible).

For electives that are not specific to your major, the similar rule applies. They should be easy and interesting for you. If an elective takes too much work, you are doing something wrong and should choose an easier elective. Watch for easy electives every time you register for classes. If all easy electives are taken, wait for the next semester to take the easy ones. Likewise, if you absolutely hate doing something, don’t pick that as an elective.

For core classes (or electives) specific to your major, don’t necessarily take the easiest way out. You will need to have a couple of professors that will be able to provide you with a letter of recommendation, guidance, advice, etc… at some point during your College career. Therefore, choose the classes with the professors that will be most likely to do this for you. If a professor had worked in the industry that you are interested in (and was successful at it), his class should definitely be one of your priorities. Also, keep in mind that you might not be able to build a good relationship with every single professor. Therefore, plan on taking more than 2 classes that have those types of professors teaching them.

Read the Syllabus

For the elective classes, read the syllabus as soon as you get it. You need to know what you are getting yourself into from the beginning. If something on the syllabus sounds too hard for an elective (or you don’t feel comfortable doing something), drop that class right away and choose something else to do instead. No point in waisting too much of your time.

Take Morning Classes

I know. You are probably thinking that I’m crazy for recommending this idea and will probably stop reading this blog after reading this point.

However, taking morning classes (preferably 8AM Monday-Friday) is one of the best things that you can do. They will help discipline you and will free up your day. What I mean by this is that if you have all of your classes in the evening, you will probably not have enough discipline to wake up in the morning and will end up sleeping in. With morning classes, you have no choice but to wake up early, which means that you will have more of your day to work on assignments, ask for help, and you will be able to get more work done. They will also prevent you from partying during the work week and on Sundays because it’s harder to wake up for an 8AM class after partying through the night than it is for an evening class. This, again, will most likely have a positive impact on your grades as well as on your health. The only exception to this rule is if you are doing a part time internship or job that requires certain fixed hours. In this case, you should plan your hours around the job/internship.

The first week will be difficult and painful. You will feel tired and hate this idea.  However, after that point, your body will adjust and it will get better. Over all, the benefits of early classes (having more time to be productive) will outweigh the discomfort.

When Should You Register?

As soon as possible. The best classes will go away to people who register the earliest. Therefore, as soon as registration opens, you should already have everything planned out (which courses you plan on taking and with which professors) and go for it ASAP. Than you should use the first week of your new semester (Add/Drop period) to make any adjustments in terms of electives that you didn’t guess correctly as being easy and/or adding a class that you were unable to add earlier.

To summarize, this are the main points of choosing classes. The priority should be as follows:

  1. Take care of prerequisites (you will be screwed if you don’t)
  2. Core classes and electives related to your degree with good professors (if this opportunity comes up, you will be stupid not to take it.)
  3. Balance of easy/hard classes
  4. electives/core classes that you can take during any time through out the 4 years. (You can afford to wait to get what you want)
  5. Timing of your classes (you can suffer the discomfort if it means getting all of the other points right.)

Again, if you have an opportunity to pick your classes, you should choose them wisely.

XOXO,

 

Katy Bronsk

What I think about Cheating in School? 

This question is incredibly easy for me to answer: I don’t care. I don’t care if other people cheat. I don’t care if other people don’t cheat. I honestly don’t see an ethical or moral issue with it.

Now, should teachers catch students for cheating? Absolutely. It’s part of their job and it also teaches students how to be better at cheating. In the old days, cheating used to be a science and an art. You can only achieve such a situation if students participate in cheating and teachers are good at catching them, which forces the students to improve (or weeds out the students who can not improve).

Do I think that students who cheat on exams are stupid? No. In fact, I think the students who cheat and never get caught and have good grades are the smart ones. Maybe not at the subjects that they are cheating on but definitely at life.

I have such a positive view of cheating in school because most of the stuff that you learn is artificial, anyways. You will end up forgetting most of  it and never using it in your job or your personal life. The teachers who teach you this subjects are also most of the time not the best people to teach you (sorry teachers). And they do so in a more theoretical rather than practical way.

The way you are tested on your knowledge is also artificial (again. There are some exceptions to the rule. But we are talking about the standard essays and exams here). How many times have you been asked to fill out a multiple choice exam at your part time job? Or can you imagine being asked to write a 12 page essay with a bibliography for a board meeting? This situations sound ridiculous because they are. Most jobs do not require for people to write essays and take exams as part of the job. Yet. This is how we test people in schools and universities.

Cheating, on the other hand, reflects the real world better than any exam ever will:

  • The rich kids get ahead by hiring ghost writers to write their essays for them just like they get the best jobs due to nepotism in the real world. Than, if teachers have suspicions of those rich kids cheating, the rich kids have to persuade and convince the teacher that they did not cheat and that it’s their authentic work. Just like sales, the rich kids have to “sell” their assignments to the teachers, if the teachers start getting suspicious.
  • Students sharing answers on homework questions or dividing the workload on homework helps them practice collaboration and management of the workload between different people. They also manage to cordinate everything with each other and do so without getting caught. It also means that worser students have to be better at networking. They have to find the right people to help them out and convince them to do so. Currently, it is incredibly rare that a single person creates something from start to finish. Most real life projects are created due to teamwork and collaboration. So students who work on exams/homework have to be pretty good at teamwork, which is an important skill in a lot of areas in life. In fact, there are some (pretty high paying) jobs that are almost completely based on this skill.
  • Students writing what teachers want to hear in essays (although technically not cheating) means that those sudents are talented at “reading people” – a skill that is arguably more valuable than whatever the topic of that essay is about.
  • Students cheating during exams and never getting caught means that they are really good at acting and pretending like they are doing their job while in reality doing something else (cheating). Students who are the best at this could easily perform magic tricks. They are so darn good that even if you film them, you will not see them cheating. The amount of creativity and imagination that goes into creating this cheating methods are incredible and sometimes way more time consuming than actually studying for exams.
  • Risk management: cheating on exams, assignments, etc…. always has risk. There is always a risk of being caught. Students who cheat and never get caught are good at assessing risk and deciding when cheating is worth it and when it’s not.
  • Kids who figure out how to cheat on stuff like community service hour requirements are good at gaming the system. They can figure out what “proof” is required and how to get that “proof” while doing the minimal amount of work. It also often requires knowing the right people (again, having a good network). And if you think people don’t “game the system” in the real world, than you must be incredibly naive. Just ask a tax lawyer who helps rich people pay minimal taxes by doing complicated tax schemes, which involve numerous different countries and legal entities. Or an immigration attorney who advises people on how to get a citizenship in a certain country through “investment schemes.” (Also, pretty high paying jobs, by the way.)
  • Oh. And students who cheat, get good grades, and don’t get caught actually DO study. It’s impossible to cheat your way 100% of the time through Middle School, High School, and than College without getting caught and getting good grades. Most students who chose to cheat and are good at it, cheat sometimes and study other times. So to all of you teachers who are saying that this students “are not learning” or “are cheating themselves”, you are wrong. Because they are studying/learning. Maybe not as much as other students. But they are still doing it. And if they are smart about it, they are not cheating themselves (since most of the stuff is artificial/useless in the real world to begin with).

You can probably add more skills/examples to the list of “skills that student have who are good at cheating” but I think you’ve got the idea.

If the education system was less artificial and the subjects were more practical, I probably would have had more of an issue with this. However, currently this is not the case and I do not feel like defending the integrity of an incredibly artificial system, which rarely focuses on or teaches useful skills. The students who “game” the system (either through the conventional definition of cheating or doing things that are considered ethical but leads to them doing the minimal amount of work) and get good grades are often the smart ones. You can’t cheat often and never get caught if you are an idiot (assuming your teacher is competent at catching people who cheat).

Do I think that you should cheat on exams? I don’t know you so can’t make any recommendations. There is a risk of getting caught and you always have to be careful (and be good at it.) And also use your best judgement. I do not encourage you to cheat (because I don’t know you) but will not look down on you if you choose to do so. And, to be completely honest, I will admire you if you are good at it.

So, to all of you people who like to cheat on exams (and are good at it, while getting good grades), I don’t think that you are stupid. In fact, I think you are pretty clever. 

 

XOXO

 

Katy Bronsk

 

 

How to Survive a “Busy Week” in College

This week was hell for me (academically). I had a test on Wednesday, a Math assignment due on Monday, 3 assignments due on Thursday, and to top it all of, a 20 page essay due on Friday for American Studies. On top of that, I had 2 interviews that I had to prepare for, this Blog, which I made a goal to update at least once a week, and my stock portfolio, which I had to update. From the beginning of the week, I felt overwhelmed. On Thursday, I ended up going to sleep at 5 AM and waking up at 7, almost pulling an all nighter. On the other days during this week, I would go to sleep at 2 or 3 AM. By Friday, I felt burned out, overwhelmed, and like I wanted to hit my annoying roommate who distracted me from working on this 20 page essay during my Spring Break. At the end, I did survive, turned in all of my assignments on time, and now feel incredibly happy about it. So this post will be about how to survive a tough week (or two) in college, when you feel overwhelmed, have a lot of work to do, and end up pulling an all nighter (or a bunch of them).

NOTE: This is not a competition of who had more work to do on a certain week. Everybody is different and everybody can manage different workloads. The defining quality of a “Busy Week” is that you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that you have to complete, you end up staying late on multiple nights in arrow and pulling all nighters or almost pulling all nighters, and you feel exhausted by the end of the week. The details are less important then the actual feeling and I do not want to get involved in a who-had-it-worse debate.

Why and When do “Busy Weeks” happen?

“Busy Weeks” happen because professors are evil and want to make college students’ life a living hell.

Joking. “Busy Weeks” happen because the majority of courses have a similar structure to them. They start with professors introducing themselves. Then, professors teach you content. At the end, you get “tested” on that content, most likely either with an Essay or an Exam. Since courses are often split into units of similar lengths, it’s likely that a lot of your courses will have tests on similar days (A.K.A. In one week or in two weeks). Similarly, Essays will often be due at similar times for this reason. The bad part is that you can’t do anything about this system. The good part is, that your “Busy Weeks” will be predictable and not that often so you will have downtime to rest.

In College, it usually happens around midterms and finals. In High School, it’s more random but most classes still follow a certain structure so you have more “busy” weeks, followed by periods of down time.

1st Step: Try to avoid the “Busy Week”

Basically, don’t do what I did with my American Studies essay. My professor had given this assignment over a month ago. However, I chose to procrastinate and leave it until the final week, when I had 2 other tests to study for and a bunch of other assignments to complete.

If you have an essay assigned for you to do over a long period of time, start working on it during your “downtime” period. For example, work on it during your Spring Break or Fall Break or when you don’t have a lot of other tests or assignments going on. By doing this, you will avoid having to stay up until 3 AM to do the essay the day it is due and most likely increase the quality of your work.

However, even by having the essay out of the way, you might still end up in a situation where you have a bunch of tests happening at the same time, with a bunch of smaller assignments due so you might still end up in the “Busy Week” situation.

Or maybe you did procrastinate and ended up in a “Busy Week” situation because of that. Or maybe a family emergency happened and distracted you. Whatever the situation is, it’s life and bad stuff happens. This means that it is possible that a “Busy Week” will happen in college, no matter how much you try to avoid it. However, by not procrastinating on the work that you can do early, you will reduce your work load during “Busy Week” and make it less painful.

2nd Step: Access Your Situation Objectively and Come Up With A Plan

During the weekends, look at what assignments, test, exams, etc… you have coming up for the week. You already most likely know when what tests are coming up and start to feel overwhelmed about it. However, putting them in your schedule, will allow for you to face your fears.

After you finish putting the times and dates of when everything is due in your calendar, you should plan out specifically when you will study for what during that week and what you need to get done on and by each of those days. Be honest about the amount of time that it would take for you to do each assignment. During “Busy Week”, you do not have a lot of time to do everything that you need to get done. This means that your time management skills will become incredibly important. You can do effective time management only if you are being honest to yourself. This means that it’s important for you to honestly answer, how many hours it will take for you to complete every task. You should also define the tasks that you need to complete. For example, if you need to memorize a bunch of dates for history and you like to memorize dates separately from all other content, this should be separated into a different task.

After you have decided how much time it will take to do everything, fill this time in your schedule for the week. Try to be creative with your time management and utilize every minute of the day that you can. For example, if you have 1 hour in between classes, use this time to work on something instead of socializing with your friends or day dreaming.

3rd Step: Follow Your Plan (the most painful part during “Busy Week”)

Most likely, your plan will start with the beginning of classes and end late at night, with no space for socializing, checking Facebook, going out, or doing anything apart from going to class, eating, sleeping (hopefully) and studying. (If you have extra curricular activities or a job, obviously this will be included as well. However, if you can skip some of your non-academic obligations or classes in which attendance isn’t mandatory and that are easy for you to handle, I would go for it.)

As painful as it will be, force yourself to stick to this schedule. A lot of people will advise you to “study in small chunks” and “take breaks.” I agree with this advice in situations when you have a lot of time. However, when you have a day left before the test and you have 10 pages of notes to memorize, you don’t have time for breaks, Facebook, etc… You only have time to force yourself to sit down and study. So do separate your activity into smaller chunks but do those chunks one after the other. If you want some variety in your activities, switch from doing one task to another but don’t start abandoning your work and doing something to relax. Unfortunately, you do not have time to relax during this situation. You can relax after you finish the week and get some downtime.

How to force yourself to do it

I usually do not have a problem with forcing myself to sit down and study or write an essay for a long period of time. I always just naturally have enough will power to do it. However, if you are not like me, here’s a list of things that you can tell yourself/do to make yourself go through this process a bit easier:

  • Tell yourself that if you don’t end up studying (or doing whatever you have to do) right now, you increase your chances of having an all nighter (which is most likely true)
  • Remind yourself why you chose to go to College in the first place and what your end goal is.
  • Tell yourself that it will feel really good once you finish everything (this one is also true)
  • Listen to music (when doing more repetitive tasks that have to be done)
  • Block social media on your devices and get rid of other distractions.
  • Go to a place where you know you will be able to concentrate
  • Come up with a reward to give yourself once you are done (But make sure to make it quick so do something like eat a chocolate bar)
  • Choose a demanding career that you can at least a bit identify with. Then think to yourself, “If the person in (insert the chosen demanding career) able to do (insert what this person does) repeatedly and constantly for 100 hours/week, I can force myself to sit down and finish and work hard for a week. People in (insert the career) are able to do it and none of those people have died. Therefore, I can also do it and everything will be alright” (I sometimes told myself this one when staying up very late)
  • Remind yourself that this situation is temporary and that, no matter the outcome, it will all be over soon

4th Step: Try to Get Some Sleep (Or not if it’s only an essay)

After you are done following the plan and finished everything, try to get some sleep if you have time for it. Especially if you have Exams that you have to do, getting sleep will help you perform better, since you will be less tired and will be able to focus better. If I have a choice between studying more for an Exam or sleeping, I usually choose sleep (assuming that I’ve memorized everything already and did the basics). For some exams, I never pull all nighters (such as Math, which I have described in my previous article).

If you only have an essay due and no tests for any of your classes on the day that the essay is due and you are a night owl, it’s wiser for you not to go to sleep and instead spend all of that time revising the essay. All you’ll have to do the next day is print that essay, show up to class, and hand that essay into your professors hands (and/or submit it online, which is even easier). All of this tasks do not require a lot of cognitive ability and you would be able to do it while acting and feeling like a zombie. Yes, it will be unhealthy and you will look like a mess but a revised essay will give you a higher grade then a non-revised one. Besides, you probably got yourself into this mess by procrastinating and so you don’t really get to complain when it comes to essays.

5th Step: Turn in that paper, do the tests, etc…

Basically, go through the motions and do all of that stuff that you worked/studied for.

NOTE: This step will go simultaneously with Step #4 since you probably will have a test and you will have to continue studying for the next test right after until you do your “final” thing on that week.

6th Step: Reward Yourself

After finishing a bunch of exams in a row, I usually like to reward myself by going out somewhere, meeting with a bunch of friends, or doing something fun. So have fun. Reward yourself. You earned it.

Additional Tips

  •  If you have a bunch of small homework assignments due, cheat on them if you can. Make sure to not get caught but if there is a low risk way to cheat on them, do it. For example, use an online derivatives calculator for Calculus homework or ask your trusted friend about what he got on the homework. You need all the time you can save.
  • Do the small/unimportant assignments as quickly as possible. Do them first to get them out of the way.
  • Skim through the book instead of reading it. For some subjects, don’t even bother with the book.
  • For essays, try your best to pay attention to details and get everything as perfectly as possible.
  • For tests, focus on the most important concepts that you have to know and study those first. Then, move on to less obvious things (with the exception of Math but I already wrote about it and will not repeat myself)
  • Eat chocolate, drink coffee, etc… (Do this only if you feel like you absolutely have to)

Things to Avoid

  • Doing anything that you don’t absolutely have to do instead of studying
  • Complaining about having to study on Facebook, Twitter, on the phone with your best friend, etc… (you are only wasting your time. If you want to complain, you can do this after you finish doing whatever it is you are doing)
  • Doing “study drugs” (unless you were prescribed them for a legitimate reason. I feel really disappointed in my generation that I even have to mention this but this is a topic for a different time)
  • Making skipping class, procrastinating, skipping your non academic obligations, and not doing your small assignments properly a habit. (This tactic should only be used rarely and in emergency situations, not all the time)

 

Good luck on your essays and midterms,

 

XOXO

 

Katy Bronsk

How To Study for a Math Test?

If you are like me, you probably struggled with Math at the beginning. Math is a difficult subject for a lot of people. It’s difficult. It’s confusing. If you miss a topic it’s hard for you to catch up. Furthermore, studying for a Math test is arguably harder then studying for other tests, since you can’t simply memorize material for it. However, I have learned how to concur studying for this subject over the years. So here’s my do’s and don’ts when studying for a Math test.

Do: Practice Math problems every day. Don’t: cram everything the day before

Unlike the majority of other subjects, it’s incredibly difficult to simply cram for a Math test, since Math is always cumulative. Even when your Math teacher tells you that the test is not cumulative, in reality, it is. Every new topic that you learn in Math builds on the old topic. If you are bad at arithmetic, you can’t learn algebra. If you are bad at algebra, you will not be able to do well in calculus. Since it’s almost impossible to cram all of the cumulative material one day before the test, you should start studying for a Math test early.

What I usually do is practice Math problems for 30 minutes to 1 hour every day (depending on how busy I am with other subjects on that day. If I have an exam in another subject and an essay due tomorrow, it’s usually 30 minutes. If it’s Friday and I have no plans apart from watching Pretty Little Liars, I will study Math for one hour. And, yes, this includes Weekends and Holidays.) During this 30 minutes – 1 hour I either do homework (if I’m really busy and have a lot of Math homework) or additional problems that I find online. I also do practice problems from the book or practice with older homework assignments or past Exams. 30 minutes – 1 hour of Math a day is not that much time and after a while it becomes a routine. Think of it as taking a shower or brushing your teeth every day. It’s something that just has to be done.

One to two weeks before the Math test, I increase the time I spend studying Math and start focusing on practicing the specific problems and concepts that are most likely to be on the exam. I usually start studying for about 2 hours/day instead of 30 minutes-1 hour. About 2 days before the exam, I run through every problem type/topic that might come up on the Exam and make sure that I understand it and can do it. If I don’t understand some minor detail or forgot how to do something, I will use this time to address this minor issues. However, if you practice Math every day, you will most likely have no/very few minor issues to address and will be able to spend maximum of 4 hours studying the day before the exam and not pull an all nighter (more on this later)

Do: Ask your teacher/professor/TA/ best friend who is super smart at Math for help.

If you don’t understand a concept that you have covered in class or how to do a super challenging problem, ask somebody who is good at Math for help. Ask them to explain the concept to you. Make sure that you understand his/her explanation, that it makes sense to you, and that it’s logical. DON’T just simply memorize it, especially if it’s a specific problem that you had trouble with instead of a concept. Concepts/theorems/definitions are sometimes fine to just memorize, although it’s always better to try to understand. This way, if your memory fails on the test, logic can save you. However, specific problems should NEVER be memorized. It’s highly unlikely that the exact same problem will come up on the test. Chances are, the problem on the test will be different. Also, ask for help as soon as you realize that you don’t understand something. Don’t wait the day before the exam. Address issues that you are having preferably on the day or on the second day after you realize that you have that issue and then spend your 30 minutes-1 hour time practicing the concept and the type of questions that you don’t understand. If you still don’t understand it, then ask for help again and continue this cycle until you understand and can do the problems on your own.

Don’t: Ask that super smart person to do every single problem that you don’t understand for you.

This might sound like a contradiction to my last point but it’s actually not. What I mean by this is that you have to struggle and try to figure out every question on your own before asking for help. (This doesn’t apply to concepts/theorems/formulas, etc… If you don’t understand those, then ask for help as soon as possible. Don’t try to figure those out on your own.) The reason for trying to figure problems out on your own first is that part of Math is being able to problem solve and so you have to practice problem solving. The only way that you can practice problem solving is by spending some time trying to figure out problems that you don’t immediately know how to do on your own.

I have a 10 minute rule for this one. If I can’t figure out how to solve a Math problem for 10 minutes after looking through my notes, googling it, and trying every single thing I can come up with, I usually go and ask for help on it.

Also, don’t treat help as somebody who does your homework for you. This means don’t simply ask him/her to do every single math problem for you on your homework and assume you are studying. You are not. You are simply observing somebody else studying.

Do: Pay attention during class and don’t skip

This one is kind of obvious but you should come to every class and pay attention by taking notes and doing problems that the teacher tells you to do. If you don’t pay attention or skip classes often, it will be harder for you to understand the material or catch-up. Since Math is cumulative, it’s important not to fall behind because the more behind you fall, the harder it is to catch up. If you do miss a class, ask a friend to explain to you what you have missed.

Don’t: waist time memorizing definitions, having color coded notes, rewriting notes, creating study guides, etc…

Math is a subject based on practice, problem solving, and understanding rather then content and route memorization. Therefore, having well organized content to memorize looks nice but not that helpful. Yes, having a well organized content might help you practice because it would be easier for you to look up how to do a question from a while ago or a formula in your notebook. But you can always look up formulas or how to do problems online or in your textbook. You don’t necessarily need well organized notes for that. Also, if you will follow my 30 minutes-1 hour of Math a day advice, you will be using up so many notebooks that all of that work that you put into organizing your notebook will end up in the garbage can (or somewhere lost in your desk) pretty quickly. You can try to have a separate notebook for concepts/theorems/definitions but it would be hard for you to switch between the two and would take extra time to organize. In my opinion, that time would be better spent practicing problems.

Also, don’t spend time memorizing definitions unless you have a really weird Math teacher who explicitly states that they will be on the test. Knowing definitions word for word will not help you on the test. Knowing how to apply those definitions to solve problems will. Therefore, don’t waist your time on definitions.

When it comes to study guides, a study guide will once again be pretty useless and a waist of time. Instead of a study guide, create a study plan. Write out the topics that you need to study and the time that you will spend practicing each topic. And that’s the only thing that should be on your study plan. Don’t waist time writing out concepts, formulas, theorems, drawing out graphs in 50 different colors, etc….

If you are going to be given formulas on the test, don’t spend any time memorizing formulas. Just spend some time practicing applying them. If you will not have access to formulas on the test but you need to know them, then spend about 30 minutes memorizing formulas and the rest of the time practicing them. Also, it might be useful to memorize some stuff that often comes up such as cos(0)=1, cos(pi/2)=0, etc…

Do: Keep your work organized when doing practice problems and practice proper notation

Practice doesn’t necessarily makes perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Therefore, it’s important to use proper notation when doing practice problems and keeping your work organized. Half of getting an A on the Math test is understanding but the other half is not making careless mistakes. Keeping your work organized and using proper notation will help you make less careless mistakes. If you are often getting problems wrong when practicing due to careless mistakes, work on organizing your work better. Also, once you do enough practice problems, certain notations and ways of solving problems will become a habit and almost automatic, which is why it’s important to use proper notation and proper ways of solving problems. If you don’t use proper notation, it will be harder for you to relearn the new notation in the future. Therefore, it’s important to get it right when practicing.

Don’t: Try out new methods of solving problems, new notations, etc… the day before the test

If you have a certain way of solving problems or a certain method that you like to use to do multiplication that always worked for you in the past, don’t start learning new ways of doing things that you already know how to do the day before the test. During this time, you have more important things to worry about. Also, relearning how to do something that you already know how to do is a very difficult process and will take a lot of time, more time than you have the day before the test. It will also feel very confusing and increases your chances of making mistakes on the test.

If you want to practice new techniques of doing old stuff, do it during your summer break, not the day before the test.

Do: Study Math problems under similar conditions that you will have on the test

What I mean by this is, if you are allowed to use formulas, practice problems together with a formula booklet in front of you. If you are not allowed to use formulas, memorize them as soon as possible and practice problems without having them in front of you. If you are allowed to use a calculator, always practice with a calculator. If you are not allowed to use a calculator, always practice without a calculator. Also, never use online tools to solve parts of problems for you, such as online derivative calculators or online graphing calculators. By using those tools, you are cheating. (I personally do not have an issue with cheating in terms of ethics but this is a topic for another time) While this cheating might help you get an A on homework, it will harm you in the long run, since you will not be able to use those tools during the test. Therefore, you have to learn how to do Math without having those online resources available to you. The only appropriate use of those online tools is to use them to double check your work.

Don’t: Pull an all nighter the day before the test

As I have already mentioned, about 50% of your success on a Math test depends on your ability to not make careless mistakes. In order to not make careless mistakes, you have to be able to concentrate on the test during the test. If you have pulled an all nighter, it will be harder for you to concentrate and you increase your chances of making careless mistakes, even if you know all of the material really well. You will most likely not learn that much new material by pulling an all nighter and you do increase your chances of screwing up the test simply by being too tired to perform well on it. In my opinion, the risk is simply not worth the reward.

Don’t: Study on the day of the test

Studying on the day of the test is most likely to do more harm then good. You will not be able to learn many new techniques and hour before the test, since the majority of things in Math require a lot of practice. However, you have a really high chance of confusing yourself, stressing yourself out, and making more mistakes on the test. If you’ve done your studying the way that I have described in my previous points, there is absolutely no need to study on the day of the test. Instead, you should relax, get something to eat, hang out with friends (and don’t talk to them about anything Math related), etc… Unless you have a really bad memory or some issues with your brain (sorry if I offended somebody but I did warn that this blog will not be PC), you will not forget what you’ve learned over the past weeks from morning until your Math exam. So just chill and relax before the test. You’ve done everything that you could do and an additional hour of studying will not help you that much anyways but has potential of making things a lot worse.

So this are the main points of how I study and don’t study for a Math exam. There are plenty of other smaller points that I can include so I might end up making a Part 2 to this post but I did cover the main topics. Also, keep in mind that what works for me might not necessarily work for you.

Feel free to share how you study for Math in the comments below,

 

Good luck on your Math exams,

 

XOXO

 

Katy Bronsk