Tag Archives: study habits

Daunting Term Paper

Term paper season causes a lot of anxiety for students.  The grade is not a matter of memorization but of doing something with one’s acquired knowledge.  Scantrons no more!  The irony is we’re often eager to state our point of view except when it’s obligatory.  Here’s a few tips:

  1. Start with a subject covered in the course that interested you.  It’s important that you find your chosen topic to be intriguing.  Trust me, if you’re bored with your thesis then writing will be excruciating.  Don’t be afraid to connect a subject learned in class with something that aligns with your passion and/or area of expertise.
  2. Don’t worry if you’re momentarily paralyzed by the project.  Many writers feel the jitters when eyeing a blank page. Congratulations, you are normal!
  3. Break the tasks of putting the paper together into manageable bits.
  4. Try free writing (old-fashioned with pen and paper) using the following prompt: “This interested me because…”
  5. Or, try this: “This subject reminded me of…”
  6. At the risk of sounding corny, if your attitude is “Ugh, I have to write this term paper,” consider shifting your attitude to “I have an opportunity to explore an idea and express my thoughts.”
  7. Once you get a handle on your position regarding a topic then begin using the library’s search engine for publications on your subject matter.
  8. Reading the publications ask yourself: does this enhance my view?  How so?  Is this contrary to my view?
  9. Now begin an outline with a clear thesis, order of ideas, and a conclusion.  Why is this topic worthy of writing about?  How is it significant?
  10. Fill in your outline. Again, break the work up into bits if the task feels overwhelming.  Some people do wonderful work hours at a time, but that isn’t necessary for everyone.  Devote at least 25 minutes to pure focus time on your paper and shut off any distractions.  Step away for a while and then return to your work.
  11. Contact the professor if you’re concerned about the direction of your topic.  All professors were once students themselves and they understand the trials of paper writing.
  12. Chat with a friend about your paper idea.  Talking out loud about an idea can inject energy into your work.  Perhaps your friend will add an insight.
  13. After your first draft print your work.  I cannot stress this enough.  Never hand in a paper that hasn’t been printed and edited.  A print version allows you to spot grammar errors and awkward sentence flow better than re-reading on a screen.
  14. Review the professor’s guidelines regarding citations, margins, and other details.
  15. Type up corrections you made from your printed version.  I recommend printing another draft, stepping away from it to do another activity, and then re-read your printed version out loud and slowly.
  16. Edit out overused terms and double check your use of conjunctions.  Most likely due to the world of texting I’ve found many grammar errors confusing possessive with plural.  (Know the difference between it’s, its, you’re, your, then, than, their, there, whether, and weather.)
  17. Make your final corrections.  Print!  Cheer!
  18. Remember, your term paper is an expression of your thoughts.  You are offering an interpretation or analysis on a subject that is unique because it comes from you.  This is an exercise in thinking, not just knowing, and it is one of the ways you learn more about a subject and, in turn, more about yourself.

*Fancy more tips?  Click here.

Don’t Bother With These Four Words

I never thought of myself as a picky sort of person. After all, I’ll eat anything, travel anywhere, and I once survived an outrageous perm in the 80s.   However, over the years of grading papers I’ve zeroed in on four words in particular that, scientifically speaking, are causing my hair to turn gray.  That won’t do.

I kindly suggest, dear students, you avoid these four words in assignments:

  1. Basically. No, I don’t want to know what Aristotle is basically saying.
  2. So. This is often unnecessary and could be replaced with “therefore” or “it follows.” And whatever you do, do not put “So basically” together lest you sound like a Kardashian.
  3. Very. Another unnecessary term sprinkled about too many papers.  Throw it out of your vocabulary now. Poof.  It’s officially dead to you. It’s very annoying. Oops.
  4. Goes. What a boring verb! “He then goes on to say…” Yikes! I can’t bear to read one more sentence like this. Are you in need of some verb alternatives? Here’s a quick exercise to spruce up your papers:

Grab a notebook and at the top of the page write “Sports.” Halfway down the page write “Cooking.” Now, list all of the verbs that come to mind regarding these two: Hits, swings, scores, tackles…peppers, boils, chops, seasons, dices… You get the point. Think of ten verbs to write under each category.

Return to a draft of your work and insert two or three of these verbs. Voila!


Click here to check out more tips.

5 Resolutions for College Students

Resolutions are notoriously grandiose and often unrealistic, yet we keep coming back to them at the start of the year.  Why are resolutions a “thing” if they are also known to be discarded by February?

The idea of starting “fresh” is appealing.  This implies something worth noting, namely, we are aware of our capacity for improvement.  Resolutions inherently point to the notion that we can be better.  We are not static.  We are not defined.  We can imagine doing and being better.  The new year prompts us to this realization and makes us conscious of possibility.

Resolutions must be cemented in habit.  Start with manageable baby steps.  Don’t try to be a different person; rather, focus on becoming the best version of yourself. Simply dabbling with the idea of being better is not enough to actually be better.  To achieve staying power resolutions should be broken down into actionable steps.

Here are some actionable steps for the college bound:

  • Wake up at least 1 hour before your first class.  I recommend 2 hours, but I know some of you are staying up quite late.  Do not roll out of bed and stumble into your morning classes.  Set the alarm earlier and use the extra time to grab a coffee and review your notes before the lecture.  This will only be difficult for the first few days, but by day 5 you’ll automatically be waking up earlier.
  • Join a club on campus.  This step brings you closer to the university community and, studies have shown, will increase your chances of graduating and graduating on time.  Look for a club that centers on your major.  Information will be posted in your major’s department.  This is also a nice opportunity to get the scoop on classes to take (or not take) from other students.
  • Visit the office hours of each of your professors at least once.  This will only take 30 minutes of your time, but the returns on this investment will last throughout the term.  You’ll instantly become more involved in the class.  Making the time to visit in person is also a small habit that translates nicely into “real world” action.  Connect with people face-to-face as opposed to reducing communication solely through email.
  • Read one book outside of class.   I know you are inundated with course work so you needn’t pick something that’ll weigh you down.  I don’t recommend taking a stab at Tolstoy’s War and Peace, for instance.  However, the habit of reading in addition to your workload will be just as important in your life after college in the “real world.”  The most successful people read or listen to audiobooks because advancing one’s knowledge is simply healthy and good for one’s business.  Ask three of the most successful people you know and see what they are reading and how often.  Stay curious.  (I’ve listed three book suggestions below.)
  • Buy a Journal.  Keep it in a place where you’ll remember to write in it and look it over: nightstand, desk, school bag, or the loo.  Set aside a day (or two) when you will add to the journal.  On this day write what you are thankful for, one thing you learned from each of your classes, and a new word you learned.  Increase your gratitude, awareness of your new knowledge and your vocabulary.  (I had a journal devoted only to new words.  Before a paper I’d turn to my journal and pick 2 words to use.  It became something of a game.)
Snapshot of yours truly enjoying "Off The Road" by Carolyn Cassady.

Snapshot of yours truly enjoying “Off The Road” by Carolyn Cassady.

Book Suggestions:

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  I’ve recommended this over and over again.  This book is about climbing Mount Everest in the throes of one of the worst storms/disasters.  Krakauer’s writing is incredibly absorbing and entertaining. One of my students recently emailed that he read this book based on my recommendation and it came up during a job interview.  He thinks he got the job because he was able to chat about it with his prospective employer.  Bravo, I say!

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  Anyone interested in business, marketing, advertising, and/or sociology should check this out.  Gladwell examines points at which a momentum shifts and trends take off.

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.  I loved loved loved this memoir.  Steve Martin brings the reader on his journey to becoming one of the most successful stand-up comedians.  He is honest, witty, and insightful.  While the book does, of course, focus on life as a comic, its real value is in the underscoring theme of commitment and dedication.  Steve Martin believed in himself, in entertaining, and in re-creating and revising his act.  Anyone needing a bit of motivation to kick start their year and follow through with their goals should read this book.

Click here to visit Gwendolyn’s Author Page.

Best of luck, dear students!  Have a wonderful year!

The Honeymoon is Over; Getting Through the Mid-term Slump

The air of excitement from the first week of classes has dissipated.  The skip in your step now resembles a sluggish mosey to class, and you are armed with a highly caffeinated beverage at all times just to get through the day.  A count-down to Winter (or summer) break is mentioned in most of your conversations.

How to get over that mid-term blah:

  1. Plant yourself at the library, a study space, or a coffee shop with all of your syllabi.  Review upcoming deadlines and class requirements.  In general, take 20 minutes to reacquaint yourself with the goals of the class.  This will put you back in the frame of mind of the first day when you were more enthusiastic.
  2. Write down the grades you want this term.  Imagine the end of the term and seeing these grades next to your name.
  3. Write down 3 things (per class) you can do next week to make the grades you imagined happen.  List the amount of time and the day you will do these 3 things. The more specific you are the better.
  4. Visit your professors’ office hours.  But what to say?  Here are some conversation openers:  If you are enjoying the class, then let them know (mention a specific reading), ask a question about the material, or ask their opinion about a term paper/ project idea you will be doing for the class.   A recent guest speaker promoting study habits at Cal Poly said to university students: “There is one person in the class who knows how to get an A and that is the professor.”
  5. If you haven’t done so yet, make a friend in your class.  Get to class five minutes early and introduce yourself to the person who usually sits next to you.  When you know someone you are more likely to attend class and enjoy it.
  6. Go somewhere new.  Try out a restaurant, a different coffee shop, another spot in the library, or a place in town (like a museum).  Breaking up the routine re-charges your mental battery.

Good luck!

Free Download on Amazon!

Students, Educators, and lovers of the “Advice & How To” genre, my book Tips From the Professor A Guide for College Success is free on Amazon from Tuesday April 2nd-Thursday April 4th!  (Just give the title a click.)

photo-16 9.24.30 PMI wrote this book because I want students to get the most out of their University experience.  I offer easy “how to” steps to boost students’ grades.  If you do fancy a read, please kindly leave a review on Amazon.  I’m starting my second book for university students, so any feedback on this first book would be most helpful.

Some topics Tips From The Professor addresses:

  • How to organize your time.
  • How to be involved in campus life.
  • How to study for exams (alone and with groups).
  • How to give presentations.
  • How to approach professors with questions (some do’s and don’ts from a professor’s point of view).
  • What to bring with you when meeting a professor about a letter of recommendation.

*Book Review by Dr. Wayne Hubert

Tips From the Professor: A Guide for College Success by Dr. Gwendolyn Dolske  is not just another student handbook for successfully navigating undergraduate life.  It is not ponderous, theoretical, and impractical as so many student guides are, but rather it is concrete, experiential, and most of all, fresh in its approach.

Naturally, Dr. Dolske covers familiar and expected topics like time management, strategies for studying, writing papers, classroom presentations, and she illustrates them with specific examples from her own experiences as an undergraduate as well as those of her own current students.  Instead of theory, Dr. Dolske grounds her presentation in real life, her own and her students’.

Dr. Dolske also covers issues that are not usually found in student guides.  For example, she explains to her readers how to talk to their instructors, how to ask for letters of recommendation, how to manage money, how to understand grading, and–without doubt my favorite–how to be fully present during class time.   It is worth purchasing the book if only to read this section.

I also appreciate how  Dr. Dolske speaks to her audience as a mentor, eager to help, encourage, and pave the way for those new to the undergraduate experience.  She has learned much as a student and as a Professor, and she wants her readers to have what benefits she has earned and received.

Though this wonderful handbook will enjoy wide appeal, Dr. Dolske has a particular audience in mind.  She is writing to students who not only want to enjoy college and get good grades, but she is also writing to those students who understand the need for personal responsibility and discipline, those who in the end desire a good education.  With Dr. Dolske’s lively and useful guide, those students can have it all.

Wayne Hubert, Ph.D

Emeritus Dean Of Arts and Humanities

Chaffey College

Rancho Cucamonga, California

How To Survive Boring College Lectures

OMG, this class is so boring!  How are you going to get through it?

It’s true.  Some lectures could be more effective at putting you to sleep than Ambien.  Nevertheless, attending lectures remains a key ingredient for performing well in college.  Here are some pointers:

1. Even A students get bored at times by lectures.  What is the difference between the A student and the C student?  Their approach to the lecture.  Don’t let “boring” become an excuse for not showing up to class.  Dive right in, sit near the front, buy a coffee, and simply face the fact that you will be less than entertained for a couple of hours.  Get in the mental game and you will survive.

2. One of my friends from graduate school took impeccable notes, and before exams everyone lined up to study with him.  When I asked him his secret his response surprised me: “I’m bored in class, so I write everything down.” That is an A student approach to the problem!  Instead of avoiding lecture he planted himself close to the front of the room and made it a bit of a game to literally write down word for word what the professor said.  Give it a try.

3. Absolutely read the material before class.  If you are unfamiliar with the course material then it will only magnify the boredom.  Not reading would be like signing up for a book club, going to the gathering but never bothering to open the book.  Or, to put it another way, it would be akin to listening to an inside joke for two hours and paying money for the experience. How boring!  Be sure to prepare and stay in the loop.

4. When you are reading the material create possible questions to ask in class (if the professor takes questions).  Participating in class speeds up time for you.  And, you never know, your question could prompt others to speak up and the class could take an intriguing turn.  Dare I suggest, you might enjoy the class then?

5. Do not take out your phone to answer or read emails.  Again, this will make the boredom worse.  You are essentially running away from the problem by turning to the cell phone rather than confronting the issue head on.  This is a C student response.  Moreover, it is a bad habit.  After college you might find yourself in other boring situations like work meetings.  It is not a good (or beneficial) idea to tune out and gravitate to your phone while others are talking.  Indeed, there will be times when your good friends bore you!  Would you take out your phone while they talk?  Of course not.  For class time, strengthen your concentration abilities and keep the phone in your bag.

6. This last point is a bit painful but it must be made, namely, are you making an effort in the class?  Finding something interesting, like recognizing beauty, takes time and thought.  One isn’t always “struck” or in “awe.”  Often, interest is the result of devoting energy to appreciation of said subject (or object).  When you learn more you will discover more things to be interesting.  The boring lecture just might-maybe-possibly-I’m-sorry-to-point-it-out be indicative of your disposition rather than the professor’s.

Overall, keep the end goal in mind: to do well.  We’ve all been through a boring lecture.  You will survive!  Remember, it is your grade on the line, so don’t shy away from the class even if you need to muster all of your brain power to stay alert.  Good luck!

CLICK here for my book on how to succeed in college.

Click here for some more great tips on getting through lectures from College Success Now.


“The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has and the less he is at the mercy of fate.” Bertrand Russell

How to Fail a College Course in 9 Steps

1. Rarely show up to class.  On occasions of attendance come late and/or leave early.  Be sure to create a healthy amount of noise while packing and unpacking your bag.  Consider knocking over your energy drink or your classmates’ things as you shuffle in and out the classroom door.

2. Call the professor by his/her first name.  You aren’t into that status BS.

3. Sit in the back row and check your email on your phone.  Compose some emails.  Keep the phone in view so that fellow students envy your audacity.

4. Avoid proof reading at all costs.  Type stuff up, print, and skip the staple.  Instead of writing “you” just write the letter “u” throughout the paper.  In fact, treat the entire assignment like an excruciatingly long, boring text.

5. Ignore important dates like the ones in bold on the syllabus that tell you when exams are scheduled and things are due.

6. Never bring the text book to class.  In fact, why buy it at all?  Just wikipedia everything.

7. Avoid note taking entirely.  Whenever the professor says “This is important” or when something is put up on the board, abstain from writing it down.  Keep your arms folded at your desk.  It’s probably best that you don’t even have a notebook and pen out in the first place.

8. If you do find the urge to participate, ensure that your question unequivocally proves that you never opened the book.

9. Do not go to your professors’ office hours at all…except on the day after your final exam to inquire, “So, what am I getting in the class?”

Not your cup of tea?  Click here for tips on succeeding in college.

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