In my second video, I offer a quick walk through of how to format a paper in MLA.
One thing I don’t mention in the video, however, is that you should always follow the advice and instructions given by your professor with regards to MLA. Some teachers require things like word counts, specific fonts, or other details. Whatever your teacher requires, do it!
In my very first video, I present a short video to walk through how to create a running head in APA. This is actually only one way of several that I know, but it’s also the simplest. I hope you enjoy the video! (Captions are available.)
Taking notes in college can be done in many different ways. The traditional approach is to scrawl notes constantly in a lined-page notebook while the teacher lectures. Another method that is highly recommended is the Cornell Note Style. Still other students draw pictures or doodle and somehow do well. What is the trick to good note taking?
Good note taking in college is as easy as 1-2-3. Regardless of the style, look, or neatness of your notes, there are three steps that all good note taking strategies have in common. Once you learn these three steps, any kind of note taking you do will improve.
Step 1: Take Appropriate Notes in Class.
This may seem obvious, but knowing what to write and what not to write is important to successful note taking. First, you want to make listening your most important task while you are in lecture. Second, you want to rephrase in short, clear language what is being said. Third, write those short, clear phrases in your note book.
Be mindful of the types of information you are writing. Writing down information that will be provided to you later, or information that is already available in your textbook (or another source) is a waste of your time, paper, and ink.
How can you know what’s important? In the Lecture Note Taking Workshop, I go over the difference between facts and context. Facts can be important but facts rarely change and often can be found in your textbook or in other class resources. Context, however, is why those facts are important. Take a moment to examine the two different note pages in this picture:These two very different note pages are actually from the same class and the same lecture, however the student on the left wrote down the facts (a list of countries with the lowest population density), while the student on the right wrote down the context (why the teacher was talking about the countries with the lowest population densities and what was important). While the student on the left frantically wrote down the list and did not pay attention to context, the student on the right summarized briefly what the teacher said about population density, wrote down the formula, and even noted that the teacher put a list of the lowest countries on the board.
This is the difference between facts and context and is also why listening carefully to why a fact is important is much more important than just simply writing fact after fact in your notes.
Instead of spending time writing down facts, especially those that can be found later, it would be better to stop writing briefly, and listen to what your teacher is saying about those facts. Then, once you have some understanding of the context, then begin to write down your notes.
Step 2: Review Your Notes Immediately.
Effective note taking does not end when the lecture does. The next step to effective notes is reviewing them soon after you finish your lecture. Within 24 hours is the ideal but within 48-72 hours can work, too.
Reviewing this first time does not have to be lengthy; even a half an hour will be effective. What do you during that time, however, is important. Some things you’ll want to do include (but are not limited to):
Check your notes for errors and misinformation.
While note taking, it can be hard to record everything accurately. Missing words, incorrect names, and even spelling errors can be detrimental later if you do not correct them. While the information is fresh in your mind, look over your words for anything that could be incorrect and make a point to fix it.
Add any information you may have skipped or missed.
It’s impossible to write down every single thing your teacher says–even the fasted note-takers must skip some things in order to write more important things. However, if your notes are good enough, the information you did write should be a reminder of the things you did not. Again, while the information is fresh, you can go back and add that information you needed to skip.
Add any relevant book our other source information.
Adding any paraphrases, notes, examples, or pictures from any other sources will help you to condense the information into one place for studying later. Sometimes the books or outside sources offer examples or explanations that make more sense than the ones provided in lecture, so having those next to your teacher’s explanation can help you later when studying.
Pull out key terms, create short paraphrases, or write down potential test questions.
Remember that the whole point of taking notes is to be able to use them to study for midterms and finals exams which can be weeks or even months away. I tell my students to always keep their “eye on the prize” when doing school work and, by this, I mean that you should study in such a way to reach the goal. In this case, to do well on your exams. Trying to predict questions, anticipating terms you will need to know, and paraphrasing important information are important ways to keep your eye on the prize.
Write a short summary of the lecture.
Typical of Cornell Notes, it can help to write a 2-3 sentence summary of the entire lecture. Write the summary in the same spot on the paper each time so you can refer to the summaries when you must flip through your notes later to find specific information. Cornell Notes style usually calls for writing the summary at the bottom of the page, but other places to consider are the very top of the page (in the space without lines), or even on the back of the sheet. Remember, whatever you decide, to be consistent.
Most teachers begin class by asking some variation of the question: “Does anyone have any questions about our last class?” Make it your goal to have at least one question that you pull from the previous lecture to help you clarify the information.
Here are suggestions to help you plan and maintain a reviewing schedule:
Integrate your review into your already-existing study plan as a way to activate schema.
Make reviewing your notebook the first thing you do to activate your schema before you begin you study sessions. Simply flip through the previous pages of your notebook, glancing through anything you’ve highlighted, paraphrased, or any questions you’ve raised (like potential test questions) to help ready yourself to study. This can take as little as 5 minutes.
Review your notes briefly just prior to lecture.
Getting to class early is always a good idea so you can get out your materials and be prepared when class begins. Another good reason to get there early is that it will provide you with a few minutes to review the material in your notes before you begin taking notes for that class session. This will not only help you keep the older material fresh in your mind, but can also help you integrate the new lecture material into the older material.
Review material more often at first, and less often over time.
Begin reviewing new material every single day for a week or two. Then, review that same material only twice or three times a week for a month. Then, continue to review that material once a week for the rest of the semester. This is a basic review schedule. For material that is harder to remember, review it more often; for easy-t0-remember material, less often.
When it comes to a review schedule, it is important to remember that no one schedule will fit everyone’s needs and that the schedule may even be different from semester to semester and from class to class. Do what works for you and, if it does not work, do not hesitate to change the schedule as needed.
Here is a sample review schedule for a student with a Monday/Wednesday class schedule, for a class that is rather challenging:
There is a myth that I hear almost every day that I’m trying hard to dispel about studying in college: that rereading and reviewing are one and the same.
Say this with me:
Reviewing is not rereading. Rereading is not reviewing. They are not the same and they are done for different reasons.
Let’s first discuss the difference between reviewing and rereading.
Rereading is an excellent reading strategy that is used when a reader does not fully grasp or understand the material that has already been read. For example, a student in an Anatomy class might read an entire chapter on the Autonomic Nervous System and realize at the end of the chapter that he/she still does not understand the chapter. In this case, rereading will help because the student will have at least some idea of the chapter (since it’s already been read once), but will need to read again for a fuller, richer understanding.
Rereading is not a good study technique. If it takes you five hours to read a chapter then it will take another five (or even more) to reread it. Rereading is not a good strategy to use if you are short on time or “cramming” before an exam. Rereading is also not very much fun, especially if it’s material that you found boring or uninteresting the first time.
To reread, you start at the first word of the chapter and read the whole of the material, in its entirety, again. Material that is especially complex or challenging may require several rereadings to be fully understood.
Reviewing is a study strategy that is best used when you have already read and understood the material and just want to “keep it fresh” in your short and long-term memory. To continue from our example above, the student who read and then reread that Anatomy chapter on the Autonomic Nervous System will want to continue to review that chapter to remember it long-term.
Reviewing, unlike rereading, is an excellent study technique. If it takes you five hours to read a chapter, it may only take 15 minutes to review it. The amount of time spent reviewing is determined by how new, challenging, or complex the material is to you.
To review, simply look over the material, briefly, to review your notes, summaries/paraphrases, and look at the key terms and main ideas you have pulled out through annotation. You can also look at the highlighted/underlined bits of text and the graphics/pictures. If you come a particularly hard section or paragraph, you may decide to reread a short section to jog your memory or refresh the ideas. Otherwise, very little, if any, rereading is done.
Next time you read (or even reread) your textbook, put together a review schedule for yourself so you can remember it long-term. Your review schedule might look like this:
20 minutes a day, every day, for one week.
15 minutes a day, three times a week, for two weeks.
10 minutes a day, twice a week, for two weeks.
5 minutes a day, once a week until one week before the exam.
Change your schedule as needed based on your background with the material, your comfort level, and how familiar you are/become with the material over time. Then, when it comes time to prepare for your exams, you’ll be able to create great study tools for the still-hard to learn material and not have to worry nearly as much about the material you’ve reviewed all semester!
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
– General Colin Powell
When it comes to success, there is no magic potion, secret password, or innate talent that makes it possible. General Powell is very right: it is preparation, hard work, and learning from your failure that makes success possible and his advice also applies to exams.
In this workshop, I will discuss these three things: preparation, hard work, and learning from failure and how they apply to being ready for your exams.
Slide 2: Prepare, prepare, prepare!
“It’s not the will to win that matters–everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
– Paul “Bear” Bryant
The first step to doing well on exams is preparing; you must prepare! Before you begin to study, you must prepare your study space, you must prepare your mind, and you must prepare the information by having a plan of action.
Preparing your Study Space:
Organize your study space. First, find a place that will allow you to be productive. Sometimes, this space is not the most “comfortable” place in the sense that you may not be able to lounge, or relax; that is ok. You want a place to work, not a place to sleep, so bedrooms, living rooms, and porch areas are generally not good spaces to study. Kitchens, like at a kitchen table, office, or even a cafe can work.
Remember to find a place that has noise at comfortable limits. Some people cannot study with even the slightest noise; others need music or white noise to help them stay focused. If you’re a person who needs complete silence, make a point to find a place quiet enough to suit your needs: going to a cafe to study will not help you to stay focused. If you’re a person who needs noise, then make sure you have a way to listen to your music. Try to listen to your music on a device that will not distract you with social media notifications (like an iPod or MP3 player), or be sure to turn off your notifications, to keep distractions to a minimum.
Once you find a place, organize your materials. Make sure you have everything you need to be productive: pens, pencils, sticky-notes, highlighters, your note books, textbooks, index cards, etc. Also make sure you have items that will help you stay in one place: bottles of water, a few snacks, a stress ball, or any other items to help you stay focused. While not all of these items are mandatory, the more you have at your finger-tips the less likely you are to leave and interrupt your thought processes.
Gather all your class materials for the class(es) you wish to study. This includes your textbooks, note books, handouts, study guides, CD-Roms, PowerPoint notes, etc.
Eliminate distractions. Before you begin your official study session, take a moment to keep your digital life from distracting you. Turn off your Facebook notifications and silence your phone. If your computer is not necessary to study, then you may consider turning it off altogether but, if you do need to use your computer, you want to make sure you do not let your social media browsing distract you. If you find you cannot control how often you visit these sites, you can use a site like KeepMeOut to help you control when you can visit these sites. There are also browser apps, like the StayFocusd app for Chrome, to help you block troublesome sites.
Prioritize information. Once you have an organized study space, free of distractions, then you must prepare your mind and the information you plan to study. Students will often ask themselves: Where do I begin? This is an excellent question because there really is a better and worse place to start when you begin to study.
Slide 3: Prioritizing Information
“How do I prioritize information?” you’re probably asking. It’s not nearly as hard as you’re probably imagining.
Prioritizing information means that you make a point to be conscious of how much time you have to study, and how much information you need to cover. Many students begin with the easiest material believing that it will make them “feel good” about the exam since they know everything. Or, they start with the material they are most familiar with because they worry they will forget. Neither of these approaches are ideal.
One thing to remember about studying is that you want to be a little uncomfortable. When studying, you do not want to feel like you “know it all,” or that you are “really confident.” Your goal while studying is to find the hardest, least-memorable, most confusing material and make sure you spend the most time with this material. To do this means that you do not begin with the “easy” material first. You want to begin with the hardest, least-memorable material.
To locate the hardest, forgotten material, make yourself a quick list. Take a sheet of paper (even junk paper) and draw lines to create three columns. Label one column “Things I Know,” the next column “Things I Kind-of Know,” and the final column “Things I Don’t know.” Then, go through your study guide or, if not study guide is given, create your own, and list each item on the study guide into one of the columns on your page. The material you want to begin with is in the “Things I Don’t Know” column.
Why start with the unknown material? Here’s why:
Imagine that you only have one week to study for your exam and, in that week, you have a total of ten hours to commit to studying. After completing the listing activity above with your study guide that has a total of fifty items, you find that you have a total of twenty-five items in the “Things I Know” column; twenty items in the “Things I Kind-of Know” column; and fifteen in the “Things I Don’t Know” column. Assume that your teacher will only select half (twenty-five) items from the study guide to test you: while the likely hood of the teacher selecting all fifteen items in the “Things I Don’t Know” column is quite low, those fifteen are the ones that will hurt the most if you do now know them. If all twenty-five come from the first two columns, then you’ll get at least a C on the exam–passing by most standards. The fifteen in that final column are the most problematic.
The other thing to remember is that those fifteen (in the “Things I Don’t Know” column) are most likely the hardest, too. You do not understand them for a reason: perhaps you missed reading that chapter of your textbook, or missed the class in which your teacher covered that material; or perhaps the material is so challenging that you may need to find a peer or tutor to help work with you, or reach out to your instructor for extra help. Basically, you might need all ten hours to devote to those fifteen items and, if you did start on the easier stuff–the stuff you already know–you may not realize you need that extra time until it’s too late.
Slide 4: Review & Study
Once you know where to begin, then you can start creating materials to study from. Here are three ways to learn, and retain, those problematic materials.
Summarize & Paraphrase. One way to make sure you understand something is to summarize and/or paraphrase. Summarize is condensing down information to its most basic and important elements; paraphrasing is putting the information into your own words. When studying, first take the information you need and filter out anything that is unnecessary–that is summarizing. Then, take that information and rephrase it in a way that makes sense to you; that’s paraphrasing.While summarizing is an important step, you do not want to simply try to memorize your summaries. Remember that memorizing is not understanding! Trying to commit your summaries–or just chunks of the textbook word-for-word–to memory will do very little to help you understand the materials. Paraphrasing forces you to think critically about, relate to, and see the big picture of the information you must learn. Another way to think about paraphrasing is this: think about how you would explain the material to a seven-year old child. Think of the questions the child would ask you and how you would answer. If you can explain it to a seven-year old in simple, clear language, then you know that you understand it!
Create Maps & Outlines. Maps and Outlines are another way to make sure you remember the material. Once you have summarized and paraphrased the material you can create an outline or map to see how it fits into the larger picture of your class. It’s important to remember that your map/outline is for your use only, which means you do not need to focus on perfect handwriting, correct spelling, or complete sentences (though spelling might be important, especially if you have to do a written final).
Create a Study Grid. Study grids are my favorite! I like them because they really “kill two birds with one stone” in the sense that they give you both a place to start, and help you manage your materials. Here is how it works:
Take a sheet of paper (in your notebook, preferably) or use an spreadsheet program on your computer (like MS Excel or Google Sheets). Draw as many lines as you need to give yourself a column for each resource in your class: textbook, lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, outside research, YouTube videos, etc.
In each row going down your page, list your study-guide term, question, or vocabulary word.
Look up each term, word, or question in each of the resources, listing the information given in each box.
When finished, you’ll have all your information in just a few pages, making it easy to review and study without having to carry, reread, re-find your materials.
Slide 5: Why Review?
“After one day an average of 46% of material is forgotten from lecture on new material; after seven days 65% is forgotten.” (Spitzer, 1939)
“Studies have shown that within two weeks you will probably forget 80% or more of what you heard…in four weeks you are lucky if 5% remains.” (Langan, 2013, p. 45)
Rereading can be a useful strategy if you did not understand material the first time (or second time) you read it. Rereading is what you do when you read material, still do not get it, and must read it again. If it took you five hours to read it the first time, it will take another five (or even more) to read it a second time. Rereading is not a good strategy for studying.
Reviewing, on the other hand, is an excellent strategy for studying. Reviewing does not have to be a long, lengthy process; if it took five hours to read a chapter, it may only take you fifteen minutes to review it, depending on how new or challenging the material is.
To review, simply look over the already-read and already-understood material briefly. You do not need to reread all of it; in fact, it is often better if you, instead, look over the notes, summaries, paraphrases, and bullet points you may have written in the margins.
Review more frequently at first and less frequently over time. I suggest reviewing material every day for a week, then three times a week for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, then once a week after that until the week before finals (or until you are being tested on it). Adjust this in whatever way works best for you!
Slide 6: Overcoming Test Anxiety
One of the most frequent complaints I hear from students is that they suffer from crippling test anxiety. General test anxiety is actually quite normal. Test anxiety, and anxiety in general, can be crippling to some people however it is rare. If you try all of these measures to study and still find yourself incapable of completing a test, I will suggest you reach out to your doctor and the Disabled Student Programs & Services (DSPS) program for further assistance and testing modifications.
For general testing anxiety, here are some ways to overcome it:
Be Prepared. Students who wait until the last minute, then cram the material the night before are going to experience anxiety. Instead, review often over the course of the term, and prioritize the material so you’re spending the most time with the hardest material and you will find that your anxiety is much less.
Practice Time Limits. If time limits, or the idea of the time limit, makes you anxious, then practice studying or simulating the exam with a time limit. For example, for many students having a timed writing exam is extremely stressful. One way to overcome this stress is to practice writing while timing yourself. It does not even have to be “structured” writing; you can simply set a timer for an hour (or however long you wish), then journal for that time just writing whatever you want so you have an idea of what it feels like to write for an hour. Doing this also builds up the muscles in your hand so you will be less likely to experience hand cramps.
Control Negative Thoughts and Emotions. Negative thoughts and emotions can greatly impact your testing. It’s important that when you find yourself saying things like “I just know I’m going to fail!” that you offset them with more positive sayings like “I’m going to do my best and I will succeed!” Ultimately, you want to avoid putting yourself down or predicting your own failure. If nothing else, just think about how even the worst grade can teach you something and will be a stepping stone to improving yourself next time.
Power Pose! Before the exam, take two minutes to power pose. Your body language going into the exam can lead to those negative thoughts and emotions that you want to avoid. I’ve been having students try this method and so far students who’ve tried it have found it works to help them control those negative thoughts and feel more confident during the exam.
Start with the Easy Questions First. When you sit down to finally take the exam you may be hit with a wave of anxiety if you see the first few questions are tough. In that case, look over the entire exam first to get an idea of just how hard (or easy) the exam is. Once you do, you may feel better and more confident. You can also answer the easier questions first and save the harder ones for the end. Keep in mind, there is no rule that you have to start with question one and end with the final question. In most cases, you can complete the exam in any order you like. Do the exam in the order that makes it easier on you!
Slide 7: Test Analysis – Look At Your Previous Exams
Regardless of how you did, a TEST ANALYSIS can tell you a lot about how to improve for next time. Each time you take an exam (or quiz), look over the questions you got incorrect and ask yourself “why did I make this mistake?” You can then create categories of errors that will help pinpoint you to ways to avoid those same mistakes in the future.
Langan, John. (2013). Reading and Study Skills (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
When I finally decided to apply to grad school in September of last year, I did so for several reasons. One, I was tired of working three jobs part-time all over Sacramento. Two, I desperately wanted to keep the job I already had when (if) it was finally made full time. Three, I saw myself one day wanting to teach and I needed to have my degree if/when I ever decided to pursue that avenue. Grad school was a way for me to justify not working two extra jobs, be competitive in the current job market, and to pursue my dream of one day being a teacher.
I had all these ideas about grad school. I knew it was going to be challenging. The program I applied for is entirely online and I knew that was going to be a challenge all its own. I also knew that I have no classroom experience, which was going to make things even harder. I was excited about all these challenges and expected to take them all on.
I was not expecting to work full time. I got my acceptance letter to grad school the same day I was offered full time hours temporarily for one semester only. I did not dare to turn them down. I have been waiting for three years to pick up enough hours at this campus to not have to work other jobs and had basically given up hope that it would. Now, more hours.
While more hours was nice on the pocketbook, these hours were also me filling in temporarily for a position that was intended to be filled by the summer. I realized very late in the semester that, come the fall, there was a chance I would be unemployed, again. I was terrified of this prospect but, with all the other stress in my life, I had not even considered this until April. Once it hit me, I had trouble sleeping for several weeks and started work on my resume, intending to find something over the summer. Thankfully, I was reclassified into the position, permanently. It’s a strange feeling to be employed full-time, permanently. It’s still sinking in, to some extent.
I also had a great deal of personal challenges I had to face this semester. While I won’t go into details here, suffice it to say that I have been struggling to stay positive and forward-looking this semester. There have been many times I’ve found myself wondering if I should have waiting another year to go back to school. “No,” I would tell myself, “you’ve waited long enough already.”
I have discovered a great deal about myself this semester:
First, I have a confidence in my writing that I never experienced in my undergraduate work, despite the fact that I studied English. I have never considered myself a good writer. While I always did well in writing classes, I never “saw” myself as a writer and it has always been hard for me to allow others to read my writing. I agonize over every word I write and I have learned that I need to start writing papers early so I can feel good about my draft before I turn it in. The anxiety I get from turning in a last-minute draft is near-paralyzing. This semester, however, I’m far more confident. I think part if it is working in a writing center, reading draft after draft of student work that is borderline garbage. Having to find errors, point them out, then articulate why they are errors to a student who generally does not care and/or understand anyway has really helped me face some of my fears about my own writing head-on.
Second, that I am a far more collected person now than in my youth. While this might seem like an obvious thing, I think this is the first time in my adult life that I have truly tested the boundaries of my capabilities. I’m in my mid-thirties now and had resigned that the “best” years of my life were over: from now on it’s creaky, tired me, growing slower with each day. In fact, I feel that I’ve somehow settled into my own mind more and things that I remember being challenging–like making decisions, or forging an opinion–have become easier. It’s also easier for me to speak up when I know things are not right, and I am not as self-conscious as I used to be.
I also had to deal with a large amount of stress this semester and, though I did have my fair share of irrational bouts of crying in random places (which may or may not include under my desk at work on several occasions), I did not have the typical depressive episode that I almost always experienced in my twenties. As someone who has fought depression most of her life, I’m so proud that I’ve managed to not sink back into that hole. I think part of overcoming depression for me is really learning how to say “no,” and learning that rejection is okay. Both of those have been so hard for me but, again, as I get older knowing my limits, saying no, and being ok with not having things happen the way I like has really helped me to move beyond my depressive nature.
Last, and this is probably the most important to me, that I feel like I’m good at what I do. I feel I have finally settled into my role as an educator, and am beginning to see myself as one. I have worked so hard for so long at reaching this goal and I’ll admit that there were times when I doubted myself. It is wonderful and refreshing to finally have reached this point in my life and to do so with a confidence that I was certain would not be here for me.
My goals for next semester are:
Better time management – this really was not my strong suit this semester. I need to consider what kind of planner to get because, so far, every method I’ve used has fallen short. I also want to make more use of my Google calendar, but that will be easier since I plan to get a laptop this summer.
Finish papers sooner – especially at the end, I put off my finals papers far too long. I still got both my final papers in early (one a week early) but I also feel I could have more time into both of them.
Reach out to my peers more – these are people who are going to be my colleagues in the future in the world of academic reading; I need to make friends now so I can reach out later if I need to.