So, You’ve Got To Write A Paper – Part 1: Close Reading and Research

So here’s a common scenario: You’re taking English 101 or “Freshman English,” or whatever your school calls it, and the professor gives you the following assignment:

“For next Friday, I’d like you to write a 1,000 word essay on one of the poems we’ve been studying. MLA format. Please use at least three secondary sources, one of which must be a print book.”

“Well shit,” you think. “How am I ever going to do that? 1,000 words! That’s like…4 pages double-spaced. And I hate MLA format. Too many stupid rules. And I have to use a book! Who even reads those any more?”

We’ve all had those moments, and especially if you’re in a STEM major (in which case you have my utmost respect), this sort of assignment can feel like a chore, besides seeming far too vague and open-ended.

Today, I hope to alleviate some of your confusion and anxiety. I can’t give you an exact formula for a perfect paper, but over the course of this post and its upcoming follow-up I’m going to walk you through the process I’ve used to get consistently high grades on my essays. Read More…

Use The Corson Technique When Asking Professors For Help

One of the things I’ve stressed on this blog for a long time is the idea of becoming a “Solution Finder.”

To me, this is someone who knows how and where to find answers to questions that aren’t immediately obvious and who is willing to do it.

In fact, I’ve gone as far as to say that I’d force students to take a class on it if I had the power to do so.

Solution Finders are not nearly as common as I would like them to be. When I worked ISU’s tech support phone lines as a freshman, I was stunned by the amount of people who couldn’t be bothered to google a problem before immediately picking up the phone and calling for help.

People in my classes were the same way. At the first sign of confusion, many students would immediately ask for help from the professor or someone sitting next to them.

It was as if they expected every single concept to “click” right away – and when one didn’t, they’d immediately go into panic mode.

This is the behavior of toddlers. It is not what a student who has made it into college should do. Read More…

The Engineering School Survival Guide: 4 Frameworks To Dominate Your Degree

Hey all! This week I’m happy to bring you an absolutely fantastic guest article from Tom Miller.

Tom is an engineer and physics tutor obsessed with independent learning. He writes about unconventional study methods at WTF Professor, aimed at simplifying the learning process for engineers and technical students.

I first met Tom a few months ago when he emailed me with some questions on starting his own blog. In the short time between then and now, I’ve seen WTF Professor turn into an awesome resource for any student who’s interested in hacking their learning methods. On to you, Tom!

Isn’t it funny, that when you tell older people you’re doing an engineering degree, that they tend to only have one of three responses:

  • “Ooooh you must be so smart.”
  • “It’s gonna be so easy for you to find a job when you leave college.”
  • “Smartypants. You’re going to make the big bucks.”

For them, it’s the logical choice. Little Johnny’s gonna grow up and build robots and have job security. That’s what they see on the outside.

But little do they know, the insider’s world is a whole different ballgame. Read More…

How To Make Sure You’re Never Lost (Or Late) On Campus

When I started my freshman year back in 2009 (I think we still had electricity then), I wanted to make sure I would be able to find my classes quickly during my first week.

The thought of rushing around campus, late to class and looking like a lost deer, wasn’t really appealing to me. So, I developed a useful little system that helped me get to each class easily – on the first try. 

Today, I’ll share that system with you in this quick guide.  Before I get into the details, however, I’ll note a couple things:

  1. It’s still a good idea to take some time before the semester starts to explore campus and figure out where each class will be. I started work in the campus tech support department before classes even began, so I didn’t really have time to do this in between the mandatory 40-hour dorm-rush week and other things. This technique was my way of being adaptable.
  2. Professors know you’ll probably have a hard time finding things during your first week, so they’re likely to cut you a break. Though it’s always good to make a strong first impression – remember the Halo Effect?

Still, the fact that you’re reading this probably means you’re like me. Let’s get into the technique. Read More…

10 Dumb Mistakes Students Make When Choosing A Major

Sometime in the midst of my 8th year of life on this earth, my constant “polite” nudges and hints must have cracked something in my mother’s brain – for she finally bought me my very first copy of Pokémon Blue.

That morning, sitting on a lawn chair in my driveway and “keeping an eye on” my parents’ garage sale, I was presented with the momentous choice many of us have had to make:

Choosing your college major is like choosing your first Pokemon

This was 1999; the only computer in the house ran Windows 95 and was there mainly so my dad could play Descent, which scared the crap out of my brother and me. I had never been on the internet, and therefore, had no idea what my choice would bring me.

Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur?

I ended up picking Charmander because flames are cool, and promptly got my face stomped in when I faced Brock for the first time.

If you’re going to college soon, you’re now facing a similar choice – except that instead of choosing a violent-yet-cuddly monster stuffed into a sphere with a belt clip, you’re trying to choose your college major. Read More…

clusterFlunk Increases Student Collaboration And Makes Classes Easier

Update December 2015: Clusterflunk sadly shut down this year. If you know of a replacement, definitely share it in the comments.

12:57 A.M. and you’ve got t-minus 8 hours 3 minutes until you must command your personal collection of bone, muscle, and sinew to march itself to a brick gathering hall.

Here you will regurgitate onto paper a sequence of facts which are supposedly stored as electrochemical signals in a roughly 3.3 lb lump of gray tissue you carry with you at all times.

Unfortunately, these particular electrochemical signals are currently non-existent in your lump of gray tissue. They are unlikely to exist anytime soon.

Fatique has riddled the muscle and sinew, and is currently working its way to the bones. Your six paper coffee cups lay empty upon your desk. One has fallen onto its side.

You lack the motivation to return this coffee cup to its rightful orientation, just as you lack the motivation to extract the required facts from your textbook and store them as electrochemical signals.

The textbook…

Only 0.3% of its content has been selected for regurgitation by the professor. Unfortunately, which 0.3% is not easily made evident. Right now all you see is a linearly organized, never-ending sequence of 26 symbolic characters, 6 or 7 punctuation marks, and the occasional number.

Read More…

6 Ways You Can Use Evernote To Dominate Your Classes

During my first year in college, I discovered – among many other things – an amazing app called Evernote.

It would only be slightly hyperbolic to say that Evernote is my second brain. Sure, it’s lacking in neurons and glia – but more than any other app or system, Evernote serves as an ultimate repository for information I want to remember.

Evernote is almost always open on my computer, and it’s a frequently visited app on my phone as well. I use it for everything – brainstorming and writing new articles, developing questions for podcast guests, keeping software licenses, tracking lists of Magic cards, etc.

In school, Evernote was just as indispensable as it is now – and today I’m going to show you six ways I used it to make my classes easier. Read More…

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