Posts Tagged ‘studying’

Happy Thanksgiving – and the official start of Crunch-Time

In Tools, Uncategorized on November 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Photo by Espen Klem

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you’re having a great time celebrating this most American of holidays — and taking an important respite from the busy pace of school. If you’ve studied in the states for a while, you know that Thanksgiving is all about eating a huge turkey dinner, hanging out with family, and being grateful for all the good things in life. The day after Thanksgiving is the official start of the December holiday season, including shopping, decorating, travel planning, and general hustling and bustling.

Many of my memories of Thanksgiving have to do with school, actually. When I was in high school, we had a week’s worth of Thanksgiving vacation each year, and usually, our teachers assigned a large research paper, due as soon as we returned the following Monday. I remember procrastinating over many of these Thanksgiving weeks, then rushing to have everything finished by the deadline.

Thanksgiving is still like that for many of us, since the start of the holiday season is often the start of end-of-semester crunch-time, as you realize that final exams are coming up and research papers are due in nearly every class you’re taking at the same time. This is when I see students stumbling around the halls, with red eyes and papers everywhere. It’s no wonder. There’s a  semester’s worth of knowledge for students to synthesize in a short amount of time. At the same time, you might be planning trips home to see your families, gathering gifts to give friends and family, and registering for your classes next semester. It’s a stressful time, and it’s easy to accidentally let something fall through the cracks.

I’m testing out a service that I’d like to offer to help you get through the next month. If it’s a hit, I’ll offer it again in January, to help you over the entire semester.

Custom Crunch-Time Helpfrom Thanksgiving through December 24th. With this service, you’ll get study tips, pep talks, and motivation strategically placed around deadlines for your classes — tailored to your class schedule and your study habits. An important note is that this is not tutoring or hands-on help (which I do plan to offer, actually, in the new year). Custom Crunch-Time Help is mainly for motivation, strategies for studying, and support. Here’s how it works:

1)      First, you’ll email me a copy of your syllabus for each of your classes (up to 5)

2)      Next, you’ll make sure that I have your email address and a phone number where I can leave voicemail messages for you. You’ll receive both voicemail messages and email reminders from me to help you plan that research paper, study for that test, and take a rest in the midst of it all.  A special note: I hate spammers, and I promise not to share your information with them (or anyone else, for that matter). In fact, you won’t even be added to the Student in the States mailing list, unless you make a separate request.

3)      Third, send me an email to let me know a little bit about how you study. Do you cram the night before a test? Do you study on the weekends, or every afternoon? I’ll ask you about your biggest challenges. Do you always procrastinate? Do you have test anxiety? Do you have trouble concentrating during class? I’ll time my messages to help you when you need it most – and to help you overcome your biggest challenges.

4)      I’ll use the deadlines,  the description of your study habits, and information on your syllabus to send you messages to help you get started on that paper or study for that test. I’ll send pep talks before test day and reminders to relax and get good rest, and I’ll send messages to give you tips on concentrating for an 8am class, staying calm during an essay exam, or conquering procrastination. Hopefully (if I do a good job!), you’ll feel supported, encouraged, motivated, and ready to get through crunch-time as easily as possible.

Cost: $40 (messages during crunch-time only)

If you’re interested in trying it out, visit the page here. I’ll be taking sign-ups until November 30th (midnight). After that, I’m not sure there would be enough crunch-time left for you to get your money’s worth of messages.

Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on October 27, 2009 at 4:55 am

stack of books SPELLING

Spanish is my second language. I grew up in the middle of the country, and there weren’t many native speakers of Spanish, so as I learned Spanish, I learned from my American (English-speaking) teacher and from textbooks. I read in Spanish. I wrote in Spanish. I struggled in Spanish! Although we spoke and listened to Spanish in class, I never really heard Spanish. I learned mostly through reading and writing. The result is that while my grasp of Spanish grammar was okay, my ability to speak and listen to Spanish never really developed. If you learned English in similar circumstances, you might struggle with the courage to speak and understand spoken English.

Sometimes, though, language learners learn first by speaking and listening to English. Students who learn this way often speak and listen clearly and have a strong instinctive sense of grammar, like a native speaker would. If the speaking and listening isn’t combined with exposure to written, English, though, there can be challenges with spelling. Often, students who learn English only through speech will sound words out. This makes a lot of sense. The problem is that much of written English and spelling doesn’t make sense.

If spelling is a big challenge for you, the solution is to listen and read along as someone reads out loud. This way, you’ll be able to put together the sounds of the words with the spelling. Thankfully, there are tools that can help with this. You can get audiobooks (either downloaded from a website like Audible.com or through your local library, for free). Get an unabridged version of the audiobook — and also get a written copy. When you read, listen to the book at the same time. This will help train your eyes and ears to work together.


This week, I taught a little workshop at my school on study skills. I talked with students about keeping a calendar, staying organized, beating procrastination, and using strategies when reading tough material. Study skills are one of my favorite topics to talk about with students, because it deals with the phyical realities of everyday life. I love learning about where and how students study (with friends? in a library?), and I love hearing about how students keep information close at hand for classes. These details, I think, can have a pretty big effect on the workload you’re able to tackle, your stress levels, and the quality of your work.


Autumn Organization: An Introduction

In organization on September 3, 2009 at 10:00 am


As a writing teacher, I’ve seen all types of working styles for students. Often, the first day of the semester, students come to class with carefully coordinated notebooks and folders, with matching post-its and an indexed system for papers. By mid-semester, things have changed. Students lose the syllabus or forget deadlines. All those beautiful organizational systems have turned into one pile, and I can see the exhaustion and stress on students’ faces.

Once, while helping a student with her research paper, I suggested that we look at a particular article she quoted.”Oh, I know exactly where that article is,” she said, and she began shuffling the stack of papers in front of her. It was an impressive stack of articles, and she flipped through each one, checking and double checking. After 15 minutes, she said. “Oh, I know where that article is. It’s in my car. Is it okay if I go out to my car to look?” 20 minutes later, she had extracted the article from the floor of the front seat of her car. It was crumpled, with a footprint on it. We settled down to take a look. “Oh, I don’t think this is the right article after all,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »

Using a Syllabus Wisely

In organization on August 27, 2009 at 10:00 am


I remember my first day of college. I had a literature class at 11am, and the first thing the teacher did was hand out a thick packet of sheets, single spaced, in tiny font. This was the syllabus, and over the course of the first week, our professor kept talking about it. I didn’t know what a syllabus was. We didn’t have them in my high school, but it seemed like it was important, at least to my teacher.

I quickly learned that a syllabus is a class plan for the semester. The plan includes all the papers, tests, and projects you’ll be doing over the semester, along with the due dates. In the following years, whenever I got a syllabus for a new class, I would read it and promptly panic. I’d imagine reading the five novels we’d have to read in the next 16 weeks. I’d imagine all those tests, all those papers to write. I learned after a while, though, that it was never as bad as I’d imagined. I didn’t have to read all those books in a day, and I didn’t have to know all that information immediately. I learned to look at the big picture but also to think of the class just one or two weeks at a time.

What I never knew as a student was that teachers think of the syllabus as their contract with the student. This is the real reason that my teacher kept talking about the syllabus on my first day of college. This was her agreement with us, and she wanted to be clear in making that agreement. This is where we could find our teacher’s policies on everything from attendance to late assignments to what happens when you use your cell phone during lectures. The syllabus serves as a record that students received the information.

What do you do with all that information, then, when you get your syllabus? I’m glad you asked!

New Tool in Development for International Students

In Tools on July 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

blue books

I’m working on a new tool for international students — a guide about how to get an A on an academic paper, designed specifically for international students at the college or university level. I’ll be including information on how to write well, along with ideas on how to understand what your teacher is looking for in each paper.

I’d love to include ideas on what you’d like to learn, though. If there are specific things you’d like me to include in the guide, could you let me know in the comments section of this post? Here are some questions to get you going:

  • What is your biggest struggle, when it comes to academic writing?
  • What is your biggest fear, when working on a paper for a new teacher?
  • What is your writing process usually like?
  • What do you want advice on most, when it comes to writing in English?

Thank you in advance for your help. It means the world to me!

*     *     *


College Rankings have been released for this year, and the ULS Blog has reported on the findings. Take a look to see if your school is among the best-ranked in the United States… Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Reading Part Three: Easier Reading

In learning on July 23, 2009 at 10:15 am


This is the third of four parts in my little series on summer reading. Last month, we talked about the reasons that reading can increase your English vocabulary faster than any other type of English practice, and I shared a few novels that I think you might like. This week, I’d like to give you some tips on making reading easier.

It’s easy for me to say that you should read a novel in English, isn’t it? English is my native language. It’s faster for me, right? It’s true. Reading is a lot tougher when you’re reading in another language. I remember taking a literature class with my roommate (who was an international student). I would sit back in a fluffy chair to read the novels we had for class. I had a pen to underline fun stuff, but for the most part, the reading was a treat for me. My roommate, on the other hand, sat with several dictionaries, a stack of post-its, and a worried expression on her face. It’s tough to read in a language that’s not your native language. I can’t deny that. There are a few things you do can do to make the experience easier and more fun, though:

1) Don’t stop to look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary. I know it feels like this is the right thing to do, but avoid using the dictionary as much as possible. If a word is unfamiliar, guess its meaning from the context and keep reading. Use the dictionary only if you’re completely lost in the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Overwhelmed during finals week?

In organization on June 4, 2009 at 9:00 am

life computer printout

It’s easy to get overwhelmed toward the end of the semester, as you’re studying for three tests, preparing your final English paper, or completing that last final project. Sometimes, even starting to tackle a project like this seems too overwhelming. One solution is to start by breaking the project into smaller chunks. Here’s an idea of how you might break down a research paper:

  1. Read the teacher’s handout of the assignment
  2. Make a list of resources (people, libraries, etc.) available for help
  3. Brainstorm a list of possible topics
  4. Choose your favorite topic
  5. Create a research question (a thesis statement in the form of a question)
  6. Learn how to use the library database
  7. Locate 3 articles from the database
  8. Look critically at the first article to decide if it’s a good source . . .

Notice that these are small steps. You don’t want to tell yourself to “Research” or to “Write the paper.” Instead, look for tasks that are small enough to make you think “I can do that!” Choosing a topic might be overwhelming, but brainstorming a list of ideas might not sound so bad. Researching sounds like no fun, but just finding three articles? Not so hard. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing for Final Exams

In exams on May 22, 2009 at 10:00 am


It’s the time in the season for final exams. As each of your classes winds to a close for the summer, you’ll have papers due, projects to present, and tests to take. At my school, students are walking around with wrinkled brows and large cans of Monster energy drinks. Everyone looks so tired! It’s important right now to study strategically, to get the best results without running yourself ragged.

Here are a few basic reminders that might help you make it through the next couple of weeks:

  • Find a comfortable place to study. Not everyone studies best in the library or at home. You might work well at a coffee shop or outside in a park. When I was an undergraduate (and taking lots of tests), I used to make note cards and carry them with me on walks. I’d study as I walked. Find a comfortable place where you can concentrate without distractions.
  • Don’t study for 12 hours straight. Marathon study sessions aren’t always the best. Read the rest of this entry »

Can you study less and get better grades?

In learning on September 17, 2008 at 2:59 am
Photo by Mollyali (thank you!)

Photo by Mollyali (thank you!)

I ran across an interesting posting today about studying. Basically, it says that studying long hours doesn’t necessarily mean getting the best grades in a class. Check it out here:

Study Hacks Blog: Why the Number of Hours you Spend Studying Means Nothing

I agree. Studying for hours on end doesn’t necessarily mean success. I remember one winter semester, when one of my best students failed to come for the final. The morning came, and he wasn’t in his seat. I’m a worrier, so I thought something terrible may have happened to him. What if he got in a car accident? What if he was sick and had no one to take him to the hospital? What if he was mugged on his way to class? It turns out that he’d been studying so hard for my final that he fell asleep while studying and slept through the exam. That’s studying too hard, I think!

Still, when you’re an international student, it sometimes does take long hours to get the studying done. During undergraduate school, my roommate was from Korea, and we took a literature class together. We had to read four or five novels during a semester. This was my favorite kind of studying. I would sit back in the dorm with a cup of tea, relax, and read for a couple of hours before class. That was my studying. Nothing stressful, nothing that seemed like work to me. My roommate, on the other hand, spent hours with the dictionary next to her, making detailed notes and lists of questions to ask me later. It wasn’t fair, but she had to spend a lot more time than I did. Still, there is a point when, even for international students, too much studying might just be ineffective.

How do you make studying faster and more effective, then? In addition to what the Study Hacks post says, here are a couple of my ideas:

1) If the test you’re studying for is all about memorization, use memory tricks, rather than repetition alone. Instead of reading the chapter in the textbook four or five times, pick out the stuff you think is likely to be on the test, and focus on memorization. Mnemonic devices are great for this. If a word or idea reminds you of a story from childhood, a person, or something else, link the two together in your mind, and you’ll be more likely to remember the information. The weirder the image or story, the more likely you are to remember your piece of information. If that doesn’t work, try setting the thing you have to remember to a tune. I still remember the long list of prepositions I had to learn when I was 11 years old, because my 6th grade English teacher had us sing them to the tune of the song “Yankee Doodle.”

2) If you’ve studied really hard and still have problems doing well in the class, talk with your teacher or TA. I remember taking an accounting class when I was in college. I was a literature major, and numbers have just never been my strong point. I wanted to take accounting anyway, and I figured that, with enough hard work, I could do all right. Still, when I got in the class, things just didn’t go well. I studied hard, read all the chapters, did the practice questions. Still, I couldn’t do the accounting stuff. I knew there were two columns in an accounting ledger, but I couldn’t figure out why — and why we had to put things in columns, instead of adding and subtracting. Once I got help and learned why this was done, the questions weren’t so hard, and (more importantly) I didn’t have to study so hard to get the grade I wanted.

3) If you’re working on a project or a paper, start early and take lots of breaks, instead of trying to put in many hours all at once. Especially when it comes to writing, taking breaks can making finding grammatical errors and editing in general go so much faster and easier.