4 Ways to Survive School Even If You Don’t Have a Time Machine (Guest Post)

Alexandra Harmening is a recently graduated writer who loves avocados and is currently living 365 Days of Pride and Prejudice.

While trying to squeeze my undergraduate degree into three years, things often seemed more than a little bit hectic. I frequently informed professors that I was working on discovering how to be in two places at once. But that one never really panned out.

Sometimes it is hard to keep your sanity as a student. From homework to internships to some semblance of a social life squeezed in between, the undergrad years brim with busyness. Fortunately, there are four healthy habits that can help students survive school and still succeed, even without a time machine.

The author giving her valedictory speech.

The author giving her graduation speech.

1. Jumpstart Projects

One of the only ways that I made it through school with my grades intact was starting papers and projects as soon as they were assigned. For my senior these this meant breaking ground on research six months early. For end of the semester papers, this typically meant checking out resources from the library during the first or second week of school.

Working ahead is probably the inverse of a common collegiate plague called procrastination. Where procrastinating leaves you sleepless and stressed for the last month of school, completing projects ahead provides time for editing, sleeping every night, meeting to consult your professor, time to print out the paper and freedom from stress during finals week. (In fact, finals week used to be my favorite because by then everything was almost wrapped up—well, except for exams. Sound crazy? I dare you to try it.)

2. Sleep  

“There’ll be time to sleep when we graduate,” friends and I would tease as we typed furiously. Unfortunately, sleep is easily overlooked in the long list of assignments to check off during the day. But most of the time, it is easier to pause in the middle of a project, go to sleep and wake up with a fresh brain and new ideas in the morning.

Complex brain functions such as updating working memory, planning, attention, sense of time, dealing with novel situations and verbal fluency are dramatically affected by sleep-deprivation because the brain is forced to overwork, notes Jim Horne, PhD, who directed a sleep research laboratory at England’s Loughborough University.

“Sleep deprivation is bad for your brain when you are trying to do high-level [thinking] tasks” confirms University of California, San Diego researcher and author Dr. J. Christian Gillin. And sleep deprivation “may have serious consequences both on performance and on the way your brain functions.”

The lesson here: sleep is probably more valuable than we give it credit for being as college students. And in some cases, the key to success on that test tomorrow morning might actually be crashing on your pillow rather than enduring a caffeine induced all-nighter.

3. Know When to Say No

The trickiest thing about college for me was all of the amazing opportunities that sprang up each and every week. I wanted to grab them all in case it was the last time anyone ever asked me to be on the library committee or go on a hike or play in the pit orchestra for the spring musical or work as a part-time tutor or join student government or go out for coffee or—you get the picture. But one of the greatest life lessons that you can start learning while still in school is when and how to say, “No.”

Not to sound like a homework Nazi because it really is important to work towards a balanced life with fun activities and breaks, but there are too many possibilities to answer yes to them all. Unless, of course, you have a time machine.

Identifying your goals for coming to college is a realistic way to begin checking your list of commitments and deciding what are valuable priorities and what can actually be cut. This might be painful, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be involved in amazing and enriching extracurriculars. It just means that you can’t be a member of every single school club or work three and a half jobs while taking 18 units. 

 

4. After a Hard Day of Writing, It’s Good to Write Some More

When you’ve spent the last seven hours writing, memorizing, reading and then writing some more, it is great to relax with a little more writing. Yes, that does sound crazy, but if you are a writer, then you probably know what I mean.

The idea here is to make time for your passion because sometimes, in the midst of pursuing a degree in the subject you love, it becomes easy to forget why it matters and what there is to like about it.

For me, this manifested itself in scribbling out thoughts for my own blog once a week called My Year with Elizabeth Bennet. It was a great way for me to unwind and process while remembering why I was majoring in English.

Now, an engineering major might feel that sitting down to write is one of the most stressful activities I could suggest. But taking an afternoon to pull apart a VW Bug and then reassemble it on the roof of the dorm building might sound amazing. Finding a creative outlet, one that won’t be graded by your professor at the end, is a positive way to unwind and rest. It’s any kind of practical return to your first love that you can invent.

There is probably no one formula for success that any student at any school can download to automatically work. But remembering the basics or sleep, planning ahead, setting priorities and returning to your interests will hopefully help you to find an efficient balance for your college years. And maybe after graduation, you will have developed the skills to start building that time machine.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Eight Rules for Writing a Great Paper (Guest Post)

Lois Weldon is a professional writer at the dissertation writing service Uk.bestdissertation.com.  She is an ESL teacher.  Her hobbies are decoupage and writing poetry.  She loves Marvel comics and homeschooling her 7-year-old son.

If you’re a college student, you’ve probably completed hundreds of writing assignments and become intimately familiar with the writing process.  But writing does not stop with graduation – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to write even after you finish school. No matter how much writing you’ve done, it never hurts to learn a few tips and tricks to facilitate the writing process.

Read these tips before writing that paper.  Photo by gudmd.haralds via Flickr.

Does this look familiar to you? Read these tips before writing that paper! Photo by gudmd.haralds via Flickr.

  1. Make an outline. The importance of having an outline can never be overstated. An outline is a blueprint for your assignment. Developing an outline will help you organize your ideas, conduct better research, and estimate the word count for every section.
  2. Take note of the structure. When doing your writing assignment, make sure it has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. An introduction should introduce your topic and provide background information, while the body of the paper should contain the supporting evidence for your paper. Lastly, provide a conclusion by summarizing your argument and putting it in context. Remember: the conclusion is your last chance to impress your readers, so make it memorable!
  3. Ensure continuity of ideas. Imagine if your paper is all over the place – that is, you discuss a certain topic in one paragraph, then introduce an entirely unrelated topic in the next paragraph. Your reader will not be pleased. It’s important to maintain continuity so your readers will be able to follow your train of thought.
  4. Keep it objective. When it comes to academic writing, what really count are facts and relevant information. While your opinion does matter, refrain from incorporating it on your writing assignment. It is imperative that you present a clear and unbiased picture based on evidence and expert studies. Unless your opinion is being asked, don’t include it in the paper.
  5. Use bullets and numbering. In some academic writing, bullet points are preferable to long-winded paragraphs. This will allow you to discuss each point in an efficient and organized manner. Plus, it’s easier on the eyes.
  6. Take note of the word count. When writing your assignment, keep in mind that too few words means you won’t be able to express your ideas effectively, while too many words can lead to superfluity or duplication of ideas. If you are given a required word count, stick to it! In your outline, indicate how many words you should allot per section.
  7. Use examples. In a writing assignment, you must show that you understand the resources and materials you gathered from research. Use concrete examples to apply what you’ve learned and support your arguments.  You should also make use of tables, statistics and figures in your paper.
  8. Cite your sources. When it comes to academic writing, citing your sources, especially when you’re borrowing an idea or theory, is a must. Plagiarism is a form of stealing and you don’t want to compromise your future just because you did not acknowledge someone else’s work.

For more tips on how to write a paper and much more, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

How Stuyvesant Influenced My Writing Career

On Sunday, June 23, I was honored to participate in the “Writer’s Block” event at the Stuyvesant High School all-class reunion, along with eight other writers who are Stuy alumni: Richard (R.B.) Bernstein, Robert Timberg, Joe Dorinson, Peter Wortsman, Eugene Schlanger, Rebecca Pawel, Richard Herschlag, and Becky Cooper. They asked us to talk about things like the road to publication and the impact Stuyvesant has had on our writing careers. I thought I would include the questions that were asked, along with a summary of my answers.

The Secrets of Top Students

The Secrets of Top Students

(1) Tell us a little bit about your work (most recent or favorite) and what inspired you to write the book? Include why you choose the genre you did.

I just came out with my first book, The Secrets of Top Students. It’s an advice book for high school and college students on how to succeed in school. I was inspired to write this book because I felt like I had so much to share with other students. I’ve been a top student all my life – I was valedictorian of Stuy, class of ’99. I graduated from Columbia with the highest GPA in my class. I also have experience in a wide range of subjects – I have a B.A. in History, an M.A. in Art History, and a B.S. in Computer Science. Over the years I developed lots of techniques that helped me excel in school, and it just felt natural for me to write this book and share those techniques.

(2) What is your writing practice?

I just write whenever I can. My mind is usually the clearest in the morning, so I’m most productive then. I usually write at home, but I write outside whenever I can. I’m a pretty slow writer. I write a few pages, and then I spend a lot of time editing. Some days I’m much more productive than others.

(3) Describe the road to publication, from idea to release.

This idea started when I was getting my last degree, a B.S. in Computer Science from Columbia. I started writing down all the techniques that I was using, and all the things that my classmates were doing wrong – things like cramming for tests, not taking enough notes, not managing their time well, not asking for clarification, etc. After I graduated I wrote the first three chapters, did a lot of research, and surveyed forty-five other top students to get their insight into what it takes to be a top student. These people are Rhodes scholars, Goldwater scholars, Fulbright recipients, students at top law and medical schools, and even a National Spelling Bee winner. A few months later I got an agent, Coleen O’Shea, and she helped me find a publisher/ get a book contract. It then took me a few more months to finish the book, which came out in May. The whole process, from idea to publication, took 4 or 5 years – but the idea was gestating for a long time.

(4) Describe how you went about finding an agent and how you went about finding a publisher or decided to self-publish?

I got a book called The Writer’s Market, which has a great listing of literary agents. I sent query letters to agents who accepted non-fiction books, and luckily I got one! She helped me work on my platform and create a book proposal. Then she submitted my proposal to a couple of publishers. I had phone interviews with a few of them, and Sourcebooks gave me a contract! I was really happy because Sourcebooks has a great education division. They publish books like The Fiske Guide to Colleges and Gruber’s Test Prep series.

(5) Was there a Stuyvesant Muse? Describe whether attending Stuyvesant High School had an impact on your writing endeavors.

I wouldn’t be here today without Stuyvesant. I learned how to be a great student here. Stuyvesant has such high standards, and the student body is so talented, that I had to develop powerful techniques to succeed. I’m sure many of you will agree with me that college was relatively easy compared to Stuyvesant. And of course, being valedictorian of Stuyvesant has a certain cachet that helped me get a book contract in the first place.

I’m not sure if I would use the term muse, but I was really inspired by Dr. Nikol, who taught AP European History. He was a great story-teller and made history come alive, as they say. I remember I did pretty poorly on the first few tests in his class because they were so detailed, and I had to readjust/ refine my study habits. He was one of the most demanding teachers I had here, but I learned so much. He was a big part of the reason why I specialized in medieval European History at Columbia. I still have a love of history, and that’s why I’m writing a historical fiction novel set on Crete during the time of the Minoans, which is currently a finalist in the James Jones First Novel Contest.

The Best Birthday Present Ever

My copies are here!

My copies are here!


Today is my birthday, but more importantly – for me, at least – it’s also the official release date of my book, The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College! As a birthday gift from my publisher, I got fifty free copies of my book – which I now have to distribute to influential people, I suppose. (Anybody in the media or education want a copy?) But it’s such a cool feeling to hold my own book in my hands. It’s kind of like holding your baby for the first time.

It’s also been a crash course in marketing and publicity for me. I’ve already had some mentions in the press (for example, in the New York Post and the IMT Career Journal). And I’m lining up talks and at least one book signing. It’s pretty exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

I’m in the process of making a nice-looking flyer for my book, but for now, here it is in draft form:

Pssst!
Want to get better grades?

Then get The Secrets of Top Students:
Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College

Written by Stefanie Weisman,
Valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School
Highest GPA, Columbia University

With insight from 45 of the best students in the country

Includes:
• How to take killer notes, improve reading comprehension, and write amazing papers
• How to get and stay motivated
• 50 Grade A test-taking tips
• Three game-changing learning techniques
• The mind-body connection
• And much, much more

“An insightful guide for high achievers—and those aspiring to such status—from an authoritative source.” –Alec Klein, Northwestern University professor, bestselling author and award-winning journalist

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine booksellers.
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN: 9781402280795

Are you considering starting a sweepstakes or promotion? Read this first.

It’s harder than you think! I’m considering starting one for my upcoming book The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College and I highly recommend this checklist provided by Santella and Associates. It’s chock-full of information about what’s legal and what’s not. (Hint: most things are not technically legal.)

Here are some other good links:
Legal Issues Affecting Promotions and Sweepstakes
Social Media Promotions and the Law
How to run a website contest without going to jail. This one’s particularly useful for writers.

The galleys have arrived!

The Secrets of Top Students Galleys

There’s nothing like the moment when you see your first book in print! I just got five galleys (advance, uncorrected copies) in the mail today from my publisher, Sourcebooks EDU. It’s such a strange and wonderful feeling to see all your hard work finally coming to fruition.

The book’s coming out in May, but you can also pre-order it on Amazon here:
The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College

Will We Be Publishing Books Written in Digital English Someday? (Guest Post)

I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger, Alexa Russell.  In this post, Alexa writes about nothing less than the future of the English language.  While we need to recognize the importance of Internet English, we should be wary of relying on it too much.  What’s your take on the issue?  Should we embrace the patois of the digital age, or fight to keep ‘proper’ English alive?  Should digital English become part of what you actually learn in English programs?  Without further ado, here’s Alexa.

The digital migration brings millions of new users to the Internet daily, with even more returning day after day to their favorite informational resource. Not only do these individuals access countless stores of knowledge held on websites and databases, they also contribute to the Internet by publishing in the form of Twitter and Facebook updates and blog posts. Many of these publication forms champion cursory writing, and in response many Internet users have found ways to express themselves through acronyms or shortened words.

This has spurred a huge debate about the current state of the English language. On the one hand, many believe that the rules of grammar serve as the best way to express yourself and be taken seriously. Others, however, believe that these rules hinder actual communication and force people to follow archaic rules that are inefficient for the digital age. The point of using abbreviations or removing vowels from words, after all, is to communicate more quickly.

A January 2012 feature article published by Wired Magazine illustrates why we should embrace this digital form of English. As the headline announces, “Its Tyme to Let Luce” with the rules of casual conversation. “English spelling is a terrible mess anyway,” writes Anne Trubek, “full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules. Why receipt but deceit? Water but daughter?”

Efforts to stem the digital corruption of English only get in the way, Trubek argues. Autocorrect software, which attempts to make sense out of misspelled words, both purposefully and not, often further complicates intended meanings by correcting to the wrong word.

Even colleges and universities, the bastions of proper English and, are beginning to embrace digital applications. A January 2012 piece published in the New York Times reports the attempts of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson to do away with the traditional term paper in favor of consistent posting to a class blog.

Although she finds that this outlet supports writers that rely on creativity in their prose, many feel that the rigid rules of proper grammar need to be respected, especially by college students. “Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center and a columnist for the American School Board Journal.

The youngest among us have incorporated digital forms of English so completely into our usage that it often finds its way into oral conversation. The Baltimore Sun published a May 2012 piece on different acronyms and abbreviations that parents should know in order to communicate with their children. Many of the more popular ones, like “YOLO” and “OOMF” are relatively new but are already being used by millions.

What the digital migration has allowed people to do is construct their own rules of conversation, apart from those held sacred by the old school of grammar. There’s no doubt that people will continue using these forms of speech, and postmodern writers have long been published advocates of English deconstruction. With the ease of publishing today, digital English will continue to take hold. However, those who don’t publish works that adhere to at least some standard rules of writing, may find that their audience dwindles when they can’t understand what they’re reading.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!