Oh my goodness, one thing I don’t miss about being in college and graduate school is this time of year. Finals is a time that will make or break you as a student. So many final tests are worth a big chunk of your final grade and you have a million end of the semester projects due. While this time can be stressful, it’s important to prioritize self-care during this time as well. I wanted to share my best tips on how to prioritize taking care of yourself during this time.
When it comes to writing papers in college, we often have to read academic books. I have discussed how to effectively skim academic articles on the blog before, but today I want to discuss how to skim books. This is a great skill to have, because who wants to read a 300 page book in a week to do a paper? Not this girl! Check out my tips below.
Attention: This is not going to be about getting the cliff notes version of the book!
For some books that works, but I am not just going to tell you that. Skimming the book requires more focus than just picking up a summary of the book. Today I am going to give you the rundown on what skimming a book entails and I am going to go in-depth on this. I will even be sharing a video where I walk you through these steps because I want to make sure that you are able to skim an actual book.
I hope that you love this post and that it helps you out. These are seriously the things I wish I knew when I first started school, especially graduate school. If you know the story of when I first started graduate school I was drowning in school work. That semester I was taking sociological theory and my course had about 10 books along with countless articles. I was trying to read every word of these books, but I am here to tell you that you do not need to do this. No one does this.
The people that you see keeping up with their schoolwork each week are not reading the books word for word.
I think that we get so wrapped up in other people’s study habits and the fact that they seem to be on top of things that we don’t take a step back and try to understand the most effective and efficient way to research and study. Today we are going to fix that.
I. Understand Why You Are Reading The Book
The first step to skimming anything, whether it is a book or an article is to take a step back and understand why you are reading it. Different things require different levels of skimming. For some things you can potentially stop at the table of contents, but for some you may have to dig deeper and read parts of the chapters in the book.
Here are some reasons you might be reading the book:
- Writing an annotated bibliography: Honestly, the table of contents will be your best friend if you are just writing an annotated bibliography. You can’t go too in depth when you are writing an annotated bibliography, but you do want to give a few facts past what you can see in the table of contents.
- Writing a paper: If you are just including the book as a reference in a paper the table of contents and a few chapters you find interesting throughout the book to skim would be most important.
- Writing a paper about the book: If your paper is centered around the book your skimming will be focused around the table of contents and each chapter in the book.
- Discussing the book in class: If you are reading the book to discuss it in a class and maybe write a smaller assignment about the book, you will still need to skim the table of contents and all the chapters, but this won’t be as detailed a skim as if you were writing a paper about it.
Pro Tip: If you are reading the book to discuss in class, do a light skimming of all the chapters, and then get to know a couple of topics that seem important really well. Don’t get called on, talk first, and give your opinions on what you have learned well.
The above pro tip has literally saved my life in discussion-based courses where I skim a book to discuss in class. The same can be said of any article your skim too.
Read The Assignment
Before you do any kind of skimming, read the assignment. Know exactly what is expected of you and how the book plays into those expectations. How much detail does your professor want from the book? How do they discuss the book when it comes to those expectations?
For example, sometimes you may have a paper that is centered around the book, but the summary of the book only takes up a few pages of the assignment. If this is the case, you can be more selective with how much work you put into skimming.
Additionally, if this book is a part of a larger 30 page paper and will just be 1 of 30 sources, you will approach skimming a lot differently than if you are writing a 30 page paper on just this book.
Read the assignment first to get an understanding of how much detail you need to give and find a way to skim the book that gives you that much detail.
II. Understand The Important Parts Of The Book
In this section I will cover the important parts of the book that you want to make a mission to look through when you are working on skimming your book. These are the parts I normally skim, but skim with the context of your assignment in mind.
The cover can be very beneficial (but it really depends on the layout of the book.) Not all book covers are as valuable as they used to be. Some book covers are just a love letter to the author(s), but some book covers do a great job at offering a synopsis of the book. Having a brief paragraph about the book before you jump into it can be beneficial for you.
Make your way to the back of the book because the covers aren’t usually very helpful. The synopsis will most likely be found on the back of the book.
Table Of Contents
The table of contents is one of the most helpful parts of the book, especially because some books have extremely detailed table of contents. Look at the table of contents and examine what chapters are in the book and what each chapter is talking about.
If you have to write a small essay about this book this can be really beneficial because you take the table of contents and examine which ones you want to focus on, and which chapters you may not want to read much on.
Pro Tip: Remember, this is not a fiction book. These chapters don’t necessarily build on each other. You don’t have to (and potentially shouldn’t) read each chapter in succession.
Students get caught up on reading every single word, but there is a big chance that you don’t have to, and in fact, you shouldn’t. Use the table of contents to guide your reading to the parts of the book that you feel will be most helpful for you.
The index of an academic book can be really beneficial, because it groups a lot of categories and people together.
Pro Tip: Think about how many items are listed for a certain topic in the index. If a certain topic has a long index listing, it is more than likely very important, and should be included in your essay or discussion of the book.
The length of an index listing should be an important tell for the importance of that topic. Take the following index listings pulled from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity:
next-action decisions, 60, 62, 77-79, 127-39, 253-65, 268
accountability and, 262-63
as acquired practice 254-55
categories of 43-45
clarity and, 261-62
and creating the options of doing, 255-57
empowerment and, 264-65
intelligent dumbing down and, 259-61
as operational standard, 253, 264-65
procrastination and, 257-61
productivity and, 263
source of technique, 254-55
As we can see here, we have a lot of information in this book about next-action decisions, but not only is there a lot of information, it is pretty spread throughout the book. One, once we go back to the table of contents for this book we understand that their is an entire chapter devoted to this concept in David Allen’s book, but there is also a few mentions of this concept in other parts of this book which is a good sign.
On the other hand, agreements only has a couple of entries, and they are really bound to one part of the book. This wouldn’t be a good topic to spend a lot of time on if you are skimming a book, because there isn’t much on this topic in the book.
If you were writing a paper on this book, you would be better served spending time looking at the next-action decision listings over the agreements listings, because you could get more out of your time spent skimming.
Furthermore, if you want to make a believable case that you have read the book, you would be better served adding content that takes up a bigger section of the book. Including things that take up a big portion of the book means that you understand what the big picture concepts of the book are.
Headings & Subheadings Of Chapters
Once you are in the actual chapters of the book, you must become familiar with the various headings and subheadings of the book. This helps you keep on target and understand that you need to get through as much of the chapter as possible.
This is obviously not to say that you have to read everything, but that you have to read a little bit of everything. If you can say a couple of things about each of the headings/subheadings in a book that is good when it comes to deciding what to write in a paper.
Remember that you won’t have to skim every part of a book the same way. You may want to lightly skim some parts of a chapter, which may not require much more than just looking at pictures and definitions. Some skimming will require heavy reading of sections of the chapter.
Introduction & Conclusion Chapters
If your book has introduction or conclusion chapters, those can be really important to read and heavily skim. Just like the introduction and conclusion sections of an article are extremely beneficial, so are those chapters. Sometimes all you truly need to know about a book can be found in a comprehensive search of the conclusion chapter.
III. Understand Sections Of The Book You probably Don’t Need To Read
There are many parts of a book that are just there mainly for serious academics in a field. You don’t necessarily have to read these sections, especially as an undergraduate. I do want to discuss these sections and where it might be appropriate to read these sections.
Academic books often have notes and end notes scattered throughout chapters and at the end of pages. Don’t read those, they are usually just there for other academics who may have more questions about a certain concept. If you do have a few extra questions or want to learn a little more, you can definitely read those, but most professors don’t expect that you will read those end notes and notes sections.
Unless you are specifically told to read the appendix, this is another section of the article you can probably skip (especially for an undergraduate paper.) There is a reason that it was put at the back of the book versus in the actual chapter. Think of it as the geeky methodology explanation and the really specific information, usually this is for academics to read. It may be beneficial if there is a concept that you don’t understand in the book that you think will be further understood by skimming the appendix, but otherwise you can skip these sections.
Sometimes the author of an academic book will include a selected bibliography where they will include some great extra reads. You don’t have to necessarily look into this, but it can be beneficial if you are looking for other sources to cite in a paper you are writing.
IV. Understand the purpose is to skim
Often times when we skim, we forget the fact that we are actually skimming. We get so enthralled with the sections of the book that we are reading for the purposes of skimming that we start to read instead of skim the text. Don’t do this.
The Pomodoro Technique
I have told y’all about why I am obsessed with the pomodoro technique in the past. I love this even more for skimming books and articles. Why? The Pomodoro Technique makes you take a break when you are studying. During this break you are forced to take sometime to check emails or check Instagram, and during this time you are also assessing your previous study session. As you are relaxing for a few minutes between sessions you can re-evaluate how much time you are spending skimming versus just reading.
When you don’t use the pomodoro technique it’s easy to study for hours without ever re-evaluating your skimming. Taking breaks allows you to re-orient yourself and skim more.
V. The Video
Below I have filmed a great video all about skimming an academic book. It is about 20 minutes so it is rather lengthy, but I hope that y’all love it. Let me know if you have any questions about this video.
I hope that you found this post helpful as you begin skimming academic books. Reading is fun, but don’t feel that you need to read every single word of every book that you read for class. I wish I had known these tips and tricks when I started graduate school in 2015. It would have saved me SO MANY restless nights during my first semester of graduate school.
What is your best skimming tip for articles or books?
Today on the blog we are talking about how to make a powerful argument in your academic papers. Arguments are the backbone of any paper, so it’s your job to make a sound one. I am sharing the top five tips I have learned for creating convincing arguments. I hope that this will help you become a more successful academic writer.
I recently polled my Twitter audience on this topic, and the results were pretty split (half and half, to be exact) some people do have trouble making powerful academic arguments, while others feel they are strong in this regard. No matter where you stand, I hope that this post proves helpful for you. I am writing some of my best tips that I have learned from grading hundreds of papers as well as writing as a student myself.
1. Have A Clear, Concise Introduction and Backbone
The first thing we are going to discuss today is creating a clear and concise introduction and backbone to your academic article. This is such an important step to crushing your goals on your next academic article or even your next blog post. You have to start with the basics, darling!
Outline To Success
So I am not telling you that this outline has to be lengthy, but the more lengthy the outline is the better. I love outlines because once I build an outline, I can skip around in my paper. For example, while writing this post I have five sections. Now that I have those sections I can write from 1-5, or I can skip to section 4 and write a little on that and write the sections that inspire me first. I usually write my own blog posts with an outline format. I come up with the general ideas I want to cover and then I skip around the sections until my blog post is complete.
I also write my academic research like this. If you can skip around to what actually engages you the most, you can get a lot more done, but you need to make an outline first. Once you have your outline done you can:
Write a Kick-Ass Introduction Paragraph
One my all-time favorite articles I have ever written is called How To Write A Kick Ass Introductory Paragraph. In this post I give readers my top five ways to have a kick-ass intro paragraph. In my opinion a kick-ass intro paragraph is concise, relevant, humorous, professional, and enticing. I break these down in more detail in the post, but the biggest thing your introduction paragraph needs to do is share a concise outline of what you will be talking about. You can use the bullet points you made in your outline to do this. It may seem simple to say, “This paper will talk about point a, point b, and point c,” but this is the best way to share your thinking process quickly and easily with your readers.
2. Use Your Sources
You are not an expert in your field, but as a college student you have access to a plethora of information about your field just by using research databases. I understand that research databases can seem very confusing so in my post Your Ultimate Guide to Using Research Databases I take you through all the steps (and I even share a 20 minute video where I show you how to do research on a database that I frequently use for my own research.) Once you get your articles in a row, you have to learn how to effectively skim them so It’s a great thing I also have a post called Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101 where I show you all my best techniques for article skimming so you do not have to read entire articles in order to understand what you are reading.
When it comes to sources I highly suggest you use the most recent information about your subject in order to build an effective argument. You don’t want to base your argument on information found in the 1960s, especially since most information has changed a whole lot since then. You may want to include some pivotal works in your field in the paper, but this will come out of your research. More than likely, if there is an important work that you need to cite, other modern works will be citing that research.
3. Use an Academic Voice
An academic voice does a couple of things:
- It uses correct spelling and grammar.
- It does not use contractions.
- It is active.
- It flows from sentence to sentence.
- It uses the vocabulary of the discipline it is representing.
One of my FAVORITE tools for making sure my spelling and grammar is on fleek is a plugin called Grammarly. I am sure you have heard me talk about Grammarly if you have followed me the past few months. It’s a great spelling and grammar checker and I am obsessed with talking about it and using it. Until recently I hadn’t really used Grammarly, but after using it a few times I loved it so much I bought a year of premium and I became a Grammarly affiliate. In my opinion all students need to use Grammarly so if you are looking for a spelling and grammar checker, you need to check them out.
One thing that pushes Grammarly above all other spelling/grammar checkers in my opinion is how smart it is. Most spelling and grammar checkers will give your words as pass if they meet the basic spelling requirements, but not Grammarly. Based on the context a word is used in, Grammarly will suggest different words even if the word is technically spelled correctly. I adore Grammarly for that feature.
Over the past few weeks of writing with Grammarly I have noticed that my writing overall is improving when I run my academic papers by Grammarly. My professors are catching a lot less mistakes, and it’s not just when I actively use Grammarly. I am able to apply some of the lessons they have taught me about writing (as well as diversifying my vocabulary) even when I am not running my writing through Grammarly.
Another point I want to touch on is using the language of your discipline. In a recent article on The Happy Arkansan written by Amelie of A Wanderer’s Adventure she mentioned her favorite writing resources, included in this list of resources was a specialized dictionary or encyclopedia. These are really great if you want to use language that is specific to your field. Using this specific language will help boot your argument to people in your discipline.
4. Recognize the Other Side of the Argument
The next piece of the puzzle is that you have to recognize the other side of the argument. When you don’t recognize and discuss the other half of the argument, you leave a large portion of your argument to be debunked. Declining to even acknowledge the other side makes it seem like you have something to hide within your paper, so it is important that you take a few sentences (or even paragraphs) to respond to the other side of your argument throughout your paper. A well rounded argument is the best argument.
You don’t have to focus on the argument a lot, but my suggestion is to read a few papers who have an opposite opinion to the main argument you have in your paper. Cite a couple of the most important sentences in their paper, and see how you can explain, debunk, or acknowledge their worth. You won’t always disagree with everything they say, and being able to share a little bit of the pros and cons of their argument without fear will only boost your argument.
5. Don’t Be A Disaster Scenario Thinker
Lastly, as I have been grading lots of papers this semester I have noticed something about a lot of students. In order to fill up space in your paper you base your arguments on the worst case scenario of the other side. For example, say you were supposed to argue about whether or not alcohol should be legal on campus and you were against it. Instead of basing your argument in a calm, best case scenario way–you may dive straight into the instances of drunk driving that legal alcohol on campus may bring or you might talk about how alcohol is bad for you and that might lead to marijuana and marijuana leads to cocaine, etc.
This is not how you perform a sound argument.
Acknowledge the worst case scenario but don’t build an argument around it. You wouldn’t want the other side to do it to you. For example, if someone was for the legalization of alcohol on campus you wouldn’t want them to point out the worst case scenario on your side. You wouldn’t want them to point to prohibition and state that keeping alcohol illegal on campus would lead to prohibition era problems on college campuses. You must make your arguments based in reality and not the worst case, because often in life the worst case scenario doesn’t happen so you want to make sure your argument can stand the test of time.
I hope that this post was helpful for you as you write any of your leftover and future assignments. Writing convincing arguments is a skill that needs to be honed in and perfected overtime.
What did you learn from today’s blog post on arguments?
Today is the last day of October which means that November and the end of the school year are coming soon. Today on the blog I am going to give you 8 things to remember during this final month of school so that you can kick ass and end the semester on a high note!
1. Calculate your final grade
Right now it is really important to know where you stand so you can calculate where you want to be. Some professors don’t make calculating your grade easy though. If your professor’s grades are weighted, check out this grade calculator by Dr. Ben Eggleston at KU. I can’t tell you how much of a life-saver this calculator has been to me over the years. I don’t want to calculate grade percentages on my own! The great thing about this calculator? You can also figure out what average you need on remaining assignments to get a certain grade in the class, and figure out what grade you will get if you get a certain average on leftover assignments. Totes cool.
make sure your grade on blackboard/canvas is correct
Professors are sometimes a little forgetful. They may hand you something back with a grade and forget to put it up on Blackboard/Canvas. Sometimes they have other copies of your grade outside of Blackboard or Canvas but it never hurts to check. If the grade you calculate is drastically different from your grade online pay your professor a visit and get it sorted out. You would be surprised how something small really makes a difference.
For example, in undergrad during my sophomore year I took a Social Problem class. The professor uploaded our grades and I had a B, I really wanted an A but I didn’t want to complain and I was just happy I got a good grade. Someone else in the class did end up talking to the professor about their grade which made him realize there was a mistake in the final grading. This didn’t affect everyone, but it affected a few people and one of those people was me. I ended up with an A in that class because someone knew exactly what their grade was supposed to be and inquired about it. I know you might not talk if you end up with a decent grade, but it never hurts to do some last minute calculations during this time of year.
Always keep up with your assignments
Just as a quick note, always keep up with your assignments as they are passed back to you. As I stated earlier sometimes professors are forgetful and they hand you something back without recording the grade. If that happens you need to be able to have something tangible to show them in order to get the points you deserve and the only way to do that is to have the original paper with their grade on it. If you get something, keep up with it!
I know that a lot of people get expanding or accordion file folders in order to keep up with their work in. These are great because they are cheap and you can keep up with a lot of courses in one folder.
Be conscious of how much of your grade is still up for grabs
The final countdown is notorious for being a grade breaker or maker. Most professors have courses that are extremely backloaded which means that most of your course grades will come from the end of the course. This semester, for example, my final paper in my social organization course is worth 50% of our grade! Even though I currently have an A in the course, this paper is crucial, and I cannot afford to fail the paper.
You need to understand where the bulk of your course is coming from. Some professors do a great job of distributing the weight of the class throughout the semester, but you need to look at the syllabus to determine how things are weighted. Once you do this you can accurately pace yourself as you figure out how to spend your time during the rest of the semester.
2. write down an aggregate list of your final assignments
Around this time of the semester I like to sit down, open up all the syllabi for the courses I am currently taking, and create an aggregate list of my final assignments. I get really frazzled during this time of the semester and I forget things frequently, so having this list helps me stay on top of any leftover assignments. I usually print out this list and stick it on my desk or in my binder–wherever I am most likely to see it daily. Here is an example of what my list looks like right now.
In the above picture the top part is all of the assignments I have left in the two graduate school courses I am taking. In the bottom table I am helping grade papers for one of my professors so I have also listed the last few grading assignments I have left in that course along with their due dates.
You can color code your list, have a space to check off your assignments as you go, and even make a row that tells you the weight of the grade on the assignment. How you decide to do your list is completely up to you.
Write it on a sticky note
If you like something a little more tangible, get out your sticky notes and write down all your due dates on a sticky note. You can then stick this in your planner, on the hand rest on your laptop, or even on the mirror in your bathroom so it’s one of the first things you see.
If you have a Windows PC like me (I also have a MacBook but I do most of my school work on a PC desktop as of this semester) they have an app called Sticky Notes where you can make digital sticky notes and pin the note to your PC. This is great if you do most of your school work on a computer so you can access your sticky note with all of your due dates as soon as you turn on your computer.
Stop taking things week by week
During the semester it is easy for your motto to be, “If tomorrow isn’t the due date, today isn’t the do date,” but now it’s crunch time! You have to stop taking things week by week. Once you get this weeks tasks done, your next step is to keep moving through your to do list as much as possible. If there is something you could be working on, and you are not waiting on your professor to give you further instructions, start working on it!
Take note of any upcoming schedule changes
This part of the semester gets really busy and things change all the time. With Thanksgiving Break coming up as well as Finals Week you need to make sure you know where you need to be and when. Take note of your finals week schedule, and any re-scheduled or cancelled classes that are happening as a result of the end of the semester. You never want to forget that your 8 AM lecture is cancelled and be the only one who shows up to the course.
3. get rest
Your brain needs rest more than anything. Sleep is how your brain processes vital information and turns words into long term memory. As you can see by this graphic from Amerisleep, sleep is very important to the brain
Information Source & Additional Reading
Since sleeping does all of this for your body, why would you want to deprive your body of sleep? I know finals are stressful, but don’t cram and take your test. You need the information that you learn to transfer over to your long-term memory and therefore you need sleep to make that happen.
4. visit your professor before finals week
I am going to be honest with you–the only time that office hours are utilized is midterms and finals week. Visiting during finals week is extremely ineffective because at this time during the semester there is very little your professor can do to actually help you succeed. It’s also ineffective to go during this time of the year because literally everyone and their mother is going to office hours during this time (and literally some people’s mothers go because, you know, helicopter parents.)
You need to make it a priority to go now while the lines are clear and you can get in and get out of the professors office without waiting in those long finals week lines. This also helps your professor’s thoughts of you because they know you are a more serious student than those who just come because of finals week.
5. Make a list of all the errands you need to run before the end of the semester
During this part of the semester you probably have a long list of things you need to do before the semester is over and you can go home to enjoy winter break. Here is a small list of things you may need to remember to do before you go home.
- Schedule and attend your advising appointment. (Check out this article from my blog written by an adviser about how to have your best advising appointment.)
- Register for classes.
- Start finding housing for next year.
- Fill out any graduation paperwork if you are graduating in the spring.
- Return any book rentals/sell back your textbooks.
- Make a list of everything you need to buy before the semester begins.
- Make sure you don’t have any unpaid parking tickets or bills to the university.
- Start looking at and purchasing the textbooks you will need for next semester.
- Make sure your financial aid is in order for the next semester.
- Figure out any bills you need to pay for your apartment/house during the break.
This list is a small list, and there may be items on this list that don’t even apply to you. Start figuring out your list of things you need to do before the next semester, especially things you need to do while you are in your college town.
6. Have fun
Yes, the final countdown is a serious time, but you also need to schedule some time for fun. Don’t let this month get so serious that you forget to take time for yourself. Listed below are 10 fun things you can do during the next month to have some fun.
- Get your nails done.
- Go to the movies.
- See a basketball game.
- Go bowling.
- Go to a concert.
- Have a Netflix marathon.
- Take a walk in the park.
- Visit animals at the animal shelter.
- Go (window) shopping.
- Play a video game. (I personally suggest anything in The Sims franchise.)
7. Remember to study how you study best
During this time of the year your friends, your classmates, or people on your hall may want to get together for study groups. During this time of the semester it’s really easy to find yourself in study situations that you are not used to. You need to remember how you study best and study that way during the final countdown. I personally can’t study well in groups or in the library so I need to be on my own in my room or in my office at work. I know how I study best and I have to use that to study.
It’s okay to spend a little bit of your study time in new places, but if you know you don’t study well in a particular location, you also need to make sure you are scheduling adequate study time outside of those situations. So don’t allocate 10 hours to studying and then spend all of those 10 hours in an environment that doesn’t help you study.
8. Join me during The Happy Arkansan’s Encouragement Month
Lastly, in order to kick ass during the academic final countdown join me on Instagram for Encouragement Month. Each day during November I will be sharing an inspirational quote and a message to go along with that quote at 9 AM CST. This will be a great way to get daily inspiration as you start the final countdown in November. I know we all need extra inspiration to succeed and kick ass during this time of the semester. I have already posted about the month a few times on Instagram so go check it out the link below to learn more, and follow me while you are there.
The final countdown is probably the hardest part of the semester, but I know you are capable of succeeding at this part of the semester. You are so smart and you will accomplish amazing feats during this last month of the semester. Remember to keep moving ever forward, have some fun, and get some rest during this last month of class.