Tips for Synthesizing Information

Taking notes with an eye toward synthesis (that is, making connections to previous material, readings, lectures, and so forth) can give you a head start on the writing process.

One of the challenges of college is assimilating large amounts of information from a variety of sources: lectures, course readings, independent work research, precept discussions, extracurricular programming—the list goes on and on. Compounding the challenge is the fact that what’s ultimately demanded of students is not mere recall, which can be accomplished through memorization. Rather, we’re charged with synthesizing disparate materials, pulling things together, making connections across genres of information. In this post, I reflect on some of the ways I try to do this. Continue reading Tips for Synthesizing Information

How to Get Ready to Study for Midterms

Identifying a suitable study location is one important aspect of getting ready for midterms week.

It’s hard to believe, but Fall 2018 midterms are coming up. Perhaps your professors have begun to talk about past exams or paper topics. Or maybe you’re just looking at some ominous exam dates on the syllabus, poised like a roadblock between you and the glorious week of Fall Break. Friends, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be alright. Whether these are your first fall midterms or your last (!), this post will share some surefire strategies that you can use to get yourself ready for the first major round of testing of the academic year. While I will share some specific study strategies, I’ll mainly focus on steps you can take to get yourself ready to study. That way, when the studying actually begins, you’ll have greater peace of mind knowing that you have an overall plan for the week. Continue reading How to Get Ready to Study for Midterms

How to Study in College

After enjoying a summer of traveling, volunteering, camping, interning, hanging out with friends or whatever other shenanigans you might have been up to, it can be difficult to get back into the Princeton mindset.

Even though we are already a month in to the semester, I am still trying to remember how to do school! If you’re anything like me, you’re still working to rebuild your study habits.  As we all begin to prepare for midterms (eek!), here are some study tips and tactics tailored to your learning style.

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Studying Studying: Memory Tips from Psychology

There’s a lot of information to remember for finals– learn how to keep it all straight.

With finals season approaching, a sense of dread sets in every time I take notes in lecture—how am I supposed to remember all of this information at once? Often the prospect of beginning the study process is so overwhelming that organizing all the information seems almost impossible.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ve realized that a lot of my psychology research and coursework have provided many useful tips to make studying as effective and efficient as possible. I have compiled a few here to help you get started and hopefully feel more comfortable diving into studying when reading period comes around.

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Learning how to Learn: Making Research Relevant

I have never liked open-ended projects. The ones that ask you to “pick one concept and explore it” or “pick something that interests you and expand on it” always overwhelm me. How can I pick just one thing to focus on from a semester-long course that I took for the explicit reason that I was interested in all of the subject matter?

Determining the most effective study strategy is on many students’ minds with exams approaching

Last spring, I was faced with one of these final projects in my cognitive psychology course. We were asked to pick one of the central concepts in cognitive psychology, identify a question and hypothesis related to it, and design an experiment to test it. The first thing I did was read over my notes from the semester to try to find something I was particularly interested in but…plot twist…I was interested in pretty much everything, so I needed to come up with a different strategy.

I decided to reverse engineer my search for a topic. What is a question I want to answer? What would I be interested in learning about right now? What is relevant to me at this moment? Well, at the time we were coming up on finals season, so naturally studying was all I could think about. How could I most efficiently study for all of my upcoming exams?  Luckily, learning and memory are fundamental concepts in cognitive psychology so I was on my way to developing a successful, interesting, and relevant project. A project that not only appropriately connected to the material in the course, but one that I could apply to my day to day life. Continue reading Learning how to Learn: Making Research Relevant

In Between the Lines: A Guide to Reading Critically

 

A good example of how I mark up my readings as I go

I often find that Princeton professors assume that we all know how to “read critically.” It’s a phrase often included in essay prompts, and a skill necessary to academic writing. Maybe we’re familiar with its definition: close examination of a text’s logic, arguments, style, and other content in order to better understand the author’s intent. Reading non-critically would be identifying a metaphor in a passage, whereas the critical reader would question why the author used that specific metaphor in the first place. Now that the terminology is clarified, what does critical reading look like in practice? I’ve put together a short guide on how I approach my readings to help demystify the process.

  1. Put on your scholar hat. Critical reading starts before the first page. You should assume that the reading in front of you was the product of several choices made by the author, and that each of these choices is subject to analysis. This is a critical mindset, but importantly, not a negative one. Not taking a reading at face value doesn’t mean approaching the reading hoping to find everything that’s wrong, but rather what could be improved. Continue reading In Between the Lines: A Guide to Reading Critically

Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone: How to Sound Like an Expert on an Unfamiliar Topic

How many times have you had to research a topic outside of your area of interest? Whether you are fulfilling a distribution requirement or testing out a new field, developing sound arguments in areas that are new to you can be intimidating. With that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips that always help me when my I’m especially unfamiliar with my research topic:

  1. Look for a rebuttal argument: Rebuttal articles usually clarify and outline the argument you’re researching in order to argue against it. This helps clarify some of your own ideas while also giving material to complicate your own arguments. I do this early in the research process, as it helps me solidify a direction with my paper when I have a lot of general ideas. I recently used this technique while writing a paper on Evangelical
    YouTube is good for more than procrastinating! Alternative sources like videos can explain complicated material.

    environmentalism. I struggled to develop an argument until I read a text explaining why this framework would not be economically feasible. I used this rebuttal in conjunction with articles on viable economic models of Evangelical environmentalism to help me jumpstart my argument. Without the rebuttal article, I would have had a less clear understanding of the topic and would have approached my paper with a more limited perspective.  Continue reading Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone: How to Sound Like an Expert on an Unfamiliar Topic

How to Ace Your Final Draft

I recently got back a midterm essay and, as it turns out, I didn’t do so well. I didn’t give myself enough time to fully flesh out my arguments, and ended up with lots of logic gaps as a result. I was pretty disappointed, but I realized that I could turn this setback into a learning opportunity. So for the final essay, I chose to develop the ideas from this paper, working through its problems and retooling arguments. With the process of rewriting in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you revise drafts and papers.

  1. If your first draft wasn't great, you have an opportunity to reinvent your old ideas!
    If your first draft wasn’t great, you have an opportunity to reinvent your old ideas!

    Talk to your professor. This might be intuitive, but don’t revise your paper using only your professor’s notes in the margins. Ask in person what worked and what didn’t so you can get a better sense of where to go. Then continue from there.

  1. Start thinking about your thesis. Be honest with yourself, do you agree with it? Is it logical? My thesis was a huge part of what detracted from my essay, because I didn’t properly outline my ideas or prove the argument I had made. Think about how you could tweak your main argument relative to the evidence you already have so you avoid writing an entirely new paper.

Continue reading How to Ace Your Final Draft

Swamped With Sources? Tips for Synthesis

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Accurate representation of me drowning in sources

After looking at the midterm essay prompt for my French class, I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of readings I would have to review and analyze. Dozens of articles, books, and excerpts loomed on the syllabus, and I had no idea where to begin. I often run into this problem. Synthesis is a meaningful combination of several sources, and can be difficult to do when everything seems important. The pressure to come up with a unifying and relevant thesis makes these initial stages of finding information even more stressful. Having experienced this struggle several times, I’ve come up with a few ways to organize sources that will hopefully be useful in the writing process!

Writing begins with a research question. That question might come from a given prompt, or from a personal interest. Either way, it provides a loose focus that will help eliminate irrelevant information when you’re reviewing and searching for sources. To speed up this process, make sure that if you’re reviewing sources you’ve already read in the semester, you’re just reviewing and not re-reading! You’ve already done the brunt of the work: simply skim through the readings to select ideas and passages that relate to your research question. Also, don’t feel pressured to use every source you’ve skimmed. Ultimately sources should function to bolster your own conclusions, so instead of crowding your paper with them, further analyze the ones most relevant to your research focus.

Continue reading Swamped With Sources? Tips for Synthesis

The Imp Walks in the Door: Creativity in the Research Process

Staring at my computer screen, I blink. The black cursor, a vertical slit of a pupil, blinks back.

The Romans thought of genius as a winged spirit, not a mortal artist. Here, Augustin Dumont’s 1833 rendering of the Genius of Liberty.

Uh-oh. I am trying to write the first essay for my environmental nonfiction class. But, sitting down to write, I can already feel the despondent haze of writer’s block descending. I swivel in my chair. I check my email but have no new messages. I type fdsajkl; on the first line of the page, and then delete it. What’s wrong with me? I think. Am I a writer or not?

Continue reading The Imp Walks in the Door: Creativity in the Research Process