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Jan. 9, 2003, Gazette

Lessons to apply

Katie Norman
Christmas break is over and all that remains of the holidays are a stack of crumpled balls of wrapping paper, empty cartons of eggnog, and a longing that we had a little more time off to sleep in. It's back to class and time to get in the groove all over again. It won't be long before that first essay is due and that first test paper lies in front of your eyes waiting to be filled in with the correct answers.

It's important to start each term with a fresh perspective – don’t get wrapped up in last term's bad marks or feel too overconfident in past A's. Each term is a blank slate and you can remake yourself.

I return to class a little wiser, not so fresh and with a slew of ways to better the university experience and myself. This isn't the usual study more, priorities, organize, analyze jargon – this is actually what you need to survive university.

First off, read what professors put on reserve. If they go through the effort to put it there you might as well read it. There are hints in their selections which provide great information for final exam questions. This I learn after looking at what is on reserve and wishing I had seen it before those in-class essays and finals. It is important to routinely check the reserve catalogue because sometimes they put it there without even mentioning it during a lecture.

Secondly, learn to be more confident in your own beliefs instead of always relying on the critics. Question what they say, dissect opinions, create your own, and do research to strengthen your views. It is okay to agree with a theorist but you also need to think for yourself. After all, university is all about learning to think coherently and be critical of the material around you. A new perspective that is well researched and supported will be refreshing for your professors and may add a plus to that letter on your paper.

Thirdly, when writing a paper always begin by defining the terms. This will not only help your professor to see where you're beginning from but will also get you thinking about the basics of your argument and provide an even footing to continue your argumentation.

Fourthly, after you've finished a paper hit the AutoSummarize function if you're an MS Word user. No I am not a salesperson for Microsoft, but this function does allow you to see where the strong points are in your argument. Nonetheless in the end rely on your own judgment, not the computers, to cut pieces from your work. You should be able to pick out the thesis in your paper easily; if you don't know what it is the professor never will.

Fifthly, spend the most time on your introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph. Many professors say they know the mark that they will give by how solid you write these two key paragraphs. Of course the body of the paper is considered, but the introduction and conclusion are where the strongest points should be.

Sixthly, if they give you two hours to do an exam, take two hours – don't leave early. This is not to say that people who leave early didn't fully complete the exam or are more likely to get a worse mark than those who stay, rather it is a better reflection on yourself if you stay; professors see that you are concerned about your mark. This is also important because often hints are given in the last few minutes for those students who stick around.

Seventhly, study what you love. Do not let an overzealous professor put you down; their comments do not define you. Chances are if you were the one with the red pen you could come up with plenty of comments on him or her. While a paper is your work, their comments are not personal stabs at you. They want you to get better and by making you feel like there is nowhere to go but up they push you to succeed.

Eighthly, establish a working relationship with all your professors. Make it your goal for them to know your name or at least recognize you if you’re in one of the 250-person lecture classes. Go to see them during office hours if you have a question, attend class and offer questions and comments during lectures. If they see that you’re interested then this will play favorably not only in your marks but also in any reference letters or recommendations that they may make for you.

University is not only about studying and putting effort into assignments but it also about understanding the game. Once you know how to get great marks and find out what works best for you in one subject, it will carry over into other courses and disciplines. Success is directly correlated with effort and by approaching everything with a positive attitude this effort will come a little easier.