Location, location, location: You have to read 60 pages a night for the literature class you now regret taking. Reading in a quiet, comfortable location – such as your room, or in the library – will help make the experience a little more bearable.
Quietness is most conducive to reading effectively. Music is distracting! Humans cannot multitask (science has proven so). If you must listen to something, try Pandora’s “Classical for Studying” station. The soft, slow instrumentals won’t be as distracting as most other genres.
Reward yourself: after reading for a preset time or chapter number, take a break! Make sure to monitor your time wisely. If you choose to browse Facebook, after your break is up, don’t just close your laptop lid – put your laptop to sleep and keep it far away from you. Do the same with your phone: keep it charging on the other side of the room to avoid the temptation to check it with every little Instagram or email notification.
For the reading itself? Set up a schedule. Count how many pages you can read a night – 30 pages a night for four nights is far easier to handle than 120 pages in one night. Make note of the titles and first and last lines of chapters – these are incredibly important, the author chose to put them there for a reason. What meaning do they add to the text? Don’t be afraid to mark up books you own, either! Highlighters can be your friends.
Now, we all loved to hate active reading in high school, but it is necessary! If you know you will have an essay assignment for a book, and have a general idea of the topic, try collecting relevant quotes as you read. On an index card, sticky note, or word document, make note of the quote itself, page number, context within the story (e.g., “after the protagonist fights with her brother,” “before the library closes down,” etc.), and the importance of the quote itself. Does it reveal a character trait, demonstrate an important motif, etc.? This quote collecting will make essay writing much less painful.
If you find yourself struggling with reading a book you want to read for fun, having set goals can also help. Looking at the prospect of reading an 1100 page long book becomes drastically easier when broken down into tiny segments – the journey of a thousand pages begins with a single chapter!
For more reading and writing tips, don’t forget to come visit us at the Writing Center. Stop by and let us know what you’ve been reading!
-Summer, peer tutor
(Photo credit: memecrunch.com)
Writing an essay can be difficult. Writing an essay on the spot can be even more difficult. I always dread in-class essays. From forgetting information to losing feeling in my fingers, nothing is enjoyable about them. Some may say that there is no way to prepare for an in-class essay and that you just have to “wing it.” Whether you know the prompt ahead of time or not, this isn’t entirely true. There are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for a successful in-class essay.
1. Prepare ahead of time. If your professor has already revealed the prompt to you, then preparing should be pretty easy. You should study your notes or readings accordingly and think about what sort of information you want to include in your essay. Have a thesis in mind before you show up for your in-class essay. If you do not know what the prompt is going to be, try to imagine potential prompts based off of class lectures and discussions. If you were the professor, what would you ask in the prompt? Make sure you have a reasonable understanding of a variety of topics discussed in class, so you’ll be prepared for anything.
2. Whatever you do, do NOT write in pen. Actually, don’t even bring a pen to class that day. Use pencils instead! That way, if you make a mistake or want to change something, you can just erase it. Bring more than one pencil, too, in case the point breaks or you run out of lead.
3. Brainstorm first. Take a minute or two before you start writing to decide what exactly it is you are going to write. Maybe even jot down a quick outline or make a list of the major points you want to make in the essay. This will save you some time in the long run because it will keep you from having to pause to figure out what direction you should go in next.
4. Manage your time wisely. Keep an eye on the clock (or wear a watch if there isn’t one in your classroom). If you know you are going to struggle with writing a particular section of the essay, then manage your time so that you have enough time to focus and figure out how to say what you need to say.
5. Prioritize. There are some pieces of information or aspects of your argument that are going to be more important than others. Make sure that these more important items make their way into the paper before you add the small details or less important fillers.
6. Don’t give up. If you get stuck, take a minute or two to relax. Having a timed essay can be really stressful, so sometimes taking a short break can be more useful than working yourself into a panic.
7. Edit. If you finish the essay early, don’t just turn it in right away. Take the extra time to go back through and edit. You’ll be amazed by how many errors you find. When we write in a hurry, we have a tendency to make small errors that we wouldn’t normally make. Maybe you’ll find that you wrote down the wrong date for a historical event or cited the wrong philosopher. You may notice that you forgot to capitalize a proper noun. No matter how big or small the errors are, you’ll be glad that you caught them!
-Rebekah, peer tutor
Now that we’re almost done with the semester, there’s a glazed look in every McDaniel student’s eyes. It can only mean one thing: we’re burned out. We’ve all had four tests too many, not enough paper extensions, and way too many Starbucks Doubleshots. But you know what? There’s still another paper, another test, another cup of coffee. And in a few weeks, we’re going to have finals. Whenever someone mentions finals, there’re a few phrases you’ll hear:
“I’m going to drop out.”
“C’s get degrees.”
“Grandma said college was a waste of money.”
from Flickr Commons
Now, before you drop out, resign yourself to an average grade, or start believing Grandma, who still thinks you look best with your shirt buttoned up to your neck, take a break. That’s right. I said take a break.
The best thing to do when you’re feeling burned out after a 3-hour study session or a 4-hour paper-writing binge is to take a break. Not a 5 hour Orange is the New Black break. A 30-minute maximum break. That’s the limit I’m going to give you. From personal experience, after those 30 minutes are over, you have a better chance of catching a foul hit at an O’s game than getting straight back into your paper-writing mode.
Accept it, you’re not as lucky as the Oriole Bird. Instead, follow these suggestions for 30-minute breaks to take during your finals week:
1. Clean your study space.
You might laugh, but it’s a good way to still feel productive. Part of why it’s so hard to get back to work after a break is that you’ve lost your desire to continue being productive. That break to read the next chapter of your fifth reread of The Goblet of Fire will quickly dissolve into a nap until dinner. And boom! You’ve lost 4 hours of work. So grab the Clorox wipes, vacuum, or dust rag and clean around your laptop or desk before sitting back down and getting the rest of your study guide typed.
2. Watch a TED talk.
Instead of YouTube, where you can get lost watching every Jenna Marbles video she’s uploaded over the past two years, go ahead and check out TED.com. These videos are between 5 and 20 minutes and the library offers a selection of educational lectures on just about anything you can think of. They’re entertaining but will keep you thinking, just so it’s easier for you to get back to work.
3. Fix yourself a good study break snack.
Make it something tasty. Don’t bother with bird food or rabbit food, but don’t just grab a bag of Doritos. Try an apple with caramel or crackers and peanut butter. Make it a reward for working so hard. Make sure you eat it away from your laptop; you don’t want to associate things you do during break time with where you do work.
4. Go on a walk.
Stretch your legs. Make it a lap around the school, but not much more. Getting too far, literally and figuratively, from your work will only make it that much harder to get back to it.
5. Play 8 rounds of Mario-cart.
If absolutely none of these options are going to happen for you, play a video game. Not Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Something you can time and actually stick to the time you set up. Something like Mario Cart. According to Writing Center polls, it takes about 8 games of Mario Cart to fill a 30-minute slot.
Rather than catching up on your Hulu queue that you’ve been neglecting for two weeks, try one of the above options. Do your best to avoid the Internet; you’re going to want to cry when you realize you spent 3 hours of your study time watching Cat Man Do videos on YouTube. You really will. I’m not speaking out of personal experience. Really.
Best of luck on finals!
–Cari, peer tutor
Is your homework life full of diversions? Having trouble with that paper not because you don’t know what to write but because you can’t concentrate? Here are five simple strategies that, once implemented, may make a world of difference.
Wipe out any distractions
There are several apps and websites designed to block websites for a dedicated amount of time. Some are Mac specific while others are ensured to work in most browsers, no matter the operating system. Regardless of the application you choose, social media, games and other online interferences will be inaccessible.
Be sure to clear both desktops. While these apps may block any digital distractions, you’ll want to make sure your physical space is clear as well. It can be as simple as pushing all of the stuff on your desk into a drawer. If you’re not in the mood to clean (which can also help you focus: fun fact), there are plenty of spots on campus where you can plop down and get to work.
In general, water helps with everything. Dehydration can lead to lost focus, exhaustion, dry mouths and super yellow pee. You don’t want any of that do you? Water and other non-sugar filled drinks are important in keeping you healthy and in making sure your brain, and body, stays as functional as possible. Not only that, drinking water can strengthen your immune system so you aren’t sick while you work.
As you can see, there’s little to no reason to not drink water. And while you’re at it, eat something. Your body, like your paper, needs nourishment. It’s hard to focus on a prompt if your stomach is growling every 2 minutes.
Image Source: http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/653964-spongebob-squarepants
Many people use music when they’re exercising their bodies, why not use it while you’re working your mind as well? Music can also help block out surrounding noise, like screaming neighbors or the heart warming melodies of Flute Man from the gazebo (which, while beautiful, are also liable to lure you to sleep). Be sure to choose your music correctly. Classical music is often said to motivate people the most during studying but maybe it’s heavy metal, or slow R&B, or country that really gets your energized. Whatever you’re listening to, make sure it’s something that helps you focus.
Invest in the Reward System.
The Reward System is a simple way to boost your morale and you can customize it for whatever you’re doing. For every hour of work, give yourself 15 minutes of the Kim Kardashian game (does anyone still play that?). Or a gummy bear for every page read. The Reward System should be used sparingly, you don’t want to go overboard and end up indulging when you should be working. But, when used in moderation, it can still be used to self-motivate.
Image Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35uyf7
Get up. Get up and go away.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to complete your paper is to stop working on it. Breaks can not only help prevent your head from spontaneously combusting but also allow you to look at your paper differently once you return to it.
—Melanie, peer tutor
So you’ve been tasked with some form of writing assignment. You’ve done your research and preparation and now it’s time to sit down and write. So where do you write? A lot of people ignore the importance of having a good writing environment to help you stay relaxed and focused during the grueling writing process. On the other hand, some people feel a good writing environment has to be an already established learning setting, e.g. a library or study hall. I’m here to inform you that having a good writing environment is important and can be created by you to cater to all your comfort and learning needs. When creating a good learning environment you should consider:
Location: What place works best for you? Some people may enjoy writing outside, where the sounds of nature can calm them and allow for maximum focus, while some like to be in coffee shops where the white noise of chit chat and coffee beans grinding helps them stay sane. It all depends on the type of person you are. I personally like to be locked away in my dorm room listening to classical music when I write. Tip: Try to find a place that isn’t cluttered and has good lighting.
Time of Day: Are you a morning person or are do you struggle getting out of bed at anytime before noon like me? You should chose to write during a time of day when you have the most energy and are the most productive. Whether that is at 8am with a cup of Folgers’ or at 11pm with a hot pub meal, find what works best for you.
Company: Who can be around you that won’t distract you from your task? Having your best friend around who will talk to you for hours about last night’s game and Scandal is probably not the best person to have around while you are working. However, if your same best friend has an assignment due too, having them working around you may motivate you. Other people may find that being completely alone works best which is also completely fine.
Comfort: Have a favorite snack or a lucky sweater? Have them around when you start writing. Comfort is the most essential element of a good writing environment. Bundle up in your room, go outside in your PJ’s, do whatever it takes to be comfortable when you are writing. I always make sure that I have snacks and water at hand whenever I start to write.
So now that you have your own perfect writing environment it’s time to write. It’s time to put your nose to the grindstone and craft the best piece of writing you have ever done. Wear your snuggie with pride and get to work!
–Duane, peer tutor
Maybe you write best in absolute silence. Maybe you need the soft buzz of life going on around you. You might find that the best sentences pour from you once you turn on some Frank Sinatra or One Direction. Perhaps all you really need to be inspired is the scent of the fresh air rushing through the grass.
The importance of place when one sets out to write is paramount. Ernest Hemingway needed to write standing up. Rumor has it that Ben Franklin wrote from the bathtub. Jane Austen preferred to write amidst the daily routine of her family. E. B. White sought the comfort of a cabin by the shore. And I find that my best work comes when I lay on my stomach on the floor.
Every writer, and yes, you are a writer, has his or her own quirks when it comes to finding a place that works with writing energy. As a junior now at McDaniel, I’ve been able to try out a few places around campus and have found some of the best writing places for those with different writing atmospheric needs. My hope is that this brief list will help both the new students coming into a new environment at McDaniel and those still searching for their sweet spot around campus.
image from mcdaniel.edu
• Clever, Shannon, the library is an obvious place to mention first. But seriously, I bet you might be able to find a place in the library that works for you. Hoover Library has undergone some serious renovation and refurnishing that has made all types of spaces available for students. Whether you need the silent floor, the group study tables, an individual desk, or one of the comfy chairs on the side rooms on the second floor in the front, you’ll find a nice place amongst the shelves. I recommend that you take a walk through the library and explore every nook and cranny like I did, and now I know my perfect library spot—which is mine and mine only…
Casey’s Corner is a wonderful place for those who need a soft buzz in the background while they write. The colors are cozy, the seating options vary, and the place always smells like delicious, warm coffee (if you like that sort of scent, like I do). Casey’s Corner also offers a convenient and tasty writing break opportunity so that you can reenergize and refocus with a coffee or big cookie stimulation if you work best with a yummy bite.
image from mcdaniel2016.tumblr.com
Hill, Lewis, Merritt Classrooms
Even though the late night classroom use policy has changed, you can still find a classroom to work in for a couple hours before the buildings close for the night. Sometimes I like to work in the classrooms on the second floor of Hill (because I love the English dept. to pieces :] ) which provide enough space to spread out and write while on the floor, or you can use the big desk if you’d like. The classrooms are conducive to writing because they don’t have too many distractions which means you’re usually left alone and can focus much better.
You might think this is an odd choice, but sometimes when I really just need to get away from it all, I like to take a little walk over to Little Baker, laptop in tow, and sit down for a couple of hours to write. I have found that Little Baker has a very peaceful and beautiful atmosphere that might be helpful for those of you that stress out while writing. Take a breather, look at the beauty of the stained glass, and return to that paper with a calmer demeanor.
Harvey Stone Park
Depending on the weather, Harvey Stone is a great place to write for those of you who need to be outdoors. Harvey Stone is the pavilion located behind the baseball field, down the little gravel hillside pathway, and bumped up against the golf course. You might find the quiet you are looking for here with a little bit of nature cheering you on as you type.
image from panoramio.com
I know a lot of athletes who like to write in the lobby of Gill where they can have the background stimulation of the tv’s, passersby, and the all encompassing aroma of Vocelli’s. A lot of athletes feel comfortable working and writing here because they spend so much time there for their extracurricular athletic activities and training. This might be your spot if you need some movement around you or would like to feel comfortable in a spot that feels just like your second home.
Create Your Own Unique Spot
So this is my clever way of wrapping up my modest list. But this one might be the most important. Maybe your dorm room or common room is the best place. I’ve never been to your room, but maybe you have a poster of Brittany Spears or Ganesh from which you find the source of your most brilliant of thoughts. Or maybe you’re like me and you find some spot that only works for you—for example, I go down to the pool. As a swimmer, I’ve found that writing at the pool is like coming home, and that is perfect for me to generate some stellar paragraphs.
I hope this list has at least sparked some thought about where you need to be to write at your best. Sometimes it is surprising just how much of an effect your surroundings have on your work, and those surroundings might need to change depending on even your mood or the type of writing you need to do. You might find that you can do your English papers in the comfort of your room, but gosh darn you just need to go to a classroom to do your Chemistry lab report. Do a little writer-soul-searching and take a walk around campus, try out some new spots. You never know where you might end up and what you can do when you find that perfect place of your writing dreams.
– Shannon, peer tutor