Tag: finals

Setting “Optimistic Accountability Markers”

It’s a week from spring break, and I know—one of my feet is already out the door, too. But even though we would rather focus our to-do lists around packing up our suitcases to go home or buying a new swimsuit to rush off to some actual sunny weather (what is this weather we’ve been having?!), let’s take a step back into this figurative door-frame and do ourselves a favor.

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After spring break, it always seems like a sprint to the finish with all the assignments and papers and projects, yadda yadda yadda…but this semester, glorious spring 2015, let’s try to make it a little less stressful on ourselves. Let’s set some optimistic accountability markers (some may mistake these as self-deadlines, but that term is all too scary. These are much nicer). What do you say? This’ll take less than 10 minutes of time, and I promise, our future selves will thank us.

You need just a few things to get started: your syllabi for your classes (whether paper or on Blackboard—wherever the schedule for upcoming classes is laid out), a calendar/planner, potentially a pen (unless you’re going all techy on me with a digital calendar), and an optimistic but determined state of mind. Got ‘em? Great!

Now, the first step is the hardest, but necessary. So, deep breath. Ready? Let’s mark down in our calendars the due date of our bigger end-of-semester projects. I know this seems daunting, but it only gets easier from here, I promise! It’s just like jumping into a cold pool—it warms up after the initial chill. But take 2 minutes, go through each of the final weeks of your syllabi and put them all into that calendar, preferably marking them by class and assignment name.

Okay—you’ve made it this far, my friend. I know it looks like a lot to do in a short amount of time, but that’s where these next steps come in to make it a whole lot easier and actually doable.

Now zero in on one of your classes—whichever one, any one will do—and think about that final assignment. Is it a bigger paper? How many pages? Is it an accumulative exam? Whatever it is, think back to last semester. Did you have something like this before? Now be honest with yourself—to do well on this assignment, what are the steps you need to take? Jot down just a rough draft of the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there. Here’s an example:

Assignment: 5-7 page paper, using 5 sources, about such-and-such a topic.

  1. Well, to be honest, it’s going to take me a while to gather those 5 sources. I might even need to schedule an appointment with a research librarian to make sure I’m on the right track.
  2. And then, I need to read those 5 sources, highlighting parts that seem relevant to the such-and-such topic, so I actually know what I’m going to be writing about.
  3. And then I need to brainstorm and mentally organize my paper a bit, before I sit down to start writing.
  4. From that, I can probably put together a rough draft of about 3 pages.
  5. Then I definitely want to come back to my draft with fresh eyes to revise, because my papers are always better when I revisit them and polish/clarify my ideas. And let’s say I get stuck at something like 4 pages—I’ll include a little buffer time to make a visit to the writing center (and I might as well make that appointment now and get ahead of schedule—I can always cancel it if I don’t need to use it, but it’ll just be another optimistic accountability marker to hopefully get where I want to be!)
  6. Then I can work on adding the finishing touches. Done. Submit. Adios such-and-such paper!

So six steps? That’s totally doable, right? Better than one larger looming paper. And breaking it down like that can give you an idea of how long each step might take.

So the next step, after drafting that list—yours might only be a few words per step—write on/type in your calendar when you think you can doably complete steps 1 through [insert your own number here]. But remember, the key here is to be optimistic and a go-getter, but not unrealistic. We have 5 weeks left, and then finals week after spring break; I know it’ll fly by, but realistically, if we space out our mini-optimistic accountability marker steps, it’s completely doable! And you won’t be super stressed, I-am-only-surviving-on-caffeine during finals week!

Oh! And two nice things about these optimistic accountability markers? Checking them off on a to-do list feels super! AND they are revisable—if you realize you’ve been a bit too optimistic with one of your markers, reevaluate. They’re your markers, and they’re there to help out your future self (:

The Last Stretch – Making it through Final Papers

Jamison Huebsch, Consultant
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It can be stressful near the end of the semester. You have final papers due, perhaps in most of your classes, and you’re often not sure if they will be finished in time and to your professor’s standards. At least I’m often worried about that. Perhaps you haven’t even started your final papers yet. If so, don’t panic because it happens to the best organized of us, but try not to let nerves stop you for working on your paper. After all, the night before its due will come not matter what, and it’s best if you’re not trying to pull an all-nighter cranking something out. To help out I’m going to offer some tips on getting your final paper across the semester finish line, so that you can enjoy your break with everyone else:
  1. Manage Your Stress! :Take note that I didn’t write “Don’t stress”. That is almost impossible, as people have been stressing out about finals since classes instituted them. Finals are a stressful time, so learn to manage it instead. Since you know you are going to be stressed (and maybe are already suffering from some), managing your stress so you can remain productive is very important. Some of the most helpful tips on dealing with finals stress can be found in an article by our own Carly Johnson here: (https://uoflwritingcenter.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/keep-calm-and-start-your-final-projects/).
  2. Getting started:If you haven’t started on your final papers yet, it’s time to brainstorm. Your professors will give your guidelines for what will be acceptable paper topics, but it can be hard to pick what you should write about sometimes.  Since almost every paper will be based on issues discussed in class, you might think about what have been the major themes in the class so far. Perhaps you had a favorite book or topic, and you can expand on that. Other times you wish something had been covered in class but it wasn’t, so you can explore it on your own. Regardless of what you pick, deciding as early as you can and getting to work on collecting your research and materials is crucial.  Bounce ideas off friends who haven’t gotten sick of you talking about school. Making an appointment with the Writing Center can also be helpful, even if you’ve gotten started late, as we can help you at any step of the way from brainstorming all the way to revision.
  3. Plan Your Work:Hopefully you already have an idea for your final paper. Review the guidelines your professors have given you for your final paper. You might work on an outline, or start your bibliography or reference list. Sometimes it can be helpful, if you have the time, to annotate your research sources as a form of pre-writing. I personally find it helpful to make a checklist of any major requirements the paper should have, in my own work this is often things like which sources I have to add to my literature review or which theories apply to the topic I’ve chosen. Your class may vary, but making up a list of important details to cover can help you to avoid missing anything important. It also gives a real sense of accomplishment as you tick off things from your list as you write them, and this can be very important on large projects when you might spend days writing. Completing small goals and recognizing it can help you stay motivated.
  4. Revision:Once you’ve a draft done of your final paper, you’re nearing the finish line already. However revision and polishing are important steps before the final draft stage, and can often make a big impact on your final grade. The first thing would be to review any feedback you have gotten from the professor on past work. Usually you’ve turned in some sort of preliminary assignments, giving you a chance to see what the teacher thought you did well or what you still needed work on. When you revise take the time to do multiple passes, each one focusing on a specific goal like improving your transitions or checking if you used passive voice. Try reading your paper aloud, to yourself or a friend, so that you can hear how it sounds (and this is a good technique for catching errors). Double check your thesis, and make sure that it agrees with your paper all the way through to your conclusion. This is another good time to consider coming to the Writing Center if you can.
  5. Relax!:To twist a meme: Summer is coming! Once you’re done with your paper, take some space from it. If it’s due tomorrow, then go celebrate being finished. If it’s not due for a while, then take a day (or two!) off before giving it one last once over for revision. It can be very helpful to get some distance from your own work when doing revision. Once that is done however, go turn it in! Summer awaits!Make sure you get plenty of rest, and enjoy what time off you have, if you are like me you will be back in class doing it all over again soon enough. As you near the end of your particular academic goal, You might even begin to miss the whole crazy cycle.

Keep Calm and Start Your Final Projects

Carly Johnson, Consultant

I hope you all had a relaxing spring break, full of sunshine and unassigned leisure reading. As we begin this countdown to finals (and Derby) carlyit is difficult to garner the motivation to begin your final projects. However, as someone who has spent many a tear-filled, coffee fueled night feverishly typing a final paper hours before it is due, I can tell you truthfully that it is better to start sooner rather than later. At this point you may be saying to yourself “yeah, but I work better under pressure” and I thought the same thing—until I embarked on what I call “Carly’s 5 fool-proof methods for staying focused and sane throughout finals week,” which I will share with you now:

  1. Take it one step at a time, and reward yourself along the way.I like to set up a schedule for myself prior to finals week that allows me to get a little bit   done each day. When I am on a roll achieving these tasks, I reward myself by watching Netflix for a couple of hours, or purchasing a fancy smoothie. This enables     me to stay on schedule while still allowing myself to have a little taste of the relaxation that awaits me over the summer.
  2. The solution to writer’s block is not avoidance.When I would get stuck on how to start a paper, I used to think that putting it away for    awhile was the answer…and then “awhile” ended up lasting three weeks, and suddenly it       was due. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. If you’re stuck, ask for help, either from   your instructor, your peers, or by making an appointment with the writing center. Address           these small mental roadblocks before they become big issues.
  3. There is such a thing as too much coffee.During my late night writing sessions, I always thought the more coffee I drank, the          better my paper would become—but the fact is that too much coffee (or other caffeinated    beverage) will make you jittery and will cause your thoughts to race, which will end up making you feel more stressed than when you started. By staying on task with the        schedule mentioned in #1 above, you can avoid these all-nighters entirely.
  4. Feeling stressed? Go on a run.Even if you are someone like myself who only tends to run if there is an emergency, I       have found that physical exercise allows you to drain yourself of that excess negative   energy, and clears your mind so you are prepared to tackle those final projects. If      running isn’t your thing, check out some of the classes offered at the Student Rec Center     (I highly recommend the Zumba classes held on Tuesday and Wednesday nights).
  5. Reschedule social events for an after-finals celebration.If you struggle with turning down fun events with friend while you’re studying, plan an   event for after finals week that you can look forward to. That way, when you pass on plans for the evening you can invite them to your post-finals party, enabling you to     be social and productive simultaneously.

With these five methods, you can be sure to avoid the dark days of finals week, don your Derby hat and ease into your summer vacation knowing that you have overcome the pitfalls of procrastination. Good luck, stay focused, and remember that the writing center is always here to help!