The Learner Blog

The Learner Blog

Homework Stressing You Out? Here Are Some Time Management Tips

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Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with everything you have to get done that you don’t even know where to start? When you’re faced with a mountain of work, it can be tempting to crawl under the covers and hope it will go away. But a better solution is to start practicing some good time management habits.

Sure, some of these tips may not give you the adrenaline rush that comes from waiting ’til the last minute, but working under pressure really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Giving yourself a little structure and discipline will not only help you feel calm, even in your busiest times, but it will also give you a life skill to carry into adulthood when you have even greater responsibilities and commitments.

Get started with these useful time management tips:

  1. Remember, Academics Come First
    We’ve all been there. You have a huge English paper due next week, a science test on Monday, and your volleyball team has a tournament all weekend. While we don’t advocate quitting a team or dropping out of the school musical at the last minute, it is important to remember that schoolwork should come first. If you are absolutely at your wit’s end, or you have noticed that your grades have started to suffer because you’re over-committed, you might need to cut back on your extracurricular activities.
  2. Buy a Planner
    This may seem obvious, but you’re not going to be able to start planning anything if you don’t have a place to write it all down. Put everything in your calendar, including homework assignments, tests, social events, and family responsibilities.
  3. Plan Ahead
    Here’s the thing: Your volleyball team’s schedule was probably given to you at the beginning of the year. And most teachers give you a syllabus outlining when big papers and tests will be given throughout the semester. So busy weeks really don’t have to stress you out – if you plan ahead. When you know you have a busy week coming up, make sure to work ahead in the few weeks before so you can keep everything under control.
  4. Prioritize Your To-Do List
    If you’re feeling overwhelmed, one of the best places to start is just writing down everything you can think of that needs to get done. Include school and non-school related things – whatever is weighing on your mind. Next, go through your list and identify which items are most urgent and need to get done immediately. Then identify which tasks are important, but don’t necessarily need to get done today. Too often, students just deal with the urgent things, and once they’re done they slack off and do something fun. Instead, if you have any extra time, try to do at least one task that will help get you ahead – such as brainstorming for an upcoming paper – before you take a break.
  5. Estimate How Much Time Something Will Take
    When you’re trying to prioritize what homework to tackle first, one good method is to estimate how much time each task will take you. If you’re not sure, you can start by keeping track of how long each type of homework takes you each night. After a few weeks, average the times. Once you know how long something generally takes, use those estimates when planning what you’ll get done each day.
  6. Do the Worst Stuff First
    Do you love English but hate math? If so, it’s best to get your math homework done first. The more distasteful a task is, the more you should put it at the top of your to-do list. The sooner you get it over with, the more productive you’ll be with other tasks because the icky thing won’t be hanging over your head.
  7. Take Advantage of Study Hall and Travel Time
    If you have open blocks during the day, use them do get as much homework done as possible. You’ll be more awake during the day than if you try to cram late at night, and you’re probably less likely to get distracted at school than at home. Also, if you have a long commute to and from school, spend that time getting your reading done.
  8. Break Down Big Assignments
    If you have a big research paper due in two weeks, you don’t want to start writing it the night before, pull an all-nighter and turn in something half-baked. Instead, when you first get the assignment, spend a few minutes mapping out when you can tackle smaller parts of the project. Work backwards from the due date, giving yourself time to brainstorm, write an outline, write your first draft, revise, and proofread before it’s due.
  9. Use a Homework App
    One great way to stay on top of your assignments and manage your time is to use a homework app. One that gets great reviews is iStudiez Pro, which can manage your class schedule, teacher contacts and upcoming assignments and tests. Another popular one is MyHomework App, which lets you track your classes, homework, tests and assignments in an easy-to-read calendar display and gives you handy homework reminders.Whatever method you choose, remember this Educational Endeavor slogan: Structure equals freedom! By putting systems in place for handling your workload, you’ll gain freedom from worry and stress.

Do you know any other great time management strategies? Let us know in the comments section!

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How to Do Better On Math Tests in 7 Easy Steps

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Imagine you have a big math test coming up and you want to do well, so you sit down, open your math book and think, “Okay, now what?” You know it’s going to take more than just memorizing information, so what exactly should you do to prepare for that test?

We talked to several Educational Endeavors math tutors to find out what tips they offer students. Put these strategies to use, and you’ll start acing your math tests in no time.

  1. Do Your Homework
    Here’s the good news: If you’ve been doing your homework all along, you really shouldn’t have to spend much time studying for your math test at all. In fact, our tutors agree that doing your homework consistently and going back to understand why you got certain homework questions wrong is the most important factor in doing well on your tests. “Homework is a good way to gauge whether you’re understanding the topic or not,” says Jaclyn Woodruff, a math teacher at Northside College Prep who also tutors students at Educational Endeavors.
  1. Ask Questions in Class
    “A lot of the reason people get behind in math is because they’re nervous to ask a question, especially in front of their peers,” Woodruff says. But she adds that most of your classmates won’t judge you for asking a question. In fact, it may help them understand better, too.Still, it’s important to make your questions specific, according to Erin Nakayama, another Educational Endeavors tutor and a former math teacher at Chicago Bulls College Prep.“Most students say, ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I can’t get this.’” Instead, Nakayama suggests, go through the homework questions you got wrong line by line to find out where you went wrong and ask why you got that specific step wrong. For example, you might ask, “Why do you distribute the 3 to the y and the x?” or “Why is the 7 negative and not positive?”“Really troubleshooting and pinpointing where you went wrong is so important,” Nakayama says.
  1. Study By Yourself
    Although studying with your friends might sound fun, it isn’t that effective when preparing for a math test. “Group studying is less effective with math than with other subjects,” Nakayama says. “A lot of students will think they’re doing fine because they’re working with other students or using the answer key as a crutch.”Instead, it’s best to find a quiet place where you can concentrate and just do lots of practice problems.
  1. Do Practice Problems
    Speaking of practice problems, the more you can do, the faster you’ll be able to do them when it comes time for the test.“Quantity is really important,” Nakayama says. “Being able to do [problems] under the gun is part of the game.”Start by re-doing the problems that you had on previous quizzes; then re-do problems from your homework that you got wrong. And if your teacher will let you, ask to see a test from the previous year and practice doing those problems as well.Erica Nayvelt, a math teacher at LaSalle II Magnet School and tutor with Educational Endeavors, says she assigns even-numbered questions for homework and then suggests that students do the odd-numbered questions before a test. “I encourage students to complete the odd problems and check their answers on sections they need extra practice with,” she says. “I also tell students to review notes and rework the problems they found difficult in class or for homework.”
  2. Explain the Concepts to a Friend
    One time when studying with others makes sense is if you use the time to explain a concept to another person. “You’re much more likely to remember how to do it if you have to explain it to someone else,” Woodruff says.
  1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
    Don’t stay up late cramming for a math test. If you haven’t learned the concepts by now, you’re not likely to learn them at 2 a.m. It’s better to get a good night’s sleep and hit the test rested and refreshed.
  2. Check Your Answers
    There’s nothing worse than missing a question you could have gotten right, just because you made a silly mistake. As Woodruff says, “Part of studying is knowing how to verify your answer.”Start by plugging your answer back into the equation to make sure it works. Next, look at your answer and ask yourself if it makes sense. For example, Woodruff says, if you have an exponential function and your answer is a decimal, you’ve probably made a mistake.

Even if math isn’t your favorite subject – or your strongest – following these expert strategies is sure to improve your confidence, your understanding, and your grade.

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10 Easy Steps to Writing a Research Paper

Research paper

Writing a research paper can seem like a daunting task – especially if it’s your first paper where you’re required to cite sources. However, just like with any big project, writing a research paper can actually be very manageable if you break down the entire project into a few simple steps.

So grab your index cards and highlighters and let’s get to work!

Step 1: Read the directions for the assignment thoroughly
Don’t start off on this long journey without first knowing exactly what you are supposed to do. Poor grades on papers are often caused by not accomplishing all of the tasks asked by the teacher, not as a result of bad writing.

Step 2: Pick a topic
One of the coolest parts of doing a research paper is you have the freedom to pick a topic that is interesting to you. And since you’re going to spend a fair amount of time reading about it, you might as well pick something you like!

One of the biggest mistakes many students make is selecting a topic that is too general. Instead of writing a paper about a single topic, such as global warming or the invention of the television, try turning the topic into a guiding question – such as “How does global warming affect hurricanes?” or “How did the invention of the television affect the movie industry?” – and answer that.

Step 3: Start your research
One of the requirements for a research paper is that you need to find information from a variety of sources. That means you can’t just go to Wikipedia, copy what’s there and call it a day. Instead, you need to seek an array of sources that examine the topic from diverse points of view. These may include websites, magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, and even good old-fashioned books. You may also be required to find both primary and secondary sources that deal with your topic. (A primary source is one that provides firsthand evidence about a topic or event, such as an eyewitness account, a scientific study, or a legal document. A secondary source is an article or other text that summarizes, analyzes, or interprets the primary source. For example, the transcript of a presidential speech is a primary source, but a newspaper article reporting on that speech is a secondary source.)

So how do you go about finding these sources? Actually, Wikipedia can be a great jumping off point for research. Start by getting familiar with the topic and then look at the articles referenced at the bottom to find more information.

Next, come up with a list of keywords associated with your topic and use those to search online for other articles from trusted websites, such as those that end in .edu, .org, or .gov, which may be more reliable than those ending in .com. If you are on a .org site, read about the organization’s mission to find out if they have a specific agenda or not. And make sure to avoid getting information from personal blogs or forums, which are often highly biased or may even contain inaccurate information.

Another tip: Print out articles that seem promising, so you can read them in more depth later on, highlighting key information as you go. Don’t rule out a potential source just because the title doesn’t seem to relate directly to your topic. Take the time to print, read and annotate before deciding if a source is useful for your research or not.

Step 4: Take notes on interesting, relevant facts
You can do this either by hand or on a computer, but no matter what, make sure you take notes on what you find so you can organize all of the information later. If you’re taking notes the old-fashioned way (with pencil and paper), write down each fact or idea you discover on a separate notecard, and write the author and title of the source on the back of that card, so you can provide citations in your paper. (If the fact comes from an actual book, include the page number, and if the source is online, write down the website for future reference). Using notecards is particularly helpful because when you go to write your research paper, you can move around all the different pieces of information until they’re organized logically and your paper really starts to flow.

If you don’t want to write all your notes out by hand, open up a Word document and when you find an article that has relevant information, copy and paste that info into the document. Make sure to paste the source URL as well, so you can cite it later on. And of course, remember that you just pasted that text word-for-word into your notes from some publication. We’ll say more about plagiarism later, but for now, just make a note that those were someone else’s words, not your own.

Step 5:  Come up with your thesis statement
Okay, you’ve made a lot of progress so far! After getting lots and lots of interesting facts about your topic, it’s time to start writing. And before you do anything else, you need to come up with your thesis statement, an interesting and concise statement of the argument you’ll be making in your paper. Once you have a solid thesis, you can turn your attention to providing evidence and analysis that support that argument.

If we return to our guiding question from earlier, “How does global warming affect hurricanes?,” your thesis statement would be an answer to that question, such as, “Global warming is causing hurricanes to intensify, which will lead to more loss of life and billions of dollars in damage if governments don’t do something to change it.”

Step 6: Organize your paragraphs
Here’s where the notecards come into play. Go back to your notecards, organized in the order you want to write about them. You should have several piles of related notecards, and each of those piles can be turned into a paragraph or section of your essay. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that relates back to your thesis and summarizes what you are about to say, as well as a quote from a source to back it up. Don’t forget: Direct quotes from sources need to be put into quotation marks and must include a citation at the end!

Step 7: Write an intro and conclusion
Now that you’ve written the body of your essay, you can go back and flesh out your introduction, making sure to provide any context or background readers need for understanding your key points.

Finally, it’s time to write your conclusion. If your essay is very long, it may be worthwhile to summarize your main arguments one last time. However, if the essay is short (four pages or fewer) this probably isn’t necessary. So, what else can you say in a conclusion? Well, this is your last chance to convince the reader to adopt your point of view. Restate your thesis, and then make an emotional appeal and a call to action. Tug at your reader’s heartstrings, trigger their sense of pride or justice or whatever feeling relates most to your topic. Then, if action is relevant, offer a suggestion for what steps readers can take in support of your point of view.

Step 8: Don’t plagiarize!
Ok, this is a rule, not a step, but it’s a big deal, so we wanted to mention it one last time. You cannot simply copy and paste someone else’s words – or even just rearrange them a little bit – and call them your own. If you found the information somewhere else, you MUST cite where it came from to avoid committing plagiarism. And remember, it’s not just facts that need to be cited. If you are taking someone else’s ideas or ways of thinking about facts, you should be citing those as well.

Step 9: Write a works cited list
At the end of the paper, you need to provide information about each source you cited, so readers could go find those sources themselves if they wanted to. Follow MLA style (unless your teacher directs you otherwise) when formatting your list and in-text citations.

Step 10: Revise and edit
One of the toughest parts of learning to write an “A” paper is knowing when you are really done. It’s not going to be perfect the first time, and there is always great editing (or an editor) behind every great writer. Take the time to reread, edit, and revise. If a sentence seems clunky to you, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to cut stuff even if it makes your paper too short. Pay attention to the flow of your paper and move sentences or paragraphs around if needed to make the argument more logical. Finally, if you can’t get someone else to read your paper first, put yourself in the shoes of a person who knows nothing about your topic, and read it from their perspective to see if it makes sense.

 

That’s it! You’ve done it. Research is not simple, and it can be overwhelming. But if you follow these steps, you’ll have something to guide you through the process and you’ll be more likely to create a final product that meets your teacher’s expectations.

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