Dec 29, 2008

How To Find A Tutor

How To Find A Tutor

The process of finding some extra help with schoolwork can seem like a somewhat daunting task. But if you require a little additional help outside of what you normally receive during school hours, a paid professional teacher to go one-on-one with could be the only way to go. Sometimes, all you need is an extra 45 minutes of focused teaching to come away with more confidence, better marks, and a firmer grasp of the concepts and ideas presented in school.

The number one priority you should think about when picking a tutor is what kind of rapport you have with him or her. Unless you are eager and willing to use the tutor as a path towards better grades, the money you pay and the time you spend won’t necessarily be used as effectively as possible. But, if you hold a good relationship with the tutor, there is a better chance that you’ll try harder and achieve more quickly than with a tutor who you are less comfortable with. Make sure to run each candidate through a “trial” session before they are hired in order to see if they are the right choice.

With that said, qualifications and credentials come in an extremely close second place in terms of what to look for in a tutor. Try to find someone who has experience not only teaching, but experience with the specific subject that you have trouble with. Also, you may want to inquire into any experience they might have with particularly troublesome topics (for example: graphing in Algebra for a math tutor). Find out everything, including familiarity with the textbooks, the school, and the curriculum. Also, find out what age group they are used to.

There are many different resources you could use in searching for the right candidate, but the first stop should be at the school. It’s important to see the situation from the perspective of the teacher as well. Talk to the teacher that runs the class you are struggling with. Focus on the problem areas so you have a better idea about what to look for in credentials and qualifications for your tutor. Maybe the teacher herself is a good candidate choice, or she could point you towards other potential tutors.

From there, search all other logical places, such as the classifieds or Internet. You’ll find many different types of services and candidates, and each could be the right choice for you. For example, if it suits your learning style, an online tutor might be more beneficial than a tutor who makes house calls. Don’t be hesitant to consider candidates from professional tutoring companies, but don’t forget to research their background. Typically, you’ll find that the more qualified candidates are freelancers. Also, local universities usually have tutors who are younger and might relate to you more easily.

In the end, a tutor will only help you if you want the help. Try to make the process as easy and pain-free as possible.

Dec 22, 2008

How To Check The Validity Of A Website

There is a popular post on YouTube labeled The Real Duck Face Popeye. Over 3 million people have seen it. Click the link and watch a grainy video of an elderly gentleman performing stunts with his massively stretchable face, including touching his eyeball with his tongue and stretching his bottom lip up and over his nose and all the way to his eyebrows. This feat of facial acrobatics illustrates the following point perfectly--there is a lot of stuff on the Internet. As traditional print research slowly dwindles among students, research on the Internet is constantly growing. Having an instant connection to volumes upon volumes of information certainly has many upsides, but it is not without pitfalls. For every fact you may find on the Internet, there is sure to be at least one complete falsification saying the complete opposite. Let these tips guide your next research-bound venture onto the web.

Credibility is the word when considering whether or not to use a source in your research. The first indication as to whether or not a site is credible is in the domain (a.k.a. the end of the website’s “address”). That line of text at the top of your browser will let you know exactly what kind of site you’re dealing with. One example of a credible domain would be one that ends in “dot gov” (.gov), such as with the White House website, or the CIA Factbook, as .gov denotes that the site is run by the government. Likewise, a “dot edu” site (.edu), such as a website for a university, can also be considered credible. Finally, “dot org” sites (.org) like HippoCampus carry credibility as they denote a profit or non-profit organization. However, the domain is only part of it. While it’s a great indicator as to what kind of website you are dealing with, it is not enough to simply believe information because of a certain domain.

The next thing you should do is research the author. Ask yourself why you should believe what the author is stating. Has the author published anything else, and if so, does it pertain to the subject you are researching? Does the author hold a degree from an accredited University? Is there the possibility for bias? What are the author’s sources? If you don’t come up with good answers to these types of questions, don’t trust the information they give.

With any information on the Internet you should always try and find the date of publication, as well. Often, websites will fall behind due to lack of time, resources, or interest, and the information they present could be months or even years out of date.

Take everything with a grain of salt, and double-check with another website to be sure. If both the website and author seem credible, it should be an okay source. But hey, don’t take my word for it—check for yourself.

Dec 15, 2008

How To Budget Your Time

They say that time is money. Both are certainly very important. We use bank statements, checkbooks, and credit cards to organize our funds so we don’t run out of cash at the wrong moment. But if the aforementioned adage is true, shouldn’t we treat our time with the same respect as our money? This week we’ll show you some tips on conserving that crucial resource.

The simplest and most obvious solution is the day planner. There are many different types of day planners, both digital and analog. In fact, most computers come with pre-loaded software you can use for free. It is important to find one that best suits your needs. Do you prefer to write down tasks by hand or enter them onto your computer? Do you want to plan things down to the day or down to the hour? Would you prefer sticky note reminders or a prompt from your computer? There is an incredible array of time management systems available today—take the time to find one that is best for you.

Once you have a planner, the next step in managing your time is to cut down or eliminate completely any time-killers that might interfere with your work. These include instant messaging, texting, e-mail, networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, and any other activity going on in the background that takes away your attention. Although these things may not create a huge distraction, they will definitely add to the time you spend on the important tasks. Try to give all your focus to a single assignment instead of multiple things at once. Test yourself on completing your work as quickly and effectively as possible. Writing on your friend’s wall will still be there once you’re done.

Next, have specific goals in mind before you get down to work. If you are working on a large project that requires multiple work-sessions, create a timetable of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. The satisfaction of crossing out completed tasks will keep you from getting burned out and frustrated.

Prioritizing your work is also a key factor in spending your time wisely. Complete the most important tasks first. That way, if you find yourself getting stuck and spending more time than originally allocated you won’t be cutting into anything crucial.

Once you get a feel for how long it takes to complete regular assignments, you’ll be able to manage your time in specific blocks. For example:

E-mail, phone calls- 1.5 hours
Lunch- 1 hour
Research for term paper- 2 hours
Reading- 1.5 hours
Go to the beach- 3 hours

The end result should be an agenda that helps you finish all your work and gives you room to play. If you can’t figure in some rest and relaxation, you definitely need to rethink your schedule!

Dec 8, 2008

How To Pick An Essay Topic

A few weeks back, we covered the ins and outs of writing an academic paper. We explained the process of taking a topic from thesis to conclusion without getting hung-up anywhere in between. However, we only briefly touched on one of the most important steps of writing a paper--choosing the right topic. If done correctly, your paper will practically write itself, but with the wrong topic, writer’s block and frustration are sure to rear their ugly heads.

Here are some sure-fire ways to avoid this. Begin by looking over the assignment very carefully. Jot down some brief notes on what your teacher will be expecting. Are there any specific points or areas you will need to cover? What range of topics can you explore? Is the paper open-ended, or more narrowly focused?

Once you understand your assignment, start brainstorming some ideas. Give yourself five minutes of uninterrupted writing. Let the words flow onto the page as quickly as you can write them, and no matter what, do not stop. Many people will try to slow down because they “run out of things to say”, but even if what you are writing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, just keep going. Every sentence could lead to topical gold.

After five minutes, you should have a sizable chunk of stream-of-consciousness writing that you can use to build your topic. Choose ideas that most interest or surprise you and expand on them. Where did your brainstorm lead? Where you end up is often a good indication of what will be most interesting for you to write about. If your brainstorming session yielded no results, take a break and then come back later and try again.

While building your topic, consider what resources you have available. Some topics could be more interesting than others but require much more research or time invested. Consider long-term workload.

It is possible that another student has already come up with your ideal essay topic. Feel free to use a topic you find in your research. As long as you write your own paper, using someone else’s topic is usually okay.

Remember to refer back to the original assignment and the notes you made detailing important paper parameters. Try to juxtapose the assignment with your brainstorming. Find a balance between what you want to write about and what you have to write about.

Always double-check your topic with your teacher before you begin writing. Ultimately, you choose the topic, but the paper is for your teacher. Choose a topic that’ll make both parties happy.

Dec 1, 2008

How To Scan A Text

Most students find themselves drowning in the deluge of assigned readings, handouts, and other text-heavy materials that make up a regular homework load. Although this quantity has become the norm for our schools, students are too often turned off from their studies due to the sheer volume of text that they are expected to absorb.

One solution is to learn how to scan text. This is different from reading in that someone who scans effectively can save time by picking out important information and forgoing the nuances of careful reading. There can be many different levels of reading comprehension, and in order to survive a tsunami-sized workload, it’s important to develop text-scanning skills.

When trying to save time while reading, you should first prioritize information. The more that you must concentrate on and absorb, the longer it will take to you to complete a text. The first question you should ask yourself is: how important is this reading? Let’s say you have a one-page handout that your teacher said, “Should be glanced over.” From that statement, we can gather that your teacher thought the information in the handout is important, but not the most important. This makes it a good candidate for scanning. If instead your teacher said that the information would be on an upcoming test, the handout should be given more attention. You should use your best judgment on what deserves the majority of your attention. If you’re not sure, ask your teacher.

Once you’ve prioritized your reading, it’s time scan. This means different things for the level of reading comprehension that you want to apply. If the text is of low importance, only look for the simple things (who, what, where, when, why, etc.). Organize the information you pick out, either with color-coded sticky notes, highlighters, or note-taking. Try to quickly “investigate” the text. Relate the information to what you are learning in class. Ask yourself how the reading applies to the main lesson that your teacher is presenting in the classroom. From there, quickly follow each sentence to the next and try not to stop unless you find something important or you become confused. If you are confused, slow down and back track a little. Read a bit more in-depth until you understand, then move on.

If you find yourself reading the same words over and over, or you reach a spot where you forget what you have just read, it is time to take a break. Many students will try and tackle all of their assigned reading in one sitting. This is not necessarily a great idea, as it can lead to less effective study time and more headaches later on.

Instead, take this simple analogy: if your mind was a potted plant, and information was the water, sometimes it takes a while for everything to be absorbed. Give your mind a rest when it needs one.

Once you’ve developed your own scanning technique, apply it to other things. Try scanning newspaper or Internet articles, then go back and read more in depth to see how well you did. You might find yourself learning faster than ever before.

Nov 24, 2008

How To Make A Study Guide

Last week, we covered a few techniques that help maximize study time based on personal learning style. But whether you are a kinesthetic, audible, or visual learner, chances are you will be doing some writing for your next test. This week, we will show you how to make the perfect study guide.

OK, you have your notes from class, the slide show from the lecture, a slew of reading assignments and a ton of handouts. How can it be possible to make sense of this mound of information? The first thing you need to do is break down the material you have into more manageable chunks. Find a good, open place to study and spread everything out. Then start organizing in a way that makes sense to you. This could mean separating each type of document into its own pile (one for homework, one for notes, etc.), putting information in order of relevance to the test, or arranging things chronologically (either the order in which your teacher covered the material or the order things happened in history). Color-coding can help a lot, as do sticky notes. You should be able to identify on the fly where pertinent information can be found.

Once your information is organized, it’s time to do a little writing. Take a blank notepad or make a new document on your computer and start listing broad topic subjects. Try to keep these as general as possible. Quickly go over all your information to make sure you don’t miss anything important. Think of these as the chapter titles in the novel of your study guide (don’t worry, you won’t have to write a whole novel!).

When you have a general working outline, start narrowing your focus. Go from each broad theme or topic and concentrate on picking out pertinent information. To do this, organize together the documents that cover that particular topic. Scan over each document for key words plus definitions, important dates, highlighted passages, and recurring themes. Put these down under the broad topic subject.

Here is an example of an outline you might use for a test on the American Revolution:

From here, the study guide would go on to explain the remaining two events that pushed the colonies to war (the Prohibitory Acts, and the British hiring of foreign mercenaries). Notice how the guide becomes more and more narrowly focused, from a broad subject, to an explanation of events, to specific examples and passages. Make sure you end each topic with specific information, either paraphrased or copied and cited directly from the source. Include any web links or page numbers so you can go back later if you get confused.

Also, be sure to look at past tests for clues about the next one. Did your teacher test on material from the readings or information from the lecture? Imagine what kind of study guide you would like to have had for the last test, and apply that model to your next one.

Once you finish the study guide, take a break! Go play a video game, throw a frisbee outside, get a bite to eat. When you come back to studying, your guide will be done, and you’ll find that it will be both easier and quicker to cram in all that info.

Nov 17, 2008

How To Write a Paper

For many of us, few things are more boring than writing a paper. Unfortunately, all students are condemned to this menial task at one time or another. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get it out quickly without suffering in the grade department.

The first step is to find a topic. Writing papers may not be fun, but with the right topic, the process can at least be interesting. Try to see the paper as an opportunity to learn about something that you choose. One option would be something your teacher touched on only briefly or not at all. Another is a connection between the material and something outside of class that you have special knowledge about. Choose your topic early and clear it with your teacher to make sure it is what they are looking for.

After picking your topic, it’s time to create a thesis statement. The thesis is the argument that you want to prove in your paper. A good thesis statement is “debatable”, or in other words, it should entice the reader to form opinions of their own. Always state your thesis at the beginning of your paper. Think of it as the starting point from which to launch your arguments. Also, make sure the thesis is as clear as possible - in many ways, it is the most important part of the paper.

With these two first steps finished, a general outline can be constructed. This includes researched arguments that you will use to convince the reader that your thesis is correct. Feel free to spend a lot of time on this step. A good outline will save you a lot of stress and effort when you are writing the actual paper because you won’t be grasping for an argument or supporting evidence-you’ll already know what it is.

Get a feel for how much information and space you need for each argument. Write down where to find important book passages and Internet sites so that you can quickly reference information. If you find yourself frequently “fluffing” up your papers to reach the minimum length, figure out how much space each argument will fill, then adjust the number of arguments you have accordingly. Anticipate counter-arguments wherever you can. A successfully thwarted counter-argument will go a long way towards convincing your reader that your thesis is correct. Set up a mini-debate within the paper.

Another important tip is to make sure you write for your specific audience. The style, vocabulary, exposition, and even topic of your paper should be geared towards whoever will be reading it. For example, if you want to write about the book On The Road by Jack Kerouac, a history teacher might be more interested in the time period in which the book is set, while an English teacher might be more interested in character development.

Once your paper is written, it is time to edit it. Go back over your thesis and arguments and make sure they flow together. Look at how each argument ties back into the thesis, and the way that each paragraph transitions to the next. Try reading the paper aloud to yourself. Finally, take lots of breaks. Looking at the same words over and over will not help. Try to edit with “fresh” eyes.

Nov 10, 2008

How To Take a Test

You know the test is important. In fact, you stayed up all night studying for it. Now it’s staring you in the face and your mind is blank as beads of sweat begin to form on your brow. Information that you memorized a thousand times suddenly leaves you stranded. Surprise questions leave you guessing.

It happens to everyone. Lack of preparation, or even improper preparation, can bring any test-taker to the breaking point. But try not to worry- stress has a bevy of negative effects on the brain, including reduced memory (additional information on the effects of stress can be found here). Instead, prepare with these proven learning tips and tricks, because it’s not always how much time you spent studying, but how effectively you studied.

First off, know your learning style. How do you learn things best? This is determined by the way that your brain processes information, and can be broken down into three separate categories: kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. There are many free tests that you can take to help you determine which type of learner you are.

Once you know what type of learner you are, prepare for each test in the way that will help you the most. This means different learning methods depending on what style you are. For example, if you are an auditory learner, record each lecture that your teacher gives. Cheap tape recorders can be found at garage sales or bargain electronic stores, and many laptops come with built-in microphones. Once you’ve recorded the lecture, replay it while you study. Silently repeat in your head what you hear- create an internal dialogue. Finally, reinforce information by writing it down. This way you can associate what you hear with what you write.

If you aren’t an auditory learner, find other ways to apply your learning style. Most people are a combination of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners, so try different methods to see what works best for your unique brain.

Another way to increase the effectiveness of your study time is to tailor your approach to the test format. Find out what kind of test you will be taking. Will it be multiple choice? In-class essay writing? Short answer? Think of study time as practice. For example, if the test is an in-class essay, try to predict what the prompt will be. After compiling a list of possible topics, create a few outlines. You’ll find that even if you didn’t predict exactly the same prompt you are given, some parts of the outlines you made before-hand will fit right in.

Also, most test-takers do not realize how much the brain depends on the rest of the body. But the facts are clear: physical and mental performance go hand-on-hand. Take care of your body and you will learn more efficiently. Sleep can also play a major role in cognitive agility. Make sure you get plenty of rest before test-day. While you may be tempted to pull an all-nighter, lack of sleep could actually hurt your grade worse than not studying at all.
Finally, remember that as important as your next test may be, there are sure to be many more in the future. Treat each test like a learning experience, not the apocalypse.