Each year during the excruciatingly long month of April, there is a shared sense of angst amongst college students near and far, and a matched sense of gloom makes its way into the library and various study spots across campus. The dreaded time has come: finals.
As an English major, most of my final exams consist of writing papers versus taking timed, multiple-choice tests. While you could not pay me to sit for another chemistry exam ever again, the unfortunate thing about paper-writing is that each paper takes a reasonable amount of time to prepare. On top of that, they’re usually all due around the same time. As much as I would love to say my papers are always written well in advance, edited, and turned in days before the deadline, that is not realistic— I am a Junior taking over the maximum number of credit hours. However, I have learned the art of cramming. Scratch that. “Cramming” connotes the inexcusable act of procrastination and a sense of downright carelessness. Let’s try that again. I have mastered the art of “making the most of my time.”
Writing a paper in twenty-four hours or less is not something I purposely strive for; however, I have found myself in the unfortunate predicament more than once. I am happy to announce I did make it out alive and well— I have maintained a 4.0 GPA, and I am in the top ten percent of our student body.
Seriously, I cannot stress enough how much I suggest you do not procrastinate writing an entire paper the night before it is due time and time again. Instead, I am divulging my tips to write a paper efficiently and hopefully in a somewhat pleasant manner.
- You need your comfort food. Just like a dog learns to fetch quicker when treats are on the table, I write better when I have a Pink Drink from Starbucks and a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel from Panera by my side. Not only do you need energy from the combination of sugar and caffeine, but having your favorite foods at the start of your cram session will motivate you to buckle down and actually start the paper that probably was given to you three weeks ago.
- The environment is essential. Each person’s needs are different when it comes to the most successful work environments. For me, the environment varies based on the assignment. If I need to write an intense literature interpretation essay, I know I need complete silence to understand the material thoroughly. In that case, I often find myself at the library. On the other hand, if I am writing a fun and creative article for the school newspaper, I need a bit of background noise and a more social environment. The key here is knowing what works best for you and sticking to it. If all your friends want to study at an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop, but you know that environment is too busy for you to concentrate, don’t be afraid to deviate from the crowd and get things done!
- Know when your most productive time is. I have had professors question my well-being before, but trust me on this one. Yes, I did submit my paper at 4 a.m., and yes, I am fine, but thank you for asking. I am at my most creative state between the hours of 10 p.m. and when the sun rises the following morning. It’s a mix of being so tired that I just do not give a fuck and being over-stimulated from late-night sports practice, which produces the best results because I am at my sassiest and most clever. My prime-productivity time, however, is not the same as yours. If you’re most energized after having your morning cup of coffee, go for it; kick out that paper! Knowing when you work at your fastest pace and produce the best results is crucial to making the most out of your limited but valuable time.
- Just start. It is a shared consensus that the most challenging part of any essay is the beginning. Whether your thesis is giving you trouble, or you’re not exactly sure what direction you want to go in, try your best to get SOMETHING down on the page. Your writing does not need to be eloquent at first. Your introduction will become more clear the further along you get into your paper. I admit starting is what I struggle with most. I definitely once began an essay with the classic “title, author, genre” statement taught in middle school. It wasn’t good. Actually, it was horrible. But, that one sentence allowed me to get going with the paper and make edits once it was finished. Whether you need to skip the introduction entirely and start at your body paragraphs, or just write a loose introduction, don’t get hung up on perfection at the start— trust yourself and the validity of your ideas.
- Grammarly is your best friend. As tempting as it may be to submit the paper you just spent the last four hours writing, there is no point wasting all your time and hard work to lose points on basic spelling and grammar mistakes. On the first day of Communication Ethics my freshman year, Dr. Christy stressed the value of Grammarly. Two years later, I have purchased the premium version. Grammarly catches all the stupid mistakes you couldn’t be bothered to think about when cramming three weeks’ worth of work into one night! Best $150 ever spent!
Take it from someone who has written, what my Google Drive claims to be, thirty-four gigabytes worth of essays. If you find yourself in a crunch-time situation, my steps for success are the way to go. So, grab your snacks, claim your spot at the library, and start writing!