I sometimes sit and think about how lucky I am that I haven’t encountered any STEM-classes in my college career so far, the ones that are repeatedly heavy on multiple choice assessments and strenuous exams. But not so luckily, with many classes based in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, my trade-off is being met with the task of writing at least one final paper every quarter instead—and, unfortunately, the anxiety that often accompanies my realization that I’ll have to turn in something by 11:59 pm hasn’t faded, even as this routine has become my new normal.
The idea of finishing or even starting a final paper can be daunting, especially when your final grade that you’re shooting for in the class is solely dependent on your perceived competence you pour into that Word document. However, with a well-deserved winter, spring, or summer break ahead in sight once you click submit, you deserve to hit that button in confidence. Here are my five best tips I’ve developed over time for completing my best and brightest final papers in my college classes, across a wide array of disciplines, formats, and themes.
1. Start early, start early, start early.
I know you’ve heard this tip before, and I know it’s much easier said than done, but starting your essay well ahead of the deadline is the absolute best tip you can follow to ensure your success in the final grade book. For one, remind yourself either on your phone, paper planner, or in a place you won’t miss of the final due date of the paper, so that it’s less likely to sneak up on you. Additionally, with plenty of time to plan out your objectives, you’re the most likely to produce quality work when you give yourself ample time and space to gather your best thoughts about what you’ve learned throughout the quarter. Coming from experience, completing a little bit every day is key.
2. Before you start writing, draft up a specific outline for your paper.
In middle school and perhaps high school, more often than not if you started writing a paper without a plan, you’d eventually find your voice along the way and receive an A, as long as you showed a bit of effort, but unfortunately, this miracle is less likely to happen in most college classes. I recommend before you even write the first word of your introductory paragraph, create an outline (I prefer on paper for easy access), of what your main argument is, your pieces of supporting evidence, including sources and analysis if necessary, and the broader implications you want to include in your conclusion. Having a clear plan of action in front of you is likely to be a stress reducer, too, as you develop a plan of what you’re getting yourself in to.
3. Ask questions for your professor and TAs early.
Even if the assignment at stake is clean-cut and you don’t have any pressing questions, it never hurts to clarify points about the expectations with your instructors, no matter how big or small. For one, it’s better to ask questions or address concerns earlier on in your process, so you don’t get too far in your writing and reach a point of no return, and also, your professors will likely appreciate your engagement and dedication to doing well on the paper. This could potentially help you in the grade book if you need an extra boost.
4. If you have more than one paper, work on both at the same time.
This one is based off of subjective experience, but in past quarters where I’ve had to write two, or perhaps three papers of similar rigor due close together, my cohesion of those assignments has greatly benefited from completing a little bit of each every day. Although I don’t require myself to work on all pressing papers at exactly the same pace, it’s immensely helpful to get restful sleep every night knowing that I’m making gradual progress all around, and plus, I don’t run as much of a risk of turning in a diamond for one class and coal for another. But, if you find that knocking one paper out of the park is the best way to score a home run on the next one, go for it.
5. Avoid calculating what grade you’ll need to get to reach your desired overall grade.
Again, this is also a subjective piece of advice, but in Canvas, I’m sure you’ve discovered the nifty trick where you can calculate what minimum grade you’ll need on an assignment in order to adjust your class percentage to where you want it. Admittedly, this may be helpful if I’m just trying to finish with a passing grade, but more often than not, seeing how low I can scrape by on a paper is only more likely to make me strive for the bare minimum. Ultimately, you’re better off following the guidelines or checklist your professor provides in order to reach your optimal success. If you know that seeing a minimum (or maximum) percentage you need on a paper is only going to stress you out even more, skip the hassle for your own mental health.
With that, good luck on finals!