How to Crush Your Next Group Project

Though it might not always seem this way, homework and class assignments do have a practical purpose outside of your time as a student. Writing essays teach you the importance in formulating an argument. Taking tests reinforce discipline and preparation. Then there’s the oft-dreaded group project.

Group projects elicit divisive responses because of the challenging nature of combining different personalities, different levels of understanding of class material, and different levels of work ethic. Yet, group projects are incredibly important in preparing students for what to expect when they enter the workforce post-graduation. In most job settings, it’s important to know how to work with people different than yourself to get a job done.

Because you’ll inevitably end up with a group project at some point during your college career, we’re sharing some advice for navigating group challenges and securing that A grade.

Designate a leader

In a perfect group project, every group member would agree on all elements of completing the project, do the exact same amount of work, and turn in what they need to the group on time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and with multiple personalities involved, it can be difficult to wrangle the group in terms of figuring out who does what, and coordinating everything needed to complete the project. This is where a group leader comes in.

Ask if anyone in your group would like to take the lead. Being the leader means keeping the group on task, collecting the elements needed for the assignment, and overall being in charge. Being the leader does not mean that one person takes on more work, and it’s important to make that distinction. Select a leader who is organized and conscientious, and who isn’t afraid to call out group members when necessary.

Delegate tasks and roles

Once you’ve determined a leader, now you have to determine everyone roles and contributions for the project. The leader will help assign each individual an element to complete for the project and the group will agree to the tasks and what’s needed for that element.

For example, if the group is working on a developing a business plan together, your group might have each member complete one of the following: company description, market analysis, competitive analysis, financial summary, etc. Each person would be responsible for that entire component. In something like a group paper, you might assign each group member to research various aspects of the paper topic, but then another person might be responsible for pulling the research into an outline, and then others with drafting different elements of the paper, and finally, another person would review and make sure everything flows.

The important thing is ensuring that everyone has equal roles and feels that they have equal responsibilities so that no one person is doing more work than the others. Make sure that each person’s responsibilities are clearly outlined so everyone agrees on the expectations needed to complete the assignment as a team.

Set deadlines within your group

Okay, so your professor told you the due date for the overall assignment – but your group needs its own set of deadlines prior to that due date to make sure: each member has time to complete their work, that your group can compile individual work into the single assignment, and your group can review that work ahead of the due date. You’ll need to figure out what are reasonable deadlines to complete each component of the group project, taking into account that your group members do have other courses, and obligations outside of class.

Additionally, your group members likely have different ways of doing things, so try to agree on deadlines that work for each person individually, but still leave your group enough time to check your final work and add any necessary finishing touches.

Try using Google Sheets, or a project management tool, like Asana, as ways to maintain transparency into deadlines, tasks, and responsibilities within your group.

Determine ways to review each other’s work

Though each individual group member might be responsible for a particular aspect of the group assignment, there still needs to be checks and balances within the group. Everyone should be responsible for reviewing and checking each other’s work to ensure that their part meets the standards and expectations pre-determined by the group. This is not solely the leader’s responsibility. At the onset of setting roles and responsibilities, and after determining deadlines within your group, you’ll also want to think about when and how you’ll review each other’s work. You might want to do it via email, meet in person to review, or find some other method that ensures that everyone has given their approval to move forward with each group member’s individual contribution.

Plan times to meet with your group and stay on-task

Even if your group plans to do some of the work to complete your project individually, it’s still important to maintain communication with your group in-between. For some groups, it makes sense to meet in-person a few times (or however many times you think is necessary) to help with the project’s progress and ensure the group has an opportunity to discuss any issues, questions, or roadblocks they’ve encountered. If your group finds it difficult to meet in-person, consider scheduling a time when everyone is online and working at the same time, and can communicate via Google Hangout or iMessage (or some other sort of method that works for the group). This allows group members to communicate in real-time and ask questions.

It’s important to keep in mind that while your group meets – whether in-person or virtually – the group needs to stay on-task. It’s great if you are friendly or even friends with your group members, but too much chit-chat and not enough work time means that you won’t be able to optimize that time you have together to complete your work. Give yourself a time limit on how much “small talk” you’re allowed to have at the beginning of your work session, and then move on to collaborating. Save time to chat again at the end, or maybe even suggest grabbing a meal together after your group meeting is over.

Hold each other accountable and speak up when you need help

As much as your group will do its best to distribute the workload evenly among its members, there will of course be times when some people do more work than others, or some members fail to do their fair share. It’s important to speak with your team members about this in a non-confrontational way and first, ask what sort of challenges they might be encountering that are preventing them from getting their work done.

If it’s a matter of their not understanding the assignment or struggling with the material, your group can work together to determine a way to help them so they can complete it on their own. If it’s a matter of work ethic, you’ll again want to discuss with your group a way to ensure their part of the assignment doesn’t go unfinished. Many professors will allow an opportunity to review your group at the end of the project, so if someone does fail to contribute equally, then that will be your moment to share that information with your professor.

On the other side, if you’re having trouble completing your part of the assignment, don’t suffer in silence. Let your group members know! Ask them for their insight and let them know what’s causing you issues as you complete the assignment. They are there to help you, and that’s one of the great parts of a group assignment — and something that will become incredibly beneficial as you enter the workforce after university.

How to Use Winter Break to Get Ready for Next Semester

You’ve survived finals! Or at least, they’re almost over, and the end of the semester is finally in sight. After spending the past few months attending class, studying, and completing assignments, you have really earned that break. But what do you do with all of that free time in the coming weeks? We have a few suggestions for how to use your winter break to get ready for next semester.

REST your brain, your body, your soul

For the first time in months, you likely don’t have any looming deadlines or assignments. You might not realize it, but your brain can get tired too! Spending all of that time coordinating your schedule and due dates, prepping for class, studying can be mentally exhausting. Use the time over break to slow down your pace and do things that mentally revive you. For some people, that might be exercising, meditating, going for a walk, taking a long bath — anything that allows you to relax. In doing this, you’ll feel recharged and ready to take on the upcoming semester.

READ for fun

When you spend an entire semester reading for classes, it can be difficult to remember that reading can actually be fun. Give yourself a break from reading assignments, and instead, pick up a FUN book (yes, they exist). Find a book that covers a topic you’re personally interested in, or find a novel that promises a compelling story. It’ll give your eyes a break from your phone, laptop, or even TV screen, and let you have some quiet time for yourself. Bonus? Reading will keep your mind sharp over the break!

HANG OUT with friends and family

There’s nothing quite as re-energizing as being around people who you love, who you have fun with, and who make you feel good about yourself. Spend time with those people over your break! If you’re heading home for the break, make time for people you haven’t seen in a while. If you’re traveling, find a travel buddy or make friends while you explore a new place. If you’re staying local, use this time to strengthen the bonds with your community. This quality time will make you feel good and catch up with people you might not have been able to spend time with during those busier times over the semester.

GET A HEAD START and prep for next semester

Okay, okay, we know the semester just ended – but with so much time ahead of the next, you could use some of that time to get ready for what’s ahead. As your professors start posting their syllabi, check out what books you have to buy and what assignments you’ll have. You could start some of the reading early, or even just map out some of the deadlines throughout the semester so you know how busy (or not) you will be in the spring, and can plan some fun things when you’re back at school.

5 Unconventional Study Tips for When Flashcards Just Don’t Work

Studying is a necessary – and unavoidable – part of academic life. If you want to do well in your classes, you need to prepare ahead of your exams and assignments to increase your chance of getting a good grade, and even more importantly, to retain the information and knowledge shared with you in that class. We go to university to learn more about a subject matter of interest to us, so it only makes sense that studying enables us to become an expert in that subject, and as a result, do better on our tests and essays. However, that’s usually easier said than done. Studying involves a lot of time and effort, and unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to studying. Everyone learns and retains information in different ways, so sometimes just reviewing your notes or making flash cards isn’t enough to help you actually understand what you need to know for that upcoming test. Fortunately, there are plenty of other study methods that can help you break out of your routine. We’re sharing five unconventional study tips that might just help you ace your next exam. 

1. Create a recording of your class notes

You know all of those notes you feverishly take during class? How many times do you actually review them before your next exam or test — if you even review them at all? Put those notes to good use and record yourself reading them. After each class, create a recording of yourself reading your notes, but don’t just stick to the script. Add some context for yourself for when you listen back to the recording later. Expand on some of the key terms or concepts by adding examples or recounting anecdotes that your professor might have shared but that you didn’t quite catch in your notes. You might even want to add some of your own questions into the recording as a reminder to find the answer. After you record yourself reading the notes, play it back when you walk to class, when you have to do chores around your room, or in any other scenario when you could add a study soundtrack. 

2. Create a study guide background for your phone background

You’ve probably been instructed to create a study guide before – but have you ever considered making a study guide worthy of your phone background? Think about it. Make a study guide that’s fun and colorful that puts key concepts and terms front and center. Use a user-friendly design tool like Canva to add graphics or fun fonts and colors that’ll make it easy to see the content when you look at your phone screen. Every time you look at your phone, you’ll be reminded of and become more familiar with the material. Consider making a new phone background after every class to brush up on what you learned, or just create one prior to an exam. As an added bonus, you’ll be forced to review the material while you’re making the study guide so that’s extra time with those terms and concept.

3. Doodle all over your notes

Sometimes words alone just don’t cut it. Sure, you try to write down as much as possible during class as your professor discusses the subject – but ultimately, you might need some more visuals to better understand what you’re learning. Go back through your notes and try adding some drawings and illustrations to help you consider the concepts in a different way. Sometimes it makes sense to add diagrams or charts, but you’re not limited to those sorts of illustrations. Maybe you’re learning about a particular event during a history or literature class. Draw it! Maybe you were learning something in physics class and there’s an example that helps you remember the concept – draw that example. If you’d rather make some doodles during class – do that too. It could help cement your understanding in the moment so that when you look back later, you can recall exactly what you meant. They’re your notes, so doodle in them and perhaps you’ll gain a better understanding of the subject matter in the process.

4. Assume the role of the professor

Having a study group is by no means an unconventional study method. Studying with classmates is an easy way to compare notes and collaborate on assignments when possible. However, maybe it’s time to rethink how you have your study group. Instead, reframe your study group as another sort of lecture or class session. Assign one person in the study group the role of the “professor” and have that person teach a key concept, term, calculation, or any other important element of the subject matter. That person can prepare a mini-presentation or lecture, and then “teach” the “class” (or rather, your study group). This is beneficial not only for the person assuming the role of the professor, as naturally that person would have to prepare and review the subject matter to ensure they can teach it to the study group. The study group itself also benefits because the “professor” might present the subject matter in a way that’s more accessible than the actual professor might have originally presented it.

5. “Explain it to me like I’m an eight year old”

Any Office fans? If you’re familiar with the show, The Office, you might recall one particular episode where Michael Scott asks his coworker, Oscar, to explain what a “surplus” was. Michael had been tasked with deciding what to do with the “surplus,” but didn’t know what it was. He asks Oscar to “explain it to me like I’m an eight-year-old” because the concept was difficult for him to understand. This reframing of the term in language that’s simpler and easier-to-understand is actually a great way to approach reviewing some of your subject matter. Take a concept you’re struggling with or that you’re trying to better understand, and then if possible, try simplifying it as though you were going to explain to someone who had never heard of it — or an “eight-year-old.” This forces you to consider the topic in a different way and once simplified, you might be better able to recall it.

How to Write an Awesome Thesis Statement

At university, one of the assignments you’ll be frequently tasked with is writing essays. They’re inescapable as a student, and you likely have already written many throughout your time in school already. However, one of the key components of a successful (and high-scoring) essay is a good thesis statement. You may have heard your teachers over the years emphasize the importance of a thesis statement in the papers you’ve written, but as you progress in college, it’s even more important that your papers are guided by this important element.

It’s pretty simple in theory: a thesis statement is a statement that describes what you’re going to discuss in your essay, usually appearing at the end of your introduction paragraph. Per Rasmussen College, it “clearly identifies the topic being discussed” and “should only cover what is being discussed in the paper and is written for a specific audience.” It’s usually one sentence (sometimes two) and it should give your reader an indication of what’s to come in your paper.

Without a thesis statement, you’re unlikely to meet the requirements of your assignment, and therefore, won’t be able to get a good grade. But having a thesis is more than just helpful in completing the assignment at hand — it’s a crucial tool for guiding your reader through your argument. To help you get an A on your next paper, we’re providing three tips for how to write an awesome thesis statement, including examples.

Tip #1 – Pick a side.

A thesis statement is not merely a statement – despite what its name implies. Your thesis statement needs to have an opinion. Neutrality is not an option when it comes to a thesis statement. It should not just be making a comment; it should be taking a stance, and deciding how you feel about the topic you’re about to discuss. When you think of your topic, the thesis statement should clearly indicate if you’re for or against it; it should allow you to prove something in relation to the topic you’ve chosen.

Basic statement:

The final episodes of Game of Thrones elicited mixed reactions from viewers.

Thesis statement:

The final episodes of Game of Thrones did a disservice to the show, undermining the build-up, and plot and character development that was a hallmark of the rest of the series.

In the first statement, there’s really no opinion on the final episodes of Game of Thrones, but in the second statement, you can tell that the writer is going to argue about something. In this case, the writer will argue why the final episodes did a disservice to the series.

Tip #2 – Guide your reader.

In addition to having an opinion, your thesis statement should also indicate what’s to come in your paper. In reading the thesis statement, your reader should then know: “This is what this paper is going to prove or argue, and this is how the writer is going to do it.” It should lay out the foundation for your argument. At the same time, the thesis statement will also serve as a way to guide you. Everything you write should be in service of your thesis statement, and should relate back to your point. The thesis statement acts as your North star or lighthouse – both you and you reader should be able to return to it and understand how the rest of your paper relates to it.

Basic statement:

Many people consider Friends one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.

Thesis statement:

Friends proves to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, thanks to its relatable characters, multi-seasonal narratives, and its emphasis on the power of adult friendships.

The first statement doesn’t give any hint as to what the paper is going to talk about. Could the paper be about Friends? Could it be about sitcoms? Could it be about what constitutes a great sitcom? It’s unclear. The second statement clearly indicates how the writer will prove that Friends is one of the greatest sitcoms – suggesting that the following paragraphs will discuss the characters, narratives, and friendship theme.

Tip #3 – Be supportive.

What came first: the thesis statement or the evidence? The evidence should come first – enabling you to come up with your thesis. It’s hard to know how you feel or have an opinion about a topic until you’ve gotten some background on it. As you start researching your topic, write down how you feel – your reactions, your thoughts, and your questions – and from there, you can formulate your thesis. The evidence is ultimately the foundation of your thesis statement, and allows you to determine how you want to present your argument to the reader. As you write your paper, your evidence should always be working to support your thesis. If you find that what you’re writing about isn’t in support of your thesis, then it’s time to re-think either your thesis statement or the argument that follows.

Basic statement:

In the TV show, the Office, the protagonist Michael Scott makes many inappropriate comments.

Thesis statement:

Michael Scott’s repeated offensive comments related to sexual orientation, race, and gender render him the most unlikeable character in The Office.

The first statement is really just an observation of Michael Scott’s behavior in The Office. The second statement, however, not only provides an opinion about Michael Scott’s behavior, but also lays out why he’s unlikeable. This sets the stage for the writer to lay out evidence in the following paragraphs in regards to the offensive comments he makes throughout the series and why that makes him unlikeable.

How to Prepare for Your First Week of Classes

It’s finally here – your first week of classes! Maybe you’re starting university for the first time this semester, or maybe you’re returning for another year. Either way, we’ve compiled some tips to help you prepare for class so you can start the year off successfully.

Read the syllabus ahead of time

You know that thing your professor posts on Blackboard or emails to you a week before class with all of your required books, class schedule, assignments, and due dates? That’s your syllabus – and yes, you should be reading it before the first day of class. We know you’re probably saying “But isn’t my professor going to go over it in class?” Some of them will; some of them won’t. Regardless of whether the professor discusses what’s on the syllabus, you can have a sense of what’s ahead for the semester by reading it thoroughly. Make a note of any questions you have about due dates, assignments, required reading, and anything else the professor included on the syllabus so you can ask about them on the first day of class.

Map out where your classes are on campus

Whether you’re a new or returning student, it’s important to know exactly where your classes are on campus. It’s helpful to know just how much time it will take you from your dorm to get to class – or even to and from other classes or activities you have throughout the day. This ensures that you’re not rushing around campus your first week back trying to get to class on time because you are unsure where a class is. If you need help locating where your classes are, consider checking the class roster (if available to you) and buddy up with a classmate to walk to class. Determining where your class buildings and rooms are ahead of time will remove some of the stress during your first week.

Charge your laptop or organize your class supplies

Before classes start, make sure you know exactly how you’re going to take notes and organize all of your materials. Some students choose to do this digitally, with physical notebooks and folders, or both. The benefit of getting your supplies in order means that you can show up to class knowing where to start taking notes and storing your information. Additionally, it means that you’re not devising an organization method a few weeks into the semester, ensuring that you don’t lose any notes from the first days or weeks of classes.

Get a good night’s sleep

It might be tempting to go out or stay up late the night before your first classes because you don’t have any homework yet, but just remember, these first weeks can help set the tone for the whole year. Getting a good night’s sleep before your first week ensures that you can be alert and make a good impression on your professors – and your classmates. You’ll be able to better plan for the weeks ahead, and better process the seemingly overwhelming amount of new information you’ll be taking in.