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5/recent posts
Those Who Can't Do

Those Who Can't Do

It is officially that time of year once more. No, not the holiday season, but the season that you must survive in order to enjoy the holidays -- end of term papers and final exams. I am currently covered in final papers and exams that need to be graded. And, trust me, being on the other end of finals (grading rather than writing) is just as stressful and time consuming. No one wants to read (or really enjoys reading) 80 essays on the Irish Potato Famine. While it is rather tedious grading final exams and essays/papers, my time on the "other side" has given me great insight into how students can improve on their final exams and papers.

1) Keep it simple, don't try to "sound smart."
Put yourself in the shoes of your professor, teacher, or TA doing the grading. In many cases they have hundreds of papers and exams to grade this time of year. The purpose of your exam or paper is to demonstrate whether or not you took from the course what they wanted you to learn. So when you are asked to identify terms or answer an essay, they are typically looking for key words and phrases they want to see. They are not concerned with flowery language or creative writing, in fact that can be distracting and even annoying. Demonstrate your knowledge of the subject as clearly and succinctly as possible. If you make their job easier, your grade will be higher, trust me.

2) Analyze don't summarize.
While you want to write clearly and in a straightforward manner, you also want to make sure that you are focused on analyzing material and not just summarizing information. This is the number one mistake I see over and over again. If the question asks about why British attempts to address the Potato Famine in Ireland failed, don't spend more than half of the paper regurgitating details about how many people died, what was causing the crops to fail, and the aid programs set up by the British. Yes, some of that will need to be discussed for context, but the bulk of your answer should use what you learned to analyze the famine and argue why Britain failed.

3) Every essay should have a thesis (even if it is a short essay).
The thesis is simply your answer to the question posed. But this answer should be well-informed and detailed. Your thesis will also help you organize your response. Simply state your argument/thesis in the first paragraph, then each of the following paragraphs will focus on one prong of your thesis. You will instantly have a clear, organized essay that is easy to follow (and grade).

For example: Discuss the various ways in which the English government attempted to address the crisis of the Great Famine. What were some of the flaws in each case that led to their ultimate failure and/or shut-down, and limited the program's ability to adequately address the needs of Famine victims? 

Not a strong thesis - The British failed to aid the Irish during the Potato Famine.

Good thesis - The British attempts to aid the Irish people during the Potato Famine failed due to a lack of communication with on the ground officials (2nd paragraph will explain this in more detail), an unwillingness to intervene in market forces (laisse faire ideology)(3rd paragraph will explain this in more detail), and an unwillingness to invest money in Ireland (4th paragraph will explain this in more detail)

See what I mean? Keep it simple.

4) Use your syllabus as a study guide.
When your professor writes a syllabus they spend a ridiculous amount of time crafting their image of the course -- what they want you to learn and what they think is most important. So, your syllabus holds lots of clues about what topics and themes are more important and will likely appear the final exam/paper.

5) Partner up.
Reviewing with a friend or proofing a classmate's paper are great ways to study. Just as I have learned a lot from grading, you will also learn from correcting the mistakes of your peers.

6) Read your paper aloud to proof.
This is such an easy trick that no one ever seems to do. Reading your paper aloud will help you catch grammatical errors, syntax issues, and awkward or missing words.

7) Don't stay up all night cramming or writing.
Exams crammed for overnight and papers written at the last minute will always be obvious. As tempting as it is to stay up all night studying, numerous studies have shown that cramming for tests actually hinders your ability to retain information. Make time to exercise, however, becuase cardio does help you retain information and think more clearly.

You can read more of my study tips below:
Ten easy ways to improve your writing
How to take better notes
The benefits of a history degree
The five most influential books I read as a grad student
Tips for applying to grad school

I hope this helps and good luck with your final exams and papers!
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Ashley B
Get Creative With Wacom

Get Creative With Wacom

If there is one thing I have learned in my many, many years of school it is that you learn just as much outside the classroom as you do inside the classroom. For me, the key to surviving the mental rigor of grad school has been my extracurricular creative pursuits -- this blog and my Etsy store. Without these outlets I can guarantee I would not have made it! The importance of creativity and self-expression has been the greatest lessons I have learned outside the classroom.

In addition to revolutionizing your note taking game, Wacom's line of smartpads and styli can help you unleash your creative side! While I create most of my Etsy prints in Photoshop with digital watercolor brushes, my first step is always old-school sketching my design or idea. There is just something about the feeling of pen and paper that Photoshop cannot reproduce. Starting with a sketch however, means that you somehow have to digitize said sketch. This can be time consuming and often lowers the quality of the sketch. Enter my new Wacom Bamboo Folio. I can still sketch with pen and paper, but my creation is instantly digital and stored in the Inkscape cloud. It is the best of both worlds and means I don't have to give up my love of men and paper.

From the cloud, I can import my sketch directly into the Bamboo Paper App on my iPad and start painting with my Bamboo Stylus Duo. The app simulates realistic drawing and painting with a variety of brushes that respond to the pressure of your hand and stylus. I can also import it into Photoshop and paint with my Wacom Intuos Pro and my favorite set of watercolor brushes (available here). 

My latest project is recreating a fabulous vintage Vogue magazine cover from 1926. With Wacom there are endless possibilities to express and explore your creative side. You can create and design art for your personal blog or classroom project, and you could even create custom gifts for the holidays. Maybe you want to take a stab at designing your own art prints? What ever it is, make sure you take the time to express yourself and your creativity outside the classroom. And don't feel guilty about taking time away from your studies to be creative and have a little fun. As stressful as the end of the semester can be, being creative will not only give you the necessary outlet to recharge, but it will also actually improve your ability to think critically and focus.

What is your favorite creative outlet?

This is a sponsored post in partnership with Wacom and Her Campus Media. All words and opinions are my own.
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Ashley B
Remixing Pink + Burgundy

Remixing Pink + Burgundy

jacket (similar here) // blouse (last seen here) // skirt (on sale!) // hat // bag // shoes

Pink and burgundy is basically the fall/winter version of my favorite color combo, pink and red. Two hues of the same color always make for an interesting and fun outfit.

I have the bad habit of always looking for something new and exciting. I love an item when I first purchase it, I wear it like crazy, and then I get bored of it. Call it fashion ADD. This of course is a terrible mindset and causes me to purchase new clothing more often than I should. To combat the urge for something new, I often force myself to go back into my closet to mix older items in new and exciting ways. This outfit was the product of one such session. While I loved each of these pieces separately, I think they are even better together!

I love items that are academic looking, but still playful. This skirt manages to combine both with its traditional houndstooth pattern done in youthful pink and burgundy palette. It is also currently on sale! The a-line cut is universally flattering and even though it is wool, the light pink means you can wear this well into spring (it is also lined). It is also versatile. Pair it with a solid burgundy cardigan for work (or archiving), a denim shirt for weekends, or for a little more fun, play with patterns and mix it with a floral top

If you're ever feeling bored with your wardrobe I highly recommend playing around with color and patterns. You can read more of my tips for playing with patterns here.



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Ashley B
Holiday Gifts from the Preppy Printshop

Holiday Gifts from the Preppy Printshop

Ok, brace yourself for some shameless self promotion. But in my defense, Preppy Printshop prints, mugs, and pillows make great and affordable holiday gifts (IMHO).

If you are looking for a gift under $20, look no further than a 8x10 inch print. And the best part, I am currently offering a holiday BOGO on all 5x7 and 8x10 inch prints. That means you can give double the gift, or you can get one to give and one to keep! Simply purchase your print and then leave the name of the free print you would like in the note to seller box at check out.

Looking for something for the chic jet-setter? Try a poster print of this Gray Malin-esque print. Or for your Paris obsessed friend, give a print of one of Paris's famed doors in pink, blue, or light pink. You could also go more classic Parisian with a print of the Eiffel Tower or Laduree.

Need something for your trendy friend? How about a print featuring foil balloons? There is one of the Beverly Hills Hotel and of the Palais Royal.

Finally, who doesn't love peonies? This is especially true for the kind that live all year, never need watering, and brighten anyone's decor. The Preppy Printshop offers peonies and stripes, peonies in a hat box, and peonies on a cute bike.

I could go on and on, but basically the Preppy Printshop is your one stop shop for great gifts! Shop my favorites below or visit my Etsy shop here.

Oh, and if you are looking for an easy DIY that makes a fabulous gift, check out this one.

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Ashley B
Winter Wishlist

Winter Wishlist

Can you believe that it is only 21 days until winter and just 25 until Christmas? Seriously, where does the time go? Oh wait, that's write, my dissertation.

Anyways, as the holidays approach it is time to start thinking about gifts! What to give and what to put on your own wish list. With each new season I like to compile a wish list. This helps me prioritize what I want, what I might actually need, and what will work with what I already own.

My winter wish list is always the smallest becuase, well, I live in Florida. But, I travel enough to have a little fun with winter clothing. That said, I do try to keep my winter wish list practical for Florida. Except for this gorgeous camel coat. Two winters ago I purchased a gorgeous cashmere and wool coat in Florence. Although not trendy or a fun statement piece (which I am usually a sucker for), this timeless coat has become one of my all time favorite purchases and I wear it constantly each winter. I promised myself that if I found a great camel coat, I would make a similar investment. This Club Monaco coat fit the bill (and FYI all their coats are currently 30% off!). Speaking of Club Monaco, they are killing it lately with the voluminous sweaters. It is tough to pick just one, but this ruffled burgundy number is definitely my favorite.

I am also obsessed with this floral appliqué Rebecca Minkoff bag. I mean look at those gorgeous colors and pretty little flowers! It was love at first sight and will easily transition into spring (there is another cute version here).

Also on my wish list are dolly socks. If you have not noticed, I've really been into this look lately. It is the perfect combination of cute and practical. I plan to wear my new dolly socks with these gorgeous (and ridiculously well-priced) velvet Mary Jane's. I scored them from Macy's during Cyber Monday for $44! Other winter accessories on my radar are this sweet pink and green plaid J.Crew scarf and leather and cashmere tech gloves (such a great gift idea!).

Speaking of style meeting function, I am dying to try Kate Spade's new wearable tech. They now have a smart watch and bangle that tracks your steps and allows you to set and monitor fitness goals. The last item on my list is something that I have needed for a while now and, for some reason, have not purchased! I love this small (and pink) dual voltage travel blowdryer by T3. A great travel blowdryer is the perfect gift for the wanderluster in your life.

What is on your winter wish list?


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Ashley B
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