Some Tips for Students on your Final Exam and Term Paper:

In preparing for and sitting your final exam, keep the following in mind:

  • Answer the question, and make sure you read the question carefully and not answer the question you thought would be asked;
  • Show that you were engaged in the course by bringing lectures, discussion and readings into your responses;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of key concepts, ideas and research by using and explaining them in your answers to questions;
  • Marshall facts to the degree possible to show that you can provide concrete evidence and illustrations of general statements;
  • Avoid offering your opinion as an answer to a question since you are not (yet) an expert and even experts need to develop the arguments behind their views and not just state their conclusion;
  • You might offer your conclusion, such as why you agree with one line of reasoning, rather than another. However, you must then indicate why you reached this conclusion, such as by referring to the data, methods, or theoretical basis for one versus the other line of reasoning.

In completing your term paper, keep the following in mind:

  • Follow a clear structure. This is not a mystery novel, but an interdisciplinary paper in the social sciences. Follow a structure, such as clarifying the problem you are addressing, the question(s) it raises, different perspectives or theories of relevance to the question, your approach and methods, findings, conclusion and discussion of limitations and further research required. As is often advised: tell the reader what you are going to do. Do it. Then tell the reader what you’ve done;
  • Avoid anchoring your term paper in your opinion(s), as noted above with respect to exams;
  • You may quote interviews, authors, other research studies, but always make sure you cite this work precisely and carefully to avoid any question of what are your own words. Putting ideas and research into your own words is valuable – showing the instructor that you are aware of key work and its relevance to your topic – but always be sure to error on the side of referencing the source or inspiration for your points. Remember you get credit for bringing the work of others into your paper as long as they are properly cited and credited;
  • Use words and sentences, data, relevant documentation, such as a photo or chart, and your text in general to make your case, and in the same spirit, avoid flowery templates, fonts, and binding to impress the reader;
  • Draft your paper, revise it, and revise it again and again. Spending time in getting the structure, argument, grammar and spelling and clarity of your paper right will take time. There is no shortcut to spending time in crafting your paper; and
  • Write a paper that you would be proud to use as an illustration of your writing, such as for your application to a graduate program or a job.

That is probably enough to think about, but please let me and your colleagues know whatever I’ve forgotten. Best of luck with doing your best on all of your exams and term papers.

Quote from Mark Twain
Quote from Mark Twain

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