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Top Tips for Great Grades

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4. Read and reference widely. At tertiary level, especially as a postgraduate, there is an expectation that you will read widely. This means looking at a variety of opinions on a subject, including contradictory ones. The more evidence there is of the depth and breadth of your reading, the better your papers will be. Get to know your college library (additional resouces below), and your librarian. Unless you are an expert in information management, your librarian will know far more than you about sourcing relevant material. I once found an article that looked highly promising for a paper I was writing. Only problem was, I couldn't access it without paying more than I was able to afford at the time. My librarian was able to access it for me at no charge, and it became the keystone of my paper.

Join other libraries that might contain useful books or journals, or be able to source them for you. Journals, in particular, contain the most up to date information on a subject, and should always be included as part of your reading and referencing. Scholarly, peer-reviewed journals are the top of the heap. Spend time familiarising yourself with all the journal databases that will deliver high quality articles in your field. When you find a great article, look at the list of references it has cited. This can uncover other articles that could be useful. Always use primary sources when possible. Take good notes from all your references as you go. Then you won't get stuck wondering, 'Now where did I read that…?' Be especially careful with Internet references, some are definitely more reliable than others (surprise, surprise). Joe's blog on a topic definitely doesn't carry the weight of a peer-reviewed journal.

5. Polish your writing skills. Keep your writing as clear and simple as possible. Remember, your job is to show your examiner that you have carefully researched the topic and addressed the question. Make it easy for them to read and understand your argument. By all means, use jargon that is particular to your field of expertise. Use words that make you sound knowledgeable. But use them sparingly and wisely. You don't need to exhaust your vocabulary to prove your intelligence. I once had a comment from a professor that my writing style was 'simple and mellifluous.' Unsure of whether this was a compliment or insult, I looked up 'mellifluous.' It's meaning, I discovered was 'smooth and sweetly flowing like honey.' Nice!

Comb over your paper for spelling and grammatical errors. Automatic spelling and grammar checkers are helpful, but don't pick up all errors. Get your spouse or a friend to proofread your work. When sitting exams, use any time left to read over your answers and correct mistakes.

Additionally, take advantage of any services offered by your institution or on the Internet to improve your study and writing skills, such as student tutors and writing workshops. Your library probably contains a host of material on the subject as well. Spend some time during breaks studying these to hone your writing skills.

6. Learn from feedback. When you've put your heart and soul into a paper, it can be difficult to see it criticised. Don't take it personally. Most professors want their students to succeed, and constructive feedback is their way of helping you improve. Take their advice on board, learn from it, and apply it.

Furthering your education may be daunting, but with perseverance, a positive attitude, and willingness to learn, success is possible!

Sophia Auld holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Physiotherapy, a Graduate Diploma of Divinity, and is currentlycompleting an MA in Writing and Literature through Deakin University. When not working or studying, she loves hanging out with family, writing, reading and keeping fit.

Additional Resources: See You Online!  Helpful tips for using college library resources and the Web. See also Information Literacy: Library skills for the Technically Savvy and The Digital Library: Online Databases and Reference Software.

Academic Research: Libraries and reference desks, journals and more.

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