Category Archives: Study Tips

An editing tip form a Course Manager: Proofread out loud.

Whoa, what’s up with this title? It seems that someone neglected to proofread and wrote form instead of from, right? You may wonder, how could a good writer ever make such a mistake?

In fact, proofreading your own written work is typically much harder than proofreading work by other writers. As Nick Stockton of Wired magazine explains, this is because you already understand what your own writing is trying to convey. Therefore, if something is amiss due to a typo, you are likely to skip over that typo; as you read silently in your head, your brain will often say the correct word without realizing that a completely different word is on the actual page!

As a former English professor and now a Course Manager at StraighterLine, I have seen these kinds of typos frequently. I purposefully misused form in the title here because this is one of the most common typos I have seen over the years. Because the words form and from contain the exact same letters, it can be surprisingly easy to type one when you meant to type the other. Spellcheck will not inform you of this error because it isn’t smart enough to recognize the wrong word is being used.

So, how can you proofread more effectively and catch these pesky typos?

My number one tip is to always read your essays out loud as you proofread.                       If youproofreading read silently, your brain is likely to see what should be on the page instead of what is actually there. Thus, you will not recognize the typo. But if you read the essay out loud, you are much more likely to see what is actually on the page and catch many more mistakes than if you proofread silently.

The next time you are proofreading an essay, try this tip and see how many mistakes you can catch!

Yo, a free alternative for Word? Word.

Well, the lingo in this title might be totally 1990s, but the tips offered here are for 2014 and beyond.

If you’re attempting to complete your college courses without word processing software, things are bound to get frustrating. Microsoft Word is a great option. Unfortunately, a licensed copy of Microsoft Word can be expensive, with the most basic version running close to $100 even at a discount. So what is a cost-conscious student to do?

Look no further because an excellent open-source option is available! With Google Docs, youGoogle-Docs can create, share, edit, save, and access text-based documents, spreadsheets, and more. The files are compatible with your StraighterLine courses, so you can use Google Docs to upload assignments in variety of courses that require text-based submissions. Be sure to check out this resource, and here are some swell tips to get you started.

This software will be super helpful in any college course, but particularly in ones where writing is the focus. Speaking of that, we have a selection of awesome writing courses that you should check out, including English Comp and Business Communications! If you’re interested in improving your writing skills, these courses are a great place to start.

Ready for your 5k? Be wary of the heat this summer

If you’re in PE101 and gearing up for your 5k or fitness test be sure to use some commonsense to make sure you aren’t going to overexert yourself, that the temperature isn’t too hot, and that you have access to shade, water, a cool place to recover after all that movement and exertion.

Writing from Texas I know how hot and humid the midday can be (which is why I try to schedule any physical activity for the morning or inside at least a shady areas out of the sun), remember that the goal of the fitness test and 5k is to create a benchmark for your own fitness level (not to see if you can survive the heat and humidity of wherever you may be).

Use some commonsense and ensure that you are taking all the precautions required to stay safe and healthy when getting physical this summer. As a bonus, here’s a quick video from Ted Ed (a great source of educational content) that talks about heat stroke and how to prevent it and treat it.

“I could care less …”

Have you ever said this when you want to imply that you don’t care about something? If so, then you actually communicated the wrong message. What you should have said was, “I couldn’t care less,” which means you literally do not care at all.

Speaking of the word literally, some people have a habit of using this word inaccurately. Its meaning implies something that is real or actual. For example, you might say, “After the party, my house was destroyed.” Hopefully, you mean that your house is just really messy and not actually destroyed. Thus, you wouldn’t want to say, “After the party, my house was literally destroyed” (well, unless your guests actually burned the place down).

As you work toward completing your courses, try to be precise and accurate with your language choices, especially in courses such as English and Business Communication, which  require an element of writing.

If you’re interested in other “Word Crimes” like the two highlighted above, you should check out a new video from Weird Al Yankovic, titled–you guessed it!–”Word Crimes.” Using the popular song “Blurred Lines” as a base, Yankovic cleverly scolds those of us who are guilty of crimes against language. The thing is, he’s actually correct in all of his accusations, so while you’re listening to his satirical take on this pop song, you might consider taking notes. 

What’s wrong with citing Wikipedia in research?

You’ve probably been told that Wikipedia should not be used in academic research, but have you ever wondered why this is the case? The site does contain lots of information that seems useful, but the more important consideration is whether or not the information is credible. In fact, Wikipedia has published numerous errors and factual inaccuracies over the years.

Just a few examples of errors published on Wikipedia include false death reports and ridiculous hoaxes (remember, pranksters can easily edit the entries). Here is a short list of some top reasons why you should never cite Wikipedia in research:

1. Wikipedia readily admits that some of its articles are “complete rubbish.”

2. It is easy for vandals to edit the site and make purposefully incorrect statements.

3. People with an agenda can easily make entries appear credible, as was seen in Shane Fitzgerald’s hoax entry.

The bottom line is this: For academic purposes, your research methods are a big part of success. Use only credible sources whose information has been vetted by experts in the field. Refer to this detailed handout, which exposes an error we found on the site and explains how you might use Wikipedia for locating source material (but never for citing it).

Do I need an “en dash” there?

Or you may be asking yourself, “Just what the heck is an ‘en dash’ anyway?” This nifty infographic, created by The Visual Communication Guy, breaks down 15 punctuation marks, including the mysterious “en dash,” into usage and level of difficulty. 

15 punctuation marks

You may notice that the comma wins the prize for highest difficulty, so be sure to review comma (and other punctuation) rules as you are drafting and revising your English and Business essays! Click here for poster-quality, printable versions.

How do you take notes?

Have you ever considered how your note-taking method affects your studying? For instance, do you type your study notes out on a computer? Or do you write them out by hand on paper? Or maybe you have a hybrid method that involves writing by hand on a tablet with a stylus?notetaking

As it turns out, the way you take notes could make a difference in how well you retain the material. According to a recent study by professors at Princeton and UCLA, “students who write out their notes by hand actually learn more than those who type their notes on [computer keyboards]” (Mueller and Oppenheimer qtd. in Eck).

In other words, as Mueller and Oppenheimer put it, “the pen is mightier than the keyboard” when it comes to taking notes (1159). For example, while keyboard users typically write more words in a shorter timeframe, those who write by hand tend to gain “a stronger conceptual understanding” of the material (Eck). This could go a long way towards maximizing your study time, so keep it in mind the next time you’re planning a study session!

The bottom line: Use a computer keyboard if you want to take quicker notes. But if you want to take better notes, you might opt for the old-fashioned route.

Click here to read Allison Eck’s full story, which explains more of these research findings. And for more great study tips, consider taking one of our College Prep courses!

Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” Nova Next. PBS,                   3 June 2014. Web. 4 June 2014.

Mueller, Pam A. and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the                                           Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.”                                                    Psychological Science 25(6):1159 – 1168. Print. 2014.

What’s your style?

Visual … Auditory … Kinesthetic … Do you have a learning style?

Read through the questions below to see if you can identify with a particular style of learning: Types of Learners - New Page (5)

So what does this all mean? First, keep in mind that most people do not fall under just one category of learning style. Most of us will have characteristics that encompass multiple styles, which is good because it indicates a higher degree of flexibility. Still, if you can identify which styles are best representative of your habits, you may be able to adjust your study routine to improve your academic performance!

This interactive quiz may help you determine your own learning style.

What’s the best music studying?

While it’s not allowed during proctoring, you can definitely put on the tunes while taking other exams, writing papers or just interacting with the course materials in your online course. What’s your favorite playlist or album (or even single song on repeat) to jam out to while learning?

Have a good playlist or album to share or recommend? Put it in the comments.

I bet it’s this one…

Caution: Slippery Slopes Ahead!

LeBron James drinks Sprite, so YOU should drink Sprite! Michael Phelps thinks Subways is delicious, so of course you agree! Right? Joe Flacco loves Gummy Bears … you probably get the idea. And you can undoubtedly list many other examples of advertisers who attempt to sell products based on the “authority” of celebrity endorsements. Hence, this logical fallacy is known as the appeal to authority.


Another common fallacy is the bandwagon appeal, which you can see anytime you pass one of the 35 thousand-plus McDonald’s that exist on the planet.The implicit argument here is “99 BILLION” people can’t be wrong! In other words, if everyone is doing something, so should you.

But have you ever considered the strength of your arguments when you write essays for your English or Business courses? If not, now is a great time to learn about the many ways arguments can be flawed so you can work on making yours stronger. Check out this awesome poster that includes an exhaustive list (and nice graphics) of various logical fallacies, including the titular slippery slope preceding this post. And the next time you’re watching a commercial, see if you can identify one of these fallacies in the ad’s argument.