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Nov 22 2015
by Mia Renee Cole

How to Get an A on Your College Paper

By Mia Renee Cole - Nov 22 2015

If there's one thing we all despise in college it's writing papers. Professors grade us so much harder than our high school teachers and we find ourselves struggling to get an A in some classes. So what's the secret? The truth is, there is no secret--it just takes dedication and the drive to get a good grade. These tips make that a little bit easier.

1. Be specific.

If there's anything that professors look for, it's details. Avoid being passive in your papers and give very specific examples and situations. Instead of saying "The Civil War was caused by a disagreement between the North and South," give a more direct statement such as, "The Civil War was caused by the North and the South's disagreement regarding slaves and the right to own them." If you're really pushing for a good grade, you should get even more specific than that.

2. Make your argument.

When writing an argument essay, it is extremely important to make sure that you actually MAKE an argument. We all have written papers where our arguments aren't clear enough for the teacher to give us a good grade. Be sure to read over your paper multiple times and put planning to use to ensure an argument that actually argues your point.

3. Stick to third person.

When in doubt, stick to writing in third person. Most papers--even if they are arguments--are supposed to be written from an unbiased perspective and you're going to achieve that if you write in the third person, versus writing it in the first. Plus, the third person perspective also give your essay a more professional look and profound voice.

4. Plan and outline in advance.

Planning your paper is probably more important than actually writing it. Gathering all of your sources and coming up with an outline will allow you to write more fluidly and have an overall better sounding paper. Plus it will take a load off your shoulders when you're writing it.

5. Wait to write your thesis and intro.

No one ever said that you had to write your paper in the order that you have it in your outline. Try, instead, to write it in a way that allows you to think clearly. You'll find it significantly easier to write an introduction (and thesis statement) AFTER you've written the body of your paper. Not only will it be easier, but it will sound better and your thesis will, in turn, be more specific and tailored directly to the evidence in your essay.

6. Write your paper well in advance.

I don't know a single person that has received a good grade on something they wrote the night before it was due, so do both yourself and your professors a favor and give yourself plenty of time to write your essay. Allow your paper a couple of days to "cool off" (as one of my professors AND my father has put it) between edits so you can truly see your mistakes and think about your style more.

7. Edit your paper at least twice.

In college, you can't get by with just editing a paper once before turning it in. You need to edit that sucker AT LEAST TWICE before turning it in. Like I mentioned before, give it time to cool off between edits too so it can reach its full potential.

8. Don't rely on spellcheck.

You've probably heard this before, and I'll tell you again: don't rely solely on spellcheck. Computers aren't perfect and you WILL pick up mistakes that spellcheck won't. Make sure to actually read your paper when editing it. Note: when writing a paper in a foreign language, you can actually temporarily set your spellcheck to that language which will help you pick up on mistakes easier in a different language.

9. Take advantage of your school's writing center.

All schools have a writing center and they have one for good reason. They want to help you get a good grade so if you're ever having problems with an essay or in a course, visit the writing center to get another person's input on your writing that will allow you to get that A you so desperately want. 

10. Get another person's opinion.

This tip is so, so important. Even if you don't want to visit your school's writing center, AT LEAST have one of your friends (or family members) read it for you. Having someone else's eyes scan a paper you've been staring at for days (and maybe even weeks) will only work in your favor. They almost always pick up on spelling errors, grammar mistakes and weird syntax that you, before, hadn't even begun to notice. This is crucial if you want to impress your professor and get a good grade.

Lead Image Credit: Tim Riley

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Mia Renee Cole - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mia Renee is currently the Senior Editor with Fresh U and a student at UNC Chapel Hill, where she is studying Spanish and French. In her free time she enjoys knitting, photography and drinking hot tea while writing on her personal blog. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @miareneecole or her blog at!

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