Ten years after dropping out of high school, I returned to upgrade. During those ten years without schooling, I read maybe three books. I did no writing (outside of songwriting) and I had no need for math. So, when I returned to upgrade, I faced a brick wall.
Weirdly, I’d finished grade 12 advanced math with a 100% class grade—I’d continue that trend during university. But English was another story. My mentor joked that I could barely spell my name, never mind write a term paper. Luckily, my English teacher assigned a pre-reading of a grammar book, which rescued me from English oblivion. I scored the top grade in my upgrading class of English slackers, but I didn’t have the style of an English major.
And then I entered university.
Somehow, I had to find a way to score A’s on my papers, especially when competing with students who had a flare for writing. I had one thing going for me: a work ethic. So, I slogged out writing papers until I came down with a fail-proof system, which I’m about to share with you.
Here is my step-by-step system for winning A’s on your papers, even if you’ve never read a book in your life:
Step One—Get a Head-Start: The day your paper gets assigned, sign out ten or more books on the topic from your library.
Step Two—Bleed the Indices of Books: Look in the indices at the back of the books. Find index headings (themes) with lots of references. Ensure the other books have lots of references for the index heading (theme). If you have a lengthy paper due, then find three related index headings (themes). Make sure you combine the themes together into one thesis statement.
Step Three—Get Articles: Once you’ve extracted your index headings (themes) from your books, download at least twenty articles related to those index headings (themes). Skim the articles, highlighting facts and interesting quotes related to your themes. In the margin beside each highlight, jot down the theme. Write a one- to three-word subtheme, too, to streamline the process.
Step Four—Make Your Outline: You can either use cue cards for your outline or a Microsoft Word outline.
For Microsoft Word outlines, I like to cite the books and articles word for word (as direct quotations). I then enter the bibliography at the end.
For cue card outlines, I like to put the citations in direct quotes on the front (along with intext and bibliography citations) and then put the theme and subtheme on the back.
Step Five—Order Your Outline or Cue Cards: Shuffle your Word outline entries or cue card entries into a logical order. Try to have at least three citations per heading and subheading. If you have six or more citations per heading, try to break them into two subheadings.
Step Six—Turn Your Outline into the Body of Your Paper. Do this by converting your Word outline into a regular document. If you used cue cards, type the citations and inline texts in the order you shuffled the cue cards during step five. Type up your bibliography at the end of the paper.
Step Seven—Add Your Voice. At the beginning of each chunk of references, write a sentence tying your selected quotes into your thesis. Then introduce each quote and add a comment after each quote. Link the quotes together by placing them in a logical order.
Step Eight—Edit, Edit, Edit! Wait at least twelve hours before making your first edits. Do at least three complete edits, waiting at least twelve hours between each run-through. I like to do five edits before handing in a paper. Remember, A papers have zero spelling or grammar errors.
Step Nine—Humbly Accept Your A+ Grade. Okay, never mind the humble part. Hang that A+ paper on your wall. Enter it into contests. Burry it in a time capsule for your great-great-great grandchildren to unearth. You’ve earned it.
So, that’s how a high school drop out went from barely spelling her own name to scoring A papers at university. Now, it’s your turn to ace the grade—even if you think Archie comics count as classics.