Let me guess... You have a 2000 word essay due at 11.59 p.m. and you’re starting to lose all hope in passing this subject.
You haven’t done any research (like, literally zero), it’s too late to email your tutor about how ‘sick’ you are and you’ve lost count of how long the caret has been blinking at you angrily from the blank word document.
As a last resort, you’ve turned to the Internet for help and it’s led you...here?
Fear not, friend! Today is your lucky day. Trust me, you can get through this because I am here to guide you through the next 12 hours (or less) using a step-by-step breakdown on what you need to do, based on my own experiences scraping by for the last 2 years of my degree.
Whether you’ve vowed that this is the last time you’ll procrastinate or if you’ve bookmarked this article anticipating frequent use in the future, we’re all in this together. The most important step to kick off the party is to:
1. Convince yourself that you can do it (10 - 15 minutes)
Unfortunately, now is not the time for that mental breakdown that has been on the horizon for the past week.
If you give up here, you will definitely fail. If you don’t, who knows? There might still be an H1 for you yet. Or at least a pass. As they say, Ps get degrees!
I mean, humans are incredible. Mothers can lift cars to save their babies in life-or-death situations, so it’s totally possible for you to do the comparatively underwhelming task of churning out some mildly intelligent sounding words in the next couple of hours.
Think of the hundreds of dollars you spent on the subject. What could it have been used for instead? A month’s rent? A luxury holiday? Well too bad - you spent it on a hellish course that you can’t follow. Do you really want all the time and energy (and not to mention $$$) you’ve invested to fade into nothing but a faint residue of shame?
As soon as you’re in the ‘right’ mindset, you’re good to go!
Tip: If you need to scream into a pillow first or do some meditation to calm your nerves, feel free to take 10 to get that out of your system.
2. Prepare your work station with food & water (5 - 10 minutes)
Welcome back! Now that you are mentally prepared, it’s time for you to physically fortify your base for the long haul. Don’t worry, we’re still going easy for now.
I try to stick to cold water, fruit, nuts and chocolate, because I feel like what people eat when they go on long camping trips can’t do me wrong. But if you need that caffeine kick to get you through the night or some comfort food to get on top of your nerves, go hard. Now’s not the time to worry about your diet, that’s tomorrow’s problem.
Tip: Try to get some healthy food in there if you can though. You don’t want to feel physically ick on top of mentally broken, right?
3. Do some research, quick & fast (2 - 3 hours)
Here’s when things get serious and you need to start working.
If you’ve left things to this point, there is no time to do a comprehensive literature review. Instead, search the database with relevant keywords to your topic and click open the first dozen or so that come up.
Read the abstracts and find the ones that are relevant, then read them properly/skim them depending on relevance and length.
Take note of what articles these authors are citing and cite them as well. You don’t have time to read them so let’s hope your tutor doesn’t either.
Article by Pink, 2018:
Research has shown that leaving your essay to the last minute does not always result in doom (Blue 2012 & Green 2014).
Put all three references in your bibliography to really bulk that baby up!
Tip: While you can skimp on the research, don’t skimp on how you take notes. Keep it in a separate document to where you plan to write your essay and try to cite them correctly and consistently now for easy cut & paste into the bibliography later.
Bonus Tip: If you’re really low on time, just read the abstracts/introductions & conclusions. That should give you a concise summary of the arguments made in the article!
4. Write the essay in a free-flow style (2 hours)
Now that you’ve done some research and know roughly what you can talk about, double check the marking criteria, then literally just start writing.
Don’t stop and break until you’re done. Obviously stop to refer to your notes, but don’t actually stop to take a break, other than to drink some water or eat some food, because that might get in the way of your flow.
Stylistically, imagine you’re free writing as an exercise at a creative writing workshop. If you can’t think of the best way to phrase things yet, just write it as best you can and move on.
When you can’t think of the correct words, just put blahblah and continue writing; you can come back to it later.
Once you’re done, check the word count. Ideally, at this point, you would have exceeded your word limit because you’ll be cutting a lot down during the editing process.
If you’re not even at word limit, you either need to do more research or learn how to stretch an idea out. Depending on how much time you have left, decide what option is better and fix the issue.
Tip: Sometimes blasting some music in the background helps in the writing process, I usually go for some hearty EDM to get me going.
5. Edit the sh!t out of it (3 hours)
Congratulations, you now have...something(?) for you to work with. Don’t feel too bad. A good chef can make a meal out of bad ingredients, but he can’t make anything out of nothing (which is where you were mere hours ago).
This is where you start using the skills they teach you at school. Make sure your introduction actually introduces all the ideas you want to talk about, in the order you will be talking about them. Your paragraphs should be separated by ideas that link together and progress naturally. Double check your spelling, grammar, syntax and make sure the essay actually answers the question you’re addressing.
This is the final stretch - you can do it!
Tip: If you have any reliable friends around, don’t be shy to call in a favour and get them to look over it. A fresh perspective can be lifesaving.
6. Break! (5 - 10 minute intervals)
Remember to take breaks throughout your last minute cram, especially when you’re editing.
It’s so easy for you to not catch mistakes because your brain starts predicting what words should next (see?).
I enjoy putting on some bops and doing a wild exorcism-esque type of dance to exhaust my nervous energy.
A walk outside is also good for clearing your head, or if it’s night time, just do the hard and fast version of poking your head out the window for a bit.
Turn your phone off and keep it in a separate room, and try to avoid using social media or the Internet in general. Your eyes are already tired and it’s easy to get back into the loop of procrastination if you lose focus. There have been times I’ve found myself 10 pages deep on my favourite subreddit and suddenly hours closer to the deadline.
Tip: Make sure you cite consistently and accurately before you submit. You should’ve set yourself up to do this during the research period. Even if the rest of your work is absolutely terrible, make sure this emotional turmoil won’t be wasted on getting 0 marks for plagiarisation or bad referencing. (Oh and make sure you submit the right document and on time too.)
So, there you go!
This strategy has been the single thing preventing me from failing/dropping out from my degree thus far.
Don’t get me wrong:
Do I hate myself?
But have I failed any subjects?
I believe in you. Now go smash that essay out! Good luck!