Chasing A’s at U of T

When I was in first year, I discovered the ultimate thesis - The Individual Vs. Society. It’s malleable and totally shapeable. It can work for equity studies, histories, literature (especially), art criticism and, in a pinch, anthropology. You can talk about how society has shaped the individual (and how this and that proves a wonderful conclusion), you can talk about how society is porous and involves a complex and yet moderated give and take between both individual and society and how neither are ever independent of the other. You can even talk about movements like modernism, and post modernism and how they redefine the concepts of ‘individual’…or ‘society’! Throw in some queer theory, or perhaps a dash of gender theory and some deep metaphysical reasoning in between well-thought-out quotes and strenuously recontextualized sources, and you may very well have yourself an A on your artsie paper.  U of T seems to really like this approach right now. But, alas, there may be more to it than that…you also have to figure out who is marking you. If it is the TA…use as much of their ideas as possible…as long as you can configure it to individual vs. society. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter that you’re practically rewriting your tutorial, so long as your applying those concepts to a different book or passage that happens to be in the essay question you have to contend with. If your prof. is marking your paper, you have tons more leeway to be yourself and write whatever you want in your paper…they apparently are less afraid of giving A’s and not such huge sticklers for minute marking details. They can also be slightly more excited by originality. This is especially true if your Prof. has tenure…if not…be wary…and follow the steps advised for TA appreaciability. My point is that I seem to have found that writing a paper who’s mark I can really delight in is more about strategy and careful plotting than having fun and enjoying the academic resources I have at my disposal. When I hand in my paper, my worries are multiple:

a.)    Who’s marking this?

b.)   How many A's are they allowed to give out?

c.)    How bright are my fellow classmates? Will they hog all the available A’s, making my inclusion into their circle a threat to the stability of the expected class average?

My fervent hope is usually to be graded right after some slacker who typed their conclusion while inebriated, or after some poor soul too full of stress and anxiety to carefully edit their sentence structure. …maybe I shouldn’t admit these kinds of things… Anyways, my point is that this is the way things in my classes here usually go, and going for essay help, meeting with TAs, talking to professors…really, my marks don’t really change too much after going through these little rounds…(I probably shouldn’t admit that either…) BUT the first part! Individual vs. society and pointedly bringing up what I’ve heard in class (whether to agree or disagree) this will bring me far! So, basically, I was pretty awesome in first year. I actually got 100% on a history paper about Tibetan monks (I know…I was shocked too). In second year I was convinced of my genius when I got 89% in another course. Anyways, the problem is that by third year I had deluded myself as to my brilliance. You can only imagine the horribleness to come. Basically, I had forgotten the golden rules of U of T artsie essay writing, and mistakenly thought I had some inherit merit of my own. I believed I hadn’t suddenly gotten stupider, but there was, at some same time a tragic decreases in marks. I was going to class, writing notes, paying attention…but during assignments, I wanted to write my own ideas that had occurred to me in class. This was not greeted warmly. The comments I received were only adding to my frustration: “I commend you for pursuing this topic! Truly ___ is an area that needs to be explored! However…._____ is really too broad to be explored in a 6 page paper.” The frustration increased, my confidence decreased, and in all likelihood everything I churned out was probably pretentious, trite and crappy. By fourth year, I really didn’t care and best of all, had found others that didn’t care either! Together we expressed our creativity in our papers. One friend added the word “tomfoolery” in every essay she wrote for a year, for the sheer entertainment value it gave her. I personally went buck wild.  I took a History of Film course and wrote my final paper about the importance of the James Bond franchise, purposely scorning the traditionally more “important” films. I took Science Fiction literature and wrote my final paper on fornication between humans and robots…a trend I had noticed popping up in almost every book I had to read in there. In my literary theory course, for my final paper, I chose America’s Next Top Model Cycle 10 as my text of choice and explained it in the context of Boris Eichenbaum and Russian formalism. I really don’t regret this. I had a lot of fun. Some of my profs and TAs quite enjoyed my writings, whereas others were less than amused. So…now I’m in my fifth year, and really, I’m working on cleaning up my act. It’s tough getting back to my frame of mind from fifth year…the thing is, you see, that I love high marks. Getting one is like a dear hug, it’s like validation, it’s like acceptance…almost like parental love. Not getting one is a refusal, a put down, it’s like being told you’re just one of the pack (in truth…it made me act out a bit.) I realize that this is not a healthy attitude… But I still have a semester left to straighten out and possibly reform my ways… However…I think I’ll still try to work in a little tomfoolery every now and then if I can.


4 comments on “Chasing A’s at U of T

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  1. Hey Heather, thanks for the great ideas about writing papers. For budding undergraduates, the secrets to 100% on a Tibetan paper or 89% in a course seem impossible.

    My verdict is?

    “I commend you for pursuing this topic!
    Truly ____how to write papers and get an A___ is an area that needs to be explored!

    However….__how to write proper papers and get As___ isN’T really too broad to be explored in a 6 page BLOG.”

    Great work! 🙂

  2. Liesl would like to announce that she is writing her last essay for this semester and this post greatly alleviated her terrible case of writer’s block.

    Not that she stole your Holy Grail of a thesis… (shifty eyes)

  3. Liesl was about to say something along the lines of “As I struggle with another terrible essay, I remembered this post and reading it again greatly alleviated my terrible case of writer’s block [read: shame]”, and came to the realization that she did that last semester.