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1. Request feedbackThe best way to build this skill is to first recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Schedule an appointment with your English teacher to comb through an essay or two. Ask someone you know who is already in college to look over your essays as well. However, do not request edits only to simply accept them and not follow up with any further action—instead, closely review how you form viewpoints and search for patterns that constitute your writing voice. This is a difficult task, as well as one that requires a great deal of time.
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2. Cite your sourcesPlagiarism is never acceptable, but it is often accidental. Before you submit your assignments this year, ensure that you cite every source. Learning how much you must cite to give proper credit begins with over-citing—afterwards, you can slowly pare it down with the help of a trusted instructor. Experiment with different citation styles now (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.) so that you are more familiar with them when you begin university.
3. Practice, practice, practiceDepending on your high school curriculum, you may be writing a large number of essays this year. Write every one of them as if they were college papers. Cite your sources and ensure that your work is well researched and logical. The more writing practice you have now, the less intimidating your first college paper will be. This may mean rewriting assignments that you did not score very well on, even if you cannot resubmit them for a higher grade. It may also mean more intensely researching a topic that is strictly required by your teacher. Preparing for higher-level writing means taking control of your personal writing process and identifying your own habits and weaknesses – they will only improve with practice!
4. Read academic textsReading is closely related to writing, and it also helps your brain recognize inappropriate sentence structures or illogical leaps in a story. Branch away from your traditional high school texts and read several academic journals as well. You will immediately notice that they are (as a whole) more concise, very dense, and filled with clear stylistic elements. The more familiar you are with these components, the easier it will be for you to analyze them in your own writing. Many university students push to publish their work during their college years, and this will allow you a better idea of what college writing looks like at its highest level. Preparing for college-level writing is a serious commitment. Whether you are choosing to read more, seek more feedback, or evaluate your own writing more aggressively, it is not a short process. Nevertheless, it is one that is much easier to do before college deadlines start approaching, so starting early is always a good idea!
Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.