How to Write A”Truck-Stop Burrito” Written Piece and Ace Your Midterm Essay

Essay writing is hard and annoying.

To make it easier to understand, we can divide essays into two types: the “filet mignon” essay and the “truck-stop burrito” essay (these labels can be credited to my role model and high school philosophy teacher, Mr. Dollimore).

The “filet mignon” essay is the type of essay you write for an assignment. This requires you to make it all nice and pretty, add all the extra creative details that make professors sleep easy at night, and doll it up with a fancy cover page. You can fill it with fluff and still get a decent mark. Teacher expectations: HIGH.

The “truck-stop burrito” essay is the type of essay you write on a test. Picture writing a test like being on a road trip. After a long, tiring journey, you find your stomach grumbling. Do you head for the fancy filet mignon, or do you feel satisfied with the oily, week-old truck-stop burrito? In that moment, even the cheap, no effort food tastes delicious. That’s the level your test essay should be at. You just have to nab the points and add enough words to make full sentences, but be careful: every point counts. Teacher expectations: LOW.

Each type requires different tips and tricks. To ace a test essay, here’s some advice you should take with a grain of salt follow:

  1. Brainstorm…LIKE CRAZY.

No, seriously. Just dump words everywhere. Every little relevant point you can think of, every small jot you can think of, any pieces of a definition, just vomit it all down on the paper. When it’s there, you can use it. When it’s in your head…not so much.

For example, let’s say you’re given the question:

To what extent is morality a matter of context? How important are circumstances in determining what is moral?

Your paper might look something like this:


Immediately, what I did was TAKE A POSITION/STANCE THAT DIRECTLY ADDRESSES THE QUESTION (in this case, I said morality IS based on context). If you’re struggling to find a position, use the one you can think of more points for.

Another notable point: I wrote down some EXAMPLES. This will form the chunk of your paragraph. If you can think of examples, even just regurgitating those examples will cover the point for you.

Another notable point: after writing a whole bunch of stuff, I identified some things I could define. Definitions eat up word count, directly confront material, and make you look super smart and knowledgeable. Checkmate.

Lastly, if you don’t understand the question, write stuff down anyways. I saw the word morality and context, so I wrote down “moral realism vs. moral relativism” which I know deals with that. Didn’t even think about it. Once you’ve written some initial ideas down, you can reread the question to see if you can take something away or add something else.

  1. ORGANIZE your brainstorming.

This will help you form actual paragraphs. It helps here to know the general structure of an essay, which is an incredibly guiding tool during a test (though don’t feel too stuck to it):


You know out of all that junk you just made, you need to somehow materialize three paragraphs, and those three paragraphs all have to connect back to some unifying topic you haven’t thought of yet. How do you do that? By grouping similar ideas. For example, let me take my garbage jots and turn it into something a little more organized:


That’s a lot of illegible scribbles, so let’s turn it into actual paragraph points:


  1. Write your THESIS.

Now I’ve got my paragraphs! But…what was the question asking again? What’s my thesis? Don’t I have to have a thesis?

Exactamundo, my friend! And this is the prime time to write one! How can you write a general statement without any points? Using your organized brainstorming, write down your thesis. Now, here’s the secret formula to the perfect truck-stop burrito thesis:


Yada yada, you get the point. Basically, just stick your three points together, address the question with your chosen position, and add enough words to make it make sense and line up with your argument.

In this case, we might write:

Moral Realists, deontologists, and those who follow virtue ethics would all agree that circumstances as well as concrete principles determine what is moral.

Note: when you’re done writing your essay, REREAD THE THESIS! I’ve gotten marks off many times for silly reasons, because I changed my point midway and my thesis and essay didn’t agree anymore.  (In this specific example, I didn’t realize that deontologists and virtue ethics were practically the same thing, so I lost marks there).

  1. Start writing your BODY PARAGRAPHS.

If you’re like me, the introductory paragraph will elude you. You’ll sit there trying to think of something witty, and when nothing comes up you’ll scratch your head as time is ticking. What do you do?

Write down what you know. What’s that? Your body paragraphs!

Remember: you can leave a space for your intro and get back to it once you’ve written the rest of it. Don’t try to waste time writing something perfect. This is TRUCK-STOP BURRITO people, not the filet mignon.

For your intro: a few relevant sentences and your thesis is enough. It’s enough.

Your body paragraphs can be structured using this wonderfully efficient formula:


Convenient and easy! What’s hard is actually writing it, but this little structure does the bulk of the work for you. Take notice of the guiding questions!

  1. Piece everything TOGETHER.


You’d better sharpen that pencil and crack those knuckles, because time is ticking and you need to start writing. For the pen users. I recommend a smooth pen with black ink. Beautiful and therapeutic. For the pencil users, sharpen that thing until it makes a satisfying scratch against that paper (because dull pencils are the abomination of this world).

There’s no way around this, but now that you’ve gotten a little organized, you can piece things together easily. That’s about all I can say.

Strategies for Keeping Your Cool

Neck aching? Fingers throbbing? Make sure to take breathers so you’re not losing your point and losing your mind:

  • Look up, straighten your shoulders, breathe. This’ll help you gather your bearings and keep a clear head.
  • Stop writing and skim over your paragraph. If it makes sense, read the end of the previous paragraph and then read your paragraph. Still make sense? Read your thesis and reread the topic sentence of your paragraph. Still good? Then you’re doing great!
  • Keep extra pencils and pens. Not for if one breaks or runs out of ink, but for a nice, smooth replacement when your current utensil becomes a little hard to use. Keeping a smooth flow really helps.
  • Drink water (but not too much). Taking a sip is like taking a mental breather.
  • As much as you can, flex your fingers! They deserve a break, too.

Do these, and you’ll be on your way to acing that essay question!



“Is _____ a Bird Course?” Part 1: What Exactly Is a Bird Course?

“I need to raise my GPA. Is ______ a bird course?”

Ever heard yourself or your friends uttering these words? Perhaps you’ve made a Facebook post, or even commented on one with some suggestions.

It’s understandable to want to lower the course load burdening your shoulders by taking a simpler course. I’m definitely taking advantage of this. In fact, someone even recommended it to me.

And then, I heard this statement:

“You just need to get into your program.”

While I understood what they meant, those words irked me to no end. I understood the truth behind them, and it was probably valuable advice, but there was something in me that just wouldn’t accept the implications behind the statement.

It’s likely because in high school, I saw university as this institution that highly respects learning, that holds experience and growth and challenge on a pedestal. I thought I would finally be able to escape the high school mindset of “grades are all that matter” and “take the easy path to an A”. Hearing those words smashed this image and made me feel as if I’d been propelled back to this high school mindset.

But back to the problem at hand: what exactly IS a bird course? Is it biology related? Do you learn how to fly?

Image result for bird is the word

Labelled as such because you can supposedly “fly through the course” with minimal effort, they’re sought out for distribution requirements, raising GPAs, and lightening course loads. At first glance, bird courses have all sorts of benefits and draw backs that immediately come to mind:


  • You might get an A
  • You might be able to skip the lectures
  • Studying last minute might be enough to pass
  • The lectures might be easy and understandable
  • The textbook is cheaper


  • You might get bored easily
  • It might turn out to be really hard
  • It might not have tests, but tons of assignments that are actually harder
  • You might be wasting your money (each course is expensive, remember?)
  • Many bird courses may make you look directionless

As you can tell, the amount of “might” in those sentences prove how much of an educated guess one tries to take when picking a bird course.

But enough about that. Here comes the important question that everyone wants answered:

What courses are bird courses?

I’ve noticed that it’s typically the social science and humanities courses that get labelled as such. Here are some examples I’ve gotten from Facebook (some might be from previous years):

  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • BIO152
  • Video Game Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Communication Technology
  • Education Studies
  • Religion
  • MAT133 (no trigonometry)
  • Planet Earth
  • Astronomy

After reading this list, ask yourself this question: were there any courses you scoffed at, giggled, shook your head, disagreed? Did you ever mumble to yourself, “Hah, she put that down? Pfft, that course was so hard!” Was there anything that stood out to you?

Image result for thinking meme

Now I’m making you think, eh?

As a fellow student put it:

“Everyone says a certain course is brutal and it’s not…[and] a bird course can be a snake when u try it.”

In other words: the course that gets labelled as “super hard, avoid at all costs!” might turn out to be one of your strengths (for me, this is physics), and a course that people tell you is “super easy, a GPA booster!” might turn out to be your lowest average (for me, this is biology).

Now that I’ve got you thinking, I’ll let you steam over that idea for a little while…

But not too long-if you’d like to know how a bird course can be harmful, check out part 2!



Hate Studying? Personalize it!

Picture this:

Rubbing your tired, stinging eyes, you lazily glance at the time blinking in the corner of your computer screen: 2:00AM. There’s still about five hours until you need to wake up. Yawning, you reach for your second cup of coffee, only to find a few cold drops remaining. You contemplate putting the kettle on again, but that will wake up your mother, who will definitely reprimand you for studying so late. Sighing, you go back to tackling your report with sleep in your eyes and regret in your stomach.

‘If only I’d studied sooner!’ you think to yourself, groggily typing away. ‘I could’ve been sleeping, or watching my show, or reading my book.’ Your eyes harden, determination washing over you. ‘This definitely won’t happen next time. I’ll make sure of it.’

But of course, it does. And so the story goes.


While a situation like this may have been rare for most of us in high school, it’s quickly becoming a reality in university, where you’re so overloaded with work that studying for a course the night before or doing an assignment last minute doesn’t seem so unusual or even funny anymore. Our study habits, which were once very slack (I mean, we only really had four courses, and likely at least one of those was a bird course) are now being pushed way past their limits.

Will us students forever have to live in this never-ending studying cycle, typing up assignment after assignment, flipping through textbook page after page? If you answered “no” and are expecting a cool and hopeful plot twist in this article, you’re dead wrong!

The fact is, you’re always going to have to study for something. Might as well make it a fun and interesting session, no?

See, I could write an article on study tips, or on how to study effectively, or on how to prioritize your assignments so you can maximize your efficiency and leave room for other things. And that’s great and all, but as up-and-coming university students, we’ve already been told this over and over again. And while it’s great advice, it’s just..a lot…of work.

And thus we enter the ultimate conundrum: do I spend less energy prioritizing and more energy studying, or more energy prioritizing and less energy studying?


As the physics students would say, E = E’: both seem to have the same amount of energy consumed, it’s just a matter of allocating it differently. But of course, both options seem like too much work for the average university student, or so we seem to think. So we return to the initial question: what can we do to make studying less icky, without doing all the work that comes with organizing and prioritizing?

It’s a lot simpler than you think: Personalize it! Just try to make it as comfortable for yourself as you can. (It’s as they say: give a lazy person a job and they’ll find the easiest solution!).

An obvious answer, but a rather overlooked one. We tend to sacrifice our health and our interests in our plight for a good mark, but as I’m sure we’re all aware, this is really, really bad! While I like to pretend I never do this (“I have good study habits! I’m not like that at all! This article has me all wrong!”) I’ve found myself doing this increasingly often, namely when I have a physics lab report due. Believe me, I know how bad cramming linear regression analysis and standard deviation and error propagation into my lab report at 2:30AM is, but that won’t stop me from doing it.

Learning how to prioritize and take care of ourselves is something that comes with time. Taking it one little baby step at a time is realistically the best way to achieve that.

So for now, I’ll share my little study quirks, small things I do to make studying more personal, comfortable, easy, and relaxing for myself. ‘Cause believe me: if I’m going to sit in one place for three hours and read over notes, it had better be cozy!

When you’re studying and totally in the mood, but someone interrupts you

A) Listening to music

Oh boy, oh boy, this is definitely my favourite thing to do. Of course, I’m aware of all the controversy behind this: does listening to music really help? Isn’t it a distraction? Aren’t you just deluding yourself into believing it’s effective, when in actuality silence is what maximizes productivity?

Now, I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure those are legitimate claims, I just don’t listen to them…I listen to music!

When I say “music”, I specifically mean instrumental music and video game OSTs. See, as a hardcore daydreamer, I have a lot of trouble focusing in really, really quiet environments like the library. My thoughts get out of control, I start doodling, I read the same sentence over and over again, and I start to feel sleepy. It’s really easy to start a monologue when there’s nothing preventing you from doing so

Quiet instrumental music and video game OSTs (which, by the way, are designed to play in the back of your head so you can focus on the game) really help to drown out unnecessary thoughts and help keep you focused on the task at hand. Plus, it’s fun and makes the study session a lot more tolerable when you’re listening to your favourite tracks! (The background noise in Kaneff or the DV cafeteria have the same effect on me; static that keeps your unconsciousness busy while your conscious works hard).

Here’s a sample track from my favourite OST: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Voices of the Lifestream (which is a remix). This one is called “Daydreaming Again”, a remix of the original “Fireworks”:

Other amazing OSTs:

  • Studio Ghibli Piano Collection
  • Final Fantasy VII (Or any Final Fantasy OST)
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Chrono Cross
  • Crisis Core
  • Celtic Music
  • (Instrumentals of Any Song)

B) Spreading my stuff everywhere.

It doesn’t feel like studying unless your stuff is piled to the ceiling and spread all over the bed, eh? And as an extra bonus, everything’s in reach! Just try not to lose that page of terms you need to study.

I love doing this. I can really let go and spread my papers all around me for easy access. It’s kind of like how people surround themselves with plants and greenery to get closer to Mother Nature; it feels comfortable, like you’re one with your notes. Even better, the clean-up afterwards really makes it feel like you’ve done some productive, intense studying.

It’s just like Einstein said: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign of?”

While studying for exams brings about chaos and destruction in our room, even your regular everyday lab report session can be pretty crazy:


My sister Faiyza Alam during an intense chemistry lab report session. Note the warm cup of chai in her hand!

My mom hates this especially, since the dining table becomes a gigantic mess, but a student’s gotta do what they can to survive! Add a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and a heater by your feet for maximum comfort.

C) Having something to drink.

If you’ve read my previous article on tea, you’d know that I’m a huge tea fan. I love having a steaming, warm cup of tea while I’m studying because it relaxes me and makes me feel less tense, making me absorb information easier.

You know what else is great? Getting something from Tims or Starbucks. I totally don’t do it for the aesthetic of drinking coffee while studying or anything (okay, maybe I do… but come on, I know you do it too!).

It’s like what I learned in sociology: this is a case of anticipatory socialization, or “learning the norms and behaviours of the role you aspire to”. We know that the cliche image of a university student includes a cup of coffee in hand, so we feel a lot more “put together” when we have one too, because we think to ourselves, “Hey, this is what a university student normally does, so I’ll do it in order to blend in with the other students.”

That’s the complicated answer. You can’t argue that it tastes great, too!

D) Treating myself.

Hey, if you’re going to study, might as well make yourself happy while doing it. Just before that cramming session, it’s sometimes nice to splurge a little on an expensive drink or something sweet. Go ahead, buy that chocolate bar you’ve been eyeing. It’ll soothe you when you just can’t solve that math problem.



Okay, just…don’t go overboard with the treating (taken from

E) Using whiteboards.

Need to memorize a sociology definition? Unsure of how companies are interrelated? Got a chemical equation that needs balancing? Write freely on a whiteboard!

By far the most comfortable way to study, in my opinion is when you can openly scribble away without fear of making it perfect, and when you can erase and rewrite freely; that’s when studying becomes easier. Not only that, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the whole “muscle memory” thing: writing things out will help you remember them much easier. You can easily write and rewrite, get the motions down, and write as big as you want to memorize terms in a cinch.

Plus, the smooth black ink can be quite therapeutic! That’s exactly what a student needs when stress levels are high.

Got your own study quirks? Have you tried any of mine? Got any suggestions for me? Make sure to leave a comment!