Writing an essay is nobody’s idea of a good time, and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid in college. This task can seem especially daunting for first-year students who now have to face more stringent standards than they’re used to. Thankfully, writing essays — and writing them well — gets easier with practice. Here are four tips to help you kick butt on that upcoming term paper.

Keep Your Outline Flexible

Whether you choose to draw a mind map or stick to a more linear type of outline, keeping your plan flexible is key. Leave more space on the page than you think you need for each section. Your outline will start out fairly basic and become more detailed when you research your topic. You should be able to easily add facts as you find them or cross out notes that no longer seem relevant.

Does all your supporting evidence work against your thesis instead of with it? Don’t be afraid to modify things! The planning stage is all about finding the best ideas and making sure they fit together well. When you have a strong argument from the start, the writing stage will be that much simpler.

Write the Body First

Although you can write your essay in whatever order you choose, many students prefer to write the body first. The body is the portion of the essay with all the quotations, statistics, and any other facts or arguments. It’s also the portion that undergoes the most revision. Because the introduction and conclusion are based on the body, any changes to it will force you to adapt the rest of your paper. Try writing the introduction and conclusion last to save yourself some time.

Cut Out Fluff

Be ruthless with your editing, and remove anything that doesn’t add value. Each point should relate directly to your main argument. It can be easy to lose focus and go on tangents or add anecdotes, so watch out for them. Maybe you couldn’t resist mentioning that “Hamlet” has been translated into Klingon. It’s a cool fact, but your English essay probably isn’t the best place for it.

Ideally, you should take a 24-hour study break after you’ve written the rough draft. You’ll be able to catch mistakes more easily when you read your paper with fresh eyes.

Follow the Writing Guidelines

Depending on which course you’re taking, you’ll have to follow the style guidelines. APA style and MLA style are commonly used, but certain courses may use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Basically, these rules tell you how to properly format quotations, citations, page numbers, and more. Check your course syllabus to find out which style guide you should use, and make sure to follow it. It would really suck to lose marks just because your margins aren’t the right size.

Incorporate these tips the next time you write an essay, and see if they help improve your grade. If you still need more help, make sure to check out your on-campus academic resources.

4 Best Free Apps for College Students

There’s an app for everything these days, including how to survive your college years. Best of all, some of the most useful Android and iOS apps won’t cost you a cent. If you’re looking for tools to help navigate campus life, you don’t need to waste valuable study time trawling through the app store. We’ve got you covered with this handy guide to the best free apps for college students.

Brainscape: Supercharge Your Studies With Flashcards

Studies show flashcards are the most effective study tool for motivated learners. They engage active recall, facilitate confidence-based repetition, and make us reflect on the information we know and what we could use more practice on. They also allow us to separate the cards containing details we recognize with those we don’t for a more focused study experience.

Brainscape has taken this approach into the digital age. This clever app lets you create your own virtual flashcards or study with premade cards about popular college subjects. Tracking and collaboration features within the app also help you make the most of your study session.

Todoist: Organize Your Daily Activities

Organizing your class schedule, assignments, and social life is challenging. Todoist simplifies the process, acting as the ultimate to-do list and calendar. Schedule appointments and deadlines, create tasks and subtasks, and share your information with friends and project partners so you’re all on the same page.

While there is a paid premium version, the free app has sufficient features for most college students. Plus, Todoist integrates with desktop and browser extension versions so you can easily switch between your smartphone, tablet, and PC.

Mint: Manage Your Money Better

Managing money is another area where many college students struggle. Fortunately, Mint helps you expertly transition to life away from the Bank of Mom and Dad. This free finance app securely links to your bank accounts and credit cards so you can see exactly how much you’re spending and on what.

Review your transaction history to help you identify areas you can cut back on. Create budgets for different types of spending to make sure you don’t overindulge on your weaknesses. Establish credit card spending limits so you’ll never charge more than you can pay back. This money app does it all.

Circle of 6: Safeguard Your Social Life

The parties and new relationships are some of the best parts of the college experience. However, meeting so many new people carries an element of risk. With Circle of 6, you can enjoy the college social scene with extra peace of mind.

Name six safety contacts and you’re good to go. If you ever feel unsafe, click once to text your contacts for help. You can also transmit your location or send an SMS asking your friends to phone you, providing a convenient excuse to leave an uncomfortable situation. Plus, the app makes it easy to reach out if you simply need a friendly ear. Helpful links and hotlines for managing mental health, relationships, and sexuality also add value.

Whether you’re hitting the books or enjoying your downtime, these great apps will help make your college experience much easier.