Hillary writing book notes

The Joy of Writing Book Reviews

It started as a school assignment. I was using a humanities course that stressed reading classic literature. The course not only required students write a review of each book they read, but to identify the book’s protagonist, antagonist, the author’s worldview (and the reason why the reader thought so), five new vocabulary words with definitions, and the title of the next book they would be reading.

I was about as eager to write book reviews as most cats are to take a bath.

But even after the humanities course, I seemed to be haunted by book reviews throughout my high school years. The college prep curriculum I used featured its own book review format. It was far more casual, with just the book’s metadata and a brief summary required. (In this case, brief meant three book reviews would fit on an 8.5 x 11″ page.)

I still found writing reviews to be tedious. However, I did enjoy looking back at all the books I had read. This sliver of benefit led me to continue writing book reviews throughout high school and beyond. Even today I write reviews. Because review writing has been part of my life for over 10 years, I wanted to share the joy of book reviews.

Why Review a book?

Today we have more opportunities to review items, services and people (hello Sarahah!) than I ever remember in the past. Creating a book review for the express purpose of sharing on Goodreads, Amazon or my website provides writing encouragement.

The main reason I routinely review books, though, is to address my memory shortfalls.

If I want to remember the names of the books I’ve read, I write them down. And, because reviews are more than a book list, I have information beyond the title. Fun facts about each book stick with me through reviews. I can check how old I was when I last read a certain book and what I thought about it, which is especially helpful if I’m deciding what to recommend to a younger reader.

People who I only know as screen names have blessed my life through taking time to write reviews. I’d like to thank the hundreds of readers who have helped steer me toward books I’ve loved reading.

These reasons keep me writing about books. But how did I make writing reviews fun?

Reviews began to be fun was when I kept them brief and tried fresh ways of compiling book information.

The Index Card

For over two years now, I’ve been using index cards to take book notes. I first tried this while writing College Without the Campus. In my research for the book, I read several books about higher education, and I needed a place to write down interesting facts that I wanted to reference in my book. When I went to grab something to write on, the closest paper nearby was an index card.

Little did I realize this was going to become my favorite way of taking book notes.

Now I use the card to write key thoughts, quotes, and book titles mentioned by the author. The index card gives me a place to jot new vocabulary words, paraphrase influential statements, and write down concepts to research. When I’m finished with the book, I use the card to write my review.

It took time to find enjoyment in writing book reviews. What kept me going was being able to look back at the books I had read and remember what I thought of them. Now, writing reviews has become habit! Using index cards and keeping them brief makes it fun.

How do you like to keep track of what you read?

Hillary Harshman at OCEANetwork Conference 2017

What is College Without the Campus?

What do zombie fans, Marvel hero impersonators, and homeschoolers have in common?

They could all be found at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on the same weekend! My latest Portland adventure took me to the OCEANetwork Christian Home Educators Conference. While this event was going on, there was also the Walker Stalker Con and the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest. The lobbies were filled with a medley of visitors!

At the conference, I vended my book and enjoyed time with my mom and sister who came along and gave me a hand. The thing I loved most was getting to talk with homeschool families about their college concerns. Over the two-day event, three questions about my book were most common:

“Is it a course?”

The most-asked question from people who walked up to my booth was, “Is this a course?” I explained that my booth name was the title of the book I wrote after graduating from college. Though College Without the Campus isn’t a course, it can be used to create a self-directed college course. In fact, the book’s outline follows the stages a student will work through during college and offers first-hand experiences and recommended resources.

“Is it online classes?”

Distance learning can easily be seen as online classes. But learning outside the classroom is far broader: it includes work experience, life skills, previous learning, and travel studies. Outside the classroom, learning takes many forms, both formal and informal. One of my goals in writing a book was to shed light on these alternate learning opportunities. This leads to the next step: how to show a college that what you know is college-level and worthy of credit.

“Is it credit-by-exam, like CLEP?”

For this question, my answer was a happy YES. I get excited to meet others who have heard of CLEP and may have even taken a CLEP exam themselves. CLEP tests are my favorite example of credit-by-exam because the subject matter is doable to learn, and students are often required to study the same material in high school, leading to a dual-credit opportunity. Other tests, such as DSST exams, are also available to earn upper level credits.

This is the essence of College Without the Campus: sharing information about credit-by-exam testing to help students save money and time. Taking the best elements of traditional college courses, online classes and credit-by-exam testing, the book moves readers from aspiration and desire to actualization and completion. And that’s something even zombies and Marvel heroes can get excited about!

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Successful Dropout Podcast and Interview

Thanks to a visit with a new friend at my recent book signing, I was asked to do an interview on the Successful Dropout podcast! The host is Kylon Gienger, a young entrepreneur who shares tools for young adults wanting to skip college and go straight to entrepreneurship. Kylon invited me on his show to bring a different perspective for the years right after high school graduation, especially for those listeners who plan to go to college.

Not only did I have a blast chatting with Kylon about some of the techniques that I share in my book to earn a $15,000 bachelor’s degree in two years, but I was also inspired by his story and the stories from the Successful Dropout community: a group of people who want to better their lives and the lives of those around them.

My favorite quote from the episode is Kylon talking about how to know when you’re on the right track—how to know that you’re living to your full potential. We were discussing how each of us had found the courage to choose and follow a non-traditional path after high school: Kylon dropping out of college and me deciding to study off campus. Kylon says,

“Some of the best experiences you’ll ever have in life are the things that you were once afraid to do. … If you’re feeling just a little bit of fear, you’re probably doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

I’ve listened to three other interviews that Kylon has done, including the episode with his sister Chelann, and I learned something from all three. I hope today’s podcast will inspire you to grow, to find mentors who push you, and, as we talked about in the interview, to just not worry so much. 🙂

Successful Dropout: http://successfuldropout.com/

47: Earn your bachelor’s degree for $15,000 in only two years with Hillary Harshman

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Embroidery wrapped cell phone charging cable craft

Five Things I’m Loving: Spring 2017

In my “Five Things I’m Loving” post series, I share five of my current favorite things or activities. The theme in this post seems to be the little things in life making a huge difference. Feel free to share what your top five are in the comments below.

1. Handy Healthy Snacks

The tip that I heard many years ago of having nutritious, easy-fix snacks available is the first example of the small things in life having major impact. Grabbing a handful of almonds has saved me many times from being hangry. A few more snack ideas?

  • Trail mix
  • Granola or snack bars
  • Ingredients for a simple salad (strawberries and pre-washed spinach, for example)
  • Bananas
  • Dry cereal
  • Cheese sticks

2. Craft Time: Wrapped Cell Phone Charging Cable

Recently I happened upon a listing for earbuds wrapped in embroidery floss on Etsy. I was inspired. So I sat myself down with some American Southwest-colored floss and began wrapping the charging cable for my phone (this is the cable I currently use the most). Following the instructions from these tutorials[1], I wound and knotted for a few hours to wind up (hehe) with the cable in the header photo.

3. Learning from others by discussing ideas

“Two heads are greater than one” and “Iron sharpens iron” are two sayings that describe my third fav. A few discussions with other people who put a priority on growing and learning has given me new ideas to ponder, new brain connections between subjects, and new inspiration to pursue positivity. My experience corroborates that of Megan Gebhart, who went to coffee once a week with someone new for a year and wrote about what she learned. Wisdom and encouragement can be found in a coffee meetup. Thank you to those friends who have shared their time and encouraged me this spring!

4. Spring Flowers!

How awesome is it to see and smell the lilac trees in bloom! And wildflowers, cherry and dogwood blossoms, and alliums. Just lovely.

5. YouTube Exercise Videos

A friend mentioned Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day challenges, and I thought that sounded fun! Adriene is a calm and self-depricating yogi who leads by doing. I learned a new yoga pose and increased my strength and concentration by completing this 30-day challenge.

And that’s the top five things in my spring that I hope will spark an idea of something fun you want to try.

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[1] Embroidery wrapping tutorials: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/214835844702525776/ and https://www.pinterest.com/pin/214835844702525776/.

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

FAQ #4: The difference between online classes and credit-by-exam tests

Q: Hillary, how is the way you took courses different than taking online classes?

A: The main difference between credit-by-exam testing and online courses is the lack of a professor to guide you in the credit-by-exam method. Credit-by-exam courses put the burden of learning upon the student. However, this doesn’t mean that the student is alone in learning: the student has the opportunity to select resources and advisors as needed. The structure of online courses parallels a traditional college course, including a specified textbook to learn from and interaction with a professor and other students.

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

April Book Signing at Book & Game

Today’s the day!

I’m so excited to be at Book & Game from 11am-3pm today to sign copies of College Without the Campus! Drop by to enter to win one of two $25 Book & Game gift certificates. Have a wonderful Friday!

Book & Game Co.
38 East Main St.
(Corner of 1st & Main Streets)
Downtown Walla Walla, WA

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Book Review by Nicki Truesdell

Book Review & Giveaway by Nicki Truesdell

Review

If you’ve been wanting to learn more about College Without the Campus and the topics it covers, check out this new book review from Nicki Truesdell. She explains how she and her family view college and then summarizes each section of the book. My favorite quote from the review is her thoughts about the later chapters of the book:

“Chapters 12 and 13 address concerns about socialization and credentials, as well as life after college. As a homeschool parent, I love her perspective on the socialization issue. Since Hillary’s goal was to earn a degree, college wasn’t meant to be an “experience,” but rather a focused time of learning. I wholeheartedly agree with her.”

Giveaway

You can enter to win one of two copies of College Without the Campus at Nicki Truesdell’s website: http://nickitruesdell.com/2017/03/college-without-campus/. The giveaway is open now through April 7th, 2017.

Book Signing and Raffle at Book & Game in Walla Walla

Book Signing and Raffle at Book & Game

I will be at Book & Game in Walla Walla on Friday, April 14th between 11am-3pm for a book signing and raffle. Come enter to win one of two $25 gift certificates to Book & Game!

My gratitude goes to Book & Game for hosting this event. Book & Game has been serving Walla Walla since 1989 and offers a wide array of books (including College Without the Campus), games, journals, curriculum aids, and cards. A map to their location is included below.

For more information, feel free to email me via the contact page. I hope to see you then!

Book & Game Co.
38 East Main St.
(Corner of 1st & Main Streets)
Downtown Walla Walla, WA

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

How to Reduce Test Anxiety

How do you respond to taking tests? Testing is one activity that is a part of life for most of us, and despite its ubiquity, it brings feelings of dread to many people. Tests crop up in school, work, extra-curricular certifications, and even workouts! Because tests are a perennial part of life, I share two test-taking techniques that have helped me manage my testing nerves.

Out of all the types of tests I’ve taken, such as end-of-the-school-year tests, computer tests, quizzes, CPR tests, CLEP tests, language exams, and swimming tests, the one type of test that most unnerved me (and gave me good skills for taking credit-by-exam tests) was piano syllabus tests.

The piano program I participated in had one test for Levels 1 through 10. At each level the student was required to learn specific music theory, demonstrate music skills, and play a certain number of pieces from different eras. I typically completed one level yearly, so every spring I would put my acquired knowledge to the test. It was a doable task, to be sure. But something about having to prepare such a well-rounded set of skills and have them all top-notch on a particular date made me nervous.

When the testing day came, I needed to remain calm. Scheduling the test in the morning was helpful, so I didn’t have as long to worry. Meanwhile, I trained my mind toward the test benefits—I had learned new repertoire and bolstered my music skills. Once I arrived to the test location, I mentally pictured myself walking out of the room after the test having done my best. This post-test visualization is one of the most helpful tips I have for test taking. The more vividly I could picture myself successful at the finish line of the test, the more peace I had while waiting to begin. Visualizing success is well known to athletes who report improved performance and confidence.[1]

Another strategy is to confront my worst fears. This wasn’t as effective on the day of the test, but a day or two before testing this strategy was quite helpful. I would imagine what would happen if I broke down into tears during the test—embarrassing for sure, but nothing else would happen. I would get it back together and continue. If I failed the test, I could retake the test at the next available opening, or I could review the material on my own and then move forward without completing this level. Though the path to move forward after failure depends on the specific test, there will almost certainly be a way to move forward.

Testing can bring up many of the more uncomfortable emotions such as fear, anxiety, nervousness, nausea, loss of focus, and even physical pain. Who in their right mind would purposely do something to trigger these emotions? I know why we do. Once I have tackled a test, I am stronger. I have not shrunk from what I know must be done. This boldness brings new resolution to the test taker. So, pass or fail, let’s conquer our tests!

What are your favorite ways to combat test anxiety?

[1] Matt Mayberry, “The Extraordinary Power of Visualizing Success,” https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242373 and

Carolyn Gregoire, “The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/11/mind-hacks-from-olympic-a_n_4747755.html.