There’s the age-old adage: labs are half the credit with twice the work.

But half of that work should be completed before the experiment even starts. Here are steps on what to do before, during and after your labs.

    1. Read the protocol and watch videos in advance.
      Most college-level labs make expectations clear. They let you know the assignments, schedule, and protocols at the outset.
      This is a double-edged sword: while you have everything you need at your fingertips, you are also expected to be proactive in how you use it.
      For example, if instructors expect a report after every lab session, start thinking about the structure before you even start the protocol. Read through all of the background information. What kind of techniques are involved? Look up YouTube videos on how these protocols are generally run in lab.
      Read through the protocol in advance. Maybe complete this part of your lab report and notes before the session. When creating lab notes, double-space the materials and method section to allow for edits (like errors) during the lab.
      When you come into lab, use what you’ve read and watched to set up any apparatus. Start thinking about where the materials are and what you will need.
      Think about it this way: even if prepping takes an hour, it saves you the pain of potentially repeating a protocol. (Anecdotally, being in lab until 9 PM is painful.)
    2. If you can, pick your lab partner wisely.
      Some labs randomly assign partners. If, however, you can choose your lab partner, try to stick with someone who is friendly enough to proofread reports and provide feedback and assistance during the protocol.
    3. Format is everything.
      Make sure that the format is streamlined and neat. If you’re inserting numerous graphs and tables, be sure to have properly formatted captions (i..e “Figure 1…”, “Table 1…”, etc.) Concisely explain the contents of each figure or graph without providing analysis (unless if the instructor tells you that you can provide analysis summaries in these. Some labs provide brief explanations of findings in their data section.)
    4. If need be, use LaTeX.
      While Microsoft Word is perfectly acceptable for most reports, if your lab is math-heavy, it may be better to learn LaTeX. This helps the quality of your final product, especially if it’s for a major lab report.
      Similarly, download any other resources – like ChemDraw, Swiss PDB, etc. – that your lab suggests. Remember, if it’s “suggested”, it’s probably actually required.
    5. Check for additional assignments on lab reports.
      Sometimes, TAs will assign additional questions to be addressed in your lab report. Be sure to make a checklist of these and address them in the body of your report.
    6. Ask the TA to proofread.
      At worst, they will say “No”.

    Do be sure, however, to email them the draft well ahead of the deadline.