Top 10 ChatGPT Tips and Tricks for College Students

Top 10 ChatGPT Tips and Tricks for College Students

We have all of the relevant tips and tricks for students using ChatGPT. Learn the how and why behind the best ways to use this powerful tool.

Key Takeaways

  • ChatGPT can be a great study resource and learning tool for students.

  • ChatGPT can be a great resource for sparking creativity and exploring ideas.

  • Any information from ChatGPT must be verified because it frequently supplies factually incorrect data.

Technology brings constant change to the college experience. The introduction of new innovations can change the way students access information, conduct research, and more. An AI-powered content generator called ChatGPT is already proving to be one such innovation.

Like many innovations, it comes with plenty of controversy. How are students using this new technology, which has the ability to create original writing from thin air? Well, it goes without saying that ChatGPT is already helping students cheat with greater ease than ever before...and that’s saying something.

A Brief Discussion on ChatGPT and Cheating

Indeed, ChatGPT has catapulted us into a new era of technology-mediated academic dishonesty. But it has also further blurred the lines between cheating and what might be considered a good faith use of this new learning tool.

Educators have taken various differing views on this subject. Some view any use of ChatGPT for assignment completion a clear violation of their school’s honor code. Others recognize ChatGPT as just the opening salvo in a new academic battlefront, and are therefore seeking constructive ways to integrate ChatGPT into their own learning and teaching strategies before the battle is lost entirely.

This latter approach underscores the importance of learning how to use ChatGPT correctly. As the discussion below will demonstrate, there are ways to use ChatGPT to further your own work, as opposed to using it to simply do the work for you.

Perhaps just importantly, students will eventually face real consequences for using ChatGPT incorrectly or unethically. In fact, just as quickly as AI-powered technology is changing the way students work, various technologies have emerged to detect the likelihood that AI has been used to generate content. Though these diagnostic tools offer varying degrees of effectiveness, there is a meaningful effort underway to deter and detect this type of cheating.

This underscores the shared value to both educators and students, in learning how to leverage ChatGPT with intelligence and integrity. This approach offers the student a chance to use this as a powerful learning tool, and provides the educator with a more realistic strategy than simply attempting to prohibit the use of this already widely proliferated tool.

Certainly, educators are right to be wary. However, there are ways to leverage ChatGPT as an effective study and learning tool without violating the principles of academic integrity. Of course, both students and educators should approach this innovation—like any—with a balanced diet of skepticism and curiosity. So to bring clarity to the increasingly blurry line between studying and cheating, we’ve got all the tips you’ll need to get started.

Read on for a look at Do’s and Don’t when it comes to this new tool.

Female student studying on a laptop

1. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

First and foremost, you need to understand that this app is relatively new and deeply flawed. In fact, ChatGPT actually provides factually incorrect information at times. Indeed, the application will actually provide entirely false and fabricated information in response to some questions to which it doesn’t know the answers.

Why does this happen? ChatGPT is what is called a Large Language Model (LLM). As an LLM, it relies on a combination of both probability and randomness to choose words that are simultaneously likely and variable. For a closer look at what this really means, check out this excellent article from Stephen Wolfram.

But for now, just understand that ChatGPT is providing what it deems the most likely answer, rather than the most correct answer. In other words, ChatGPT is guilty of spreading fake news! This underscores lesson number one—always verify “information” you derive from a conversation with ChatGPT elsewhere.

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2. Do Ask “How”

While you may not always be able to rely on ChatGPT to get the facts straight, it can be a great tool for better understanding “how” and “why” certain answers are correct. In this way, ChatGPT can be a powerful tool for math and computer programming students. Often, how you get your answer is as, or more, important than the answer itself.

As an example, a student struggling to identify a bug in their own computer program can ask ChatGPT for help. Not only can ChatGPT identify the bug in your code, but it will also explain what you did wrong and how to do it right. In this way, ChatGPT is a far more meaningful learning tool that a student answer repository like Chegg or Course Hero.

Students in a classroom
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3. Don’t Ask For Citations

While the app may be useful for initiating research, it’s not a great idea to trust its citations implicitly. As with the facts themselves, ChatGPT is not above fabricating resources to support these alleged facts. If you ask for a two-page paper on the Lincoln assassination with a full list of citations and references, there is a strong possibility that your reference list will include a number of imaginary sources.

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4. Do Ask for Sources

On the other hand, ChatGPT could be a good way to identify sources to start your research. While I wouldn’t trust its citations in an essay about the Lincoln assassination, it did readily produce a list of five books that I could check out on the subject.

In fact, it also provided fairly accurate summary descriptions for each text. The best part is that all the books actually exist in real life.

But this underscores a point that is worth reiterating. When it comes to using ChatGPT effectively. Everything you find should be verifiable elsewhere.

In the case of my annotated Lincoln bibliography, all the titles were readily Googleable and could be easily located on Amazon. This points to the importance of using a tool like ChatGPT in tandem with other, more trustworthy resources.

Female studying with an electronic tablet
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5. Don’t Use ChatGPT To Start Your Writing

Educators are rightly concerned that ChatGPT is increasing instances of cheating. ChatGPT can write an entire essay from scratch. But if you’re a student, here’s the catch—it won’t be a very interesting essay.

ChatGPT doesn’t start conversations or initiate creativity. It feeds off of your creativity as a user.

You need to feed the app meaningful prompts in order to produce meaningful writing. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done effectively. But as the user, you must remain in the driver’s seat in order to produce something compelling.

This is a useful note for educators as well. The more generic your assignments are, the easier it will be for students to harvest default answers from a friendly AI-based app.

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6. Do Use ChatGPT to Compare Your Writing

While we strongly advise against letting ChatGPT do the writing for you, it can be an excellent tool for evaluating your own work. For instance, you might create your own cover letter to apply for a job.

As part of your editorial process, you could also ask ChatGPT to write a sample cover letter as a comparative analysis of your own work. Use it to gauge how good your cover letter for the new job looks.

Keep the example of a decent cover letter in mind here: While it may not concern you as a student that ChatGPT produces mundane responses to easy questions, it should concern you as a job seeker. Use ChatGPT as a measuring stick, but make sure your writing is rooted in your voice, identity, and ideas.

Male student studying on a sofa
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7. Don’t Use it to Do Creative Writing For You

Referring back to Stephen Wolfram’s explanation, ChatGPT is designed to interact with human instruction. But it should be not be seen as an actual simulation of the way humans create ideas. Specifically, ChatGPT doesn’t create out of thin air. It mines ideas that already exist.

With this in mind, we asked ChatGPT to provide some ideas for a creative writing task. It produced useful boilerplate ideas like “Write a story about a character who wakes up one day with a superpower, but must keep it a secret from the rest of the world”; “Write a story that explores the concept of time travel, and how it affects the protagonist’s life”; or “Write a story that takes place entirely in one room, but has a surprising twist at the end.”

So in essence, ChatGPT can provide a creative writing assignment for you to do—much like your syllabus. Taking it one step further, I asked ChatGPT to write a story that takes place in one room and has a surprising twist.

The result is a story about a graphic designer who time travels in her sleep and then has to contemplate using her newfound powers responsibly. It’s not worse than a Michael Bay script, but it’s not coming for Stephen King’s job any time soon.

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8. Do Use ChatGPT to Explore Ideas

While ChatGPT is a poor approximation of real human creativity, it can be a useful conversational partner. It’s up to you to do the heavy lifting, by initiating dialogue with unique and meaningful prompts.

Human operators are needed to create engagement around new and meaningful ideas. But as a human operator, it may be possible for you to deploy this tool as a way of furthering the creative process.

Think of ChatGPT as a straight man in your acting improv class. It’s up to you to do the heavy lifting, to throw the creative curveballs, to distinguish your idea from the boilerplate writing of an AI-based program. If you do this effectively, ChatGPT can provide follow up questions, create additional context, and generally help you explore new creative avenues.

Data scientists are now referring to this approach as “prompt engineering.” Prompt engineering refers to the process–part science, part art–of asking ChatGPT the right questions. In other words, those who are effective at asking insightful and meaningful lines of questioning will cause ChatGPT to yield more interesting, creative and original responses. As a user, it is your goal to be a savvy prompt engineer.

Oh, and for a fun creative experiment, try simulating an interview with a historical person using ChatGPT. For instance, ask it to answer your questions as Abraham Lincoln. But remember, just how interesting the answers are will depend on the creativity of your questions.

Female student studying from home
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9. Don’t Use ChatGPT to Cheat

Obviously, you know you’re not supposed to cheat. Obviously, ChatGPT makes it easier to do. But the reality is that the same technology used to create your AI-generated content is rapidly adapting to the challenge of identifying such content for what it is. Not only that, but the more students come to rely on such technology, the more your writing will begin to resemble the writing of your friends and classmates. In other words, it won’t be easy to get away with for very long.

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10. Do Use ChatGPT to Deepen Your Understanding

Just as ChatGPT can be a useful conversant in a creative context, it can be a useful tool in your research. Each follow up question has the potential to produce a response which expands your understanding of the topic in question.

In fact, you could literally ask ChatGPT to create an entire beginner-level learning curriculum on a subject of interest, and subsequently use that curriculum for self-guided education.

Again, all of this comes with the same warning reiterated throughout. ChatGPT has limitations, and they aren’t always obvious. We strongly recommend verifying any information you learn on ChatGPT through other reliable sources.

Other Interesting Uses

It’s also worth noting that the wait is now over for a new iteration of the ChatGPT technology. A pay-service called GPT-4 offers a new range of functions. For instance, the most current iteration will have the ability to look at a picture or graph and provide interpretation and verbal explanation of the data.

Another new function would allow you to request a lesson in a specific subject, using a specific instructional method. For instance, you may be able to ask GPT-4 to teach you about Constitutional Law using the Socratic method.

These developments suggest that the possibilities for this emergent technology are only beginning to reveal themselves. But the list above is less about what ChatGPT can and can’t do, and more about the important role that human operators must play in getting the best results.

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