Timothy Burke has two excellent essays for college students, which are also applicable to high school students who are intending to go on to selective colleges,
(Burke is excellent company, I don't blogroll him but go to Baraita's to get to his site)
Staying Afloat: Some Scattered Suggestions on Reading in College
The first thing you should know about reading in college is that it bears little or no resemblance to the sort of reading you do for pleasure, or for your own edification.
Professors assign more than you can possibly read in any normal fashion.
We know it, at least most of us do.You have to make strategic decisions about what to read and how to read it. You're reading for particular reasons: to get background on important issues, to illuminate some of the central issues in a single session of one course, to raise questions for discussion. That calls for a certain kind of smash-and-grab approach to reading.
Beyond the 5-Paragraph Essay
The most important fundamental issue I see again and again is a paper which is largely descriptive rather than analytical, which proves that a student has “done the homework” but not taken ownership of the material and crafted an argument of their own. Sometimes I see an argument in the first paragraph or in the last paragraph (the latter often appearing to be a last-minute discovery) that is cut off from the rest of the essay, unexplored or unsupported. I often comment that papers lack what I call “flow”, a sense that they are moving relentlessly and naturally from one assertion to the next, building towards some goal or overall point.