Midterms are coming: Four easy steps to help you prepare

Also – check out our strategies and tools for midterms. 

It’s midterm season! Do you feel ready? Here are four easy steps to prepare:

1. Organize
Do you know what the midterm will cover, and what kind of questions will be on the exam (problem solving, multiple choice, short answer)? Are you missing any lecture notes or key information? Have you gathered all the available slides and other hand-outs provided in class so far? Classmates can come in very handy during this stage!

2. Chunk
Break your course down into smaller, manageable sub-units. You might choose to chunk by week, lecture notes, chapter, unit, novel, or case study. As you do so, reflect on which chunks you feel comfortable with and which ones might need a little more effort — this will help you prioritize where to spend most of your study time. Think about how many hours you’d like to spend studying each chunk of material. Space out your study time over five days – it’s easier for your brain to remember course content is you study for briefer blocks of time spread over longer periods.

3. Study
If you can, study in 2-hour or 3-hour blocks, during which you alternate 50 minutes of review and 10 minutes of break time. We call this the 50/10 Rule! Spend 50 minutes re-familiarizing yourself with the information and then reviewing: try flashcards, reciting information, discussion groups, or re-organizing your notes into summary notes. After 50 minutes are up, take a 10 minute break to go for a walk and wake up your brain. Do your best to study during daylight hours, when your brain is more effective.

Pay attention to anything your professor may have repeated or emphasized in lecture; that can be a good sign it will be on the exam.

4.  Self-test
This is a key component of studying, and one that students often neglect. Why? Because recognizing course concepts as you’re studying is very different from having to recall course concepts during the midterm – we want you to practice recalling these course concepts, without being prompted by your study notes.

A great way to self-test is to create or predict practice midterm questions, and then answer them. You can develop these questions based on your readings, look over exams from the previous year, quiz yourself with flash cards or with a study buddy, or use study guides or sample questions from the textbook. This will help improve your recall time of the information (which is very important during the midterm, for obvious reasons!).

Keep track of what you do well and what you don’t do so well, and make sure to return to those problem areas until you feel more confident.

Want more?

Check out our strategies and tools for midterms.

 

Photo courtesy of JuditKlein

 

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Books don’t kill my vibe

By Tanveen Rai, 3rd year Biology/Psyc student

The third week of school has officially begun. And for some of us this week means serious catch up. There are lectures to attend, assignments to do, tests to take, and of course textbooks to read. I honestly can’t believe how fast time is going. How I wish I could make it stop (at least for a little while).

The most time consuming and quite frankly boring task for me are my readings. I HATE READING TEXTBOOKS! So how do I really feel you ask… But I am learning how to make this whole process a lot more enjoyable.

A few tips from me to you:

  • Make a schedule and designate when you will read what. Try to stay on top of it. Just remember going home to a chapter to read versus a stack of books is a lot less stressful.
  • Read for 50 minutes then walk away for 10. Take a break, because you deserve it! Giving yourself even just ten minutes to relax will help you concentrate better.
  • Get in the mood! The material will be more interesting if you want to read it. This is easy to do for classes you enjoy but even if you don’t like the class pretend you do. I know you’re probably thinking I’m crazy but trust me it works.
  • Scan the chapter first. Look at the subtitles, summaries, bold or italicized words, and figures to get a general idea of what you will be reading about. This will allow you to have something to build on when you actually start reading.
  • Read with a purpose. I have a problem with zoning out when I read. I’ll read something and then two seconds later not remember what I just read. Instead of rereading the same page a hundred times engage in active learning by asking yourself Questions as you read.
  • Review the chapter. I bet you thought you were already done! Not quite. After reading the material you need to scan it again and make sure you understood everything. This is the only way to get one up on your textbook!

And if you really want to show the book its place, you’ll review the chapter again in a day or two [editor’s note: this moves the information into your long-term memory so you don’t forget everything in a month!]. It’s not so bad. “I got my [coffee], I got my [books]/ I would share it but today I’m yelling/ [Books] don’t kill my vibe!”

For more information about reading and retaining textbook information, visit our Reading and Notetaking module.

Photo courtesy of Kamal H. from Flickr Creative Commons.

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When learning takes a backseat: rethinking the practicality of bird courses

By Dorothy Yu, 4th year Psychology student

Disclaimer: This is entirely my own opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. I’d love to hear any constructive critiques though, so feel free to comment below!

Taking a look at the Queen’s-related Facebook groups on my sidebar, the following three groups stand out in terms of popularity:

  • Overheard at Queen’s – 10, 699 members
  • Free and For Sale – 8, 996 members
  • “Must knows” for courses at Queen’s – 5, 236 members

What does this tell us about Queen’s students?

  1. We have great school spirit and a tight-knit community of students who love to share funny and wonderful things about their school with each other, as well as occasionally bond over their shared fear of mutant squirrels.
  2. We like to make money and get freebies. Who doesn’t?
  3. We care about our courses and doing well in them.

Now, all these things are important and natural things to care about. In particular, we’re ultimately at school to go to class, and we go to university to learn, don’t we?

Or do we?

What I find interesting is the massive number of posts on “Must knows” posing the following question in various iterations:

 “Can anyone recommend me some bird courses?”

 Bird course (n): an easy course in university. Usually taken to lighten one’s workload; an easy A+. Actual interest in the subject optional.

Now, I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to take an easy elective, or boost your GPA. I understand that med/law/grad schools take into account your grades, and sometimes people really need one or two ridiculously easy courses to help get the grades they need, especially when they’re also taking a bunch of other ridiculously difficult courses. Unfortunately there are few buffers in place in admissions processes to account for course difficulty, but that’s an entirely separate discussion for another day.

What concerns me isn’t so much the desire for good grades, but rather when the desire for good grades trumps the desire to learn.

It’s practical, and some would even say necessary, to balance out those “GPA killer” courses with subjects with a lighter workload that are easier to excel in. But I think what we often forget is that GPA should be a consideration, but shouldn’t be the sole criterion for course selection. After all, don’t we come to university to broaden our horizons? To study a certain subject more in depth? To learn something new?

The purpose of this piece isn’t at all to pass judgment on those who choose to take easier courses, or base their course decisions on level of difficulty. I myself have often worried about a course’s notorious reputation, and even posted in “Must knows” requesting grade distributions and insights into various classes. For some, taking a bird course might actually be the right and most sensible decision – maybe they need to work more that semester to pay for tuition, maybe there’s a medical situation that requires attention, maybe they’re just finding that they need more time to do well and don’t have the time to commit fully to five courses. Maybe the subject of that bird course truly interests you. Maybe it doesn’t. That’s okay. You are the best judge of what kind of workload you can handle, and it’s important to take note of those instincts. All I’m saying is, in the coming week as you finalize your courses, before you hit that enroll button, consider: Does this truly interest me? Am I going to enjoy this course? And, most importantly, am I going to learn this semester?

If the answer is no, maybe reconsider. Take something that isn’t necessarily an easy A+ but rather something you love. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The number one motivator is interest, and if you love something the work won’t even feel like work – it’ll just feel like learning. And when you’re learning, the grades will come naturally.

Featured image from Flickr Creative Commons, taken by Jerine.

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Top 5 Tips from Learning Strategies

Peer Learning Assistant exam care package from 2013.

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Keep up with coursework without spending your life in the library: here are our top 5 tips.

1. The 50/10 rule. Rather than studying in huge marathon chunks for hours on end, work for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Multiply that x3 to make a 3hour study block. Research says: the human attention spans drops after 50 minutes, so it’s best to take a break and come back to your work after your brain is refreshed – this way, you are optimizing your brain efficiency!

2. Work 9-5. Treat school like it’s your job: ten work hours per week per course and five courses per week means a 50-hour work week — and that’s a full-time job! Research says that your brain likes it when you study during daylight hours, and using that ‘found time’ between classes to do schoolwork allows you to free up your evenings and weekends for non-academic activities. Creating your own weekly schedule can help you achieve this.

3. Keep track of due dates in one place. When you get your syllabi for your courses, look at all the due dates – weekly quizzes, labs, larger assignments, midterms – and transfer them onto one big term calendar. This will let you know what’s coming up, so you’ll know when you may need to spend more time in the library, and when you can spend less time in the library!  See our online resources on Managing Your Time at University.

4. Find your ideal study space. Sometimes your room isn’t the ideal study space (too many distractions); and for some students, the library isn’t ideal either. Check out our list of super study spots around campus and the city.

5. S-T-I-N-G. Use the STING method to help you get stuff done:
                 S       Select 1 thing to do
                 T       Time yourself – set a timer for 50 minutes
                  I       Ignore everything else for that 50 minutes
                 N      No breaks during that 50 minutes!
                 G      Give yourself a reward after the 50 minutes is up

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Create your own weekly schedule

Use the Learning Strategies Weekly schedule template to create your own weekly schedule.

Creating your own weekly schedule will help you

  • keep up with homework, assignments, and studying, so that things don’t pile up
  • feel confident, rather than overwhelmed, about your workload
  • maintain a balanced life while at Queen’s

It’s simple:

  • Write in fixed commitments (classes, work, appointments and meetings) then healthy habits (eat, sleep, and physical activity).
  • Estimate the number of weekly homework hours you need, and outline your best learning times (1-3 hour blocks) – these can be your homework times.
  • Adjust your weekly schedule as often as needed, so that this schedule works for you!

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