How to approach an essay exam

By Sophia Klymchuk, 2nd year ConEd/French/Psych student

It is common knowledge that different types of exams require different approaches to studying. While some courses, especially in the maths and sciences, often require memorization and practice problems in your studying, essay-based exams require a different technique.

This semester, I have three essay-based exams, where I am given 2 to 3 hours to write on a major text or concept that was covered throughout my course. In first year, I approached these types of exams with uneasiness. It is hard enough for me to write an essay in a few weeks time, I thought, what makes my professor think that I can do so in 3 hours?

Luckily, the past few exam sessions have helped me cultivate the skills I need to write these exams with ease, which I am happy to share in this blog post.

The first thing you want to do is consult your course syllabus to get a bird’s eye view of any readings you still have to catch up on, or any course concepts that you are still unfamiliar with. In general, your first priority should be to familiarize yourself with any course content you may have missed. This is especially important if your exam is cumulative, and covers your course as a whole.

If you are unsure of what exactly will be asked of you during your exam, talk to your professor or T.A.! They are one of your most important resources when it comes to studying, and will let you know exactly which content you should be prioritizing. This can come in handy when you are making your study schedule and can make you feel less overwhelmed about the entirety of the course.

Next, you want to make a study schedule that you will stick to during the exam period. The Student Academic Success Services exam schedule, often used by the Peer Learning Assistants, can help. Set aside 3 hour blocks to study for your course. Remember to take short breaks, and to vary the content you are studying! For example, choose one day to focus on one course concept, and then the next on a different concept.

The next step is to brainstorm potential essay topics. If you are in an English course, it might be useful to write down a list of the major themes of the course and link them to the texts you’ve seen in class. Organize your ideas by making a mind-map or a chart, and don’t be afraid to use colour! This helps organize your thoughts, and helps you visualize the links and associations between texts, themes, and examples. Adding colour to link together similar ideas in  your mind-map or chart is a good idea because our brains like colour, and helps solidify these associations.

Finally, find the time to write practice essays, as if you were in a mock exam! Practice is the best way to make the task at hand during the exam less daunting, and it equips you with the confidence you need to face your exam! Create your own exam topics by consulting your list of themes and your lecture notes, or look at past exams on Exambank. Find a comfortable, distraction-free place to do so. If the idea of writing a whole essay does not appeal to you, practice making outlines for potential essay topics.

On the day of your exam, make sure to relax and breathe! Avoid talking to anyone who is too nervous, and take an hour before the exam to relax and not look at notes. For example, I like to take a walk by the lake before my exams to clear my head.

Find more tips here:

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How to Study For (insert your course)

By Gaurav Talwar 2nd Year, Life Sciences Student


            Within two weeks, the official exam session will begin. This statement came to my mind a few days ago, when I started making a schedule for how I would approach my winter exams. As usual and expected, writing an exam can be fairly intimidating. However, what may be an even more daunting is trying to figure out how to begin studying.

             Approaching my fourth set of university final exams (being in my second year of the Life Sciences Program), I feel that I have learned a lot about my study strategies; including what works for me, what I can still improve on. In this blog, I would like to share one strategy which I feel over-arches the process of successfully studying for any exam:

 The strategy is to tailor your studying skills and practice activities towards the specific exam at hand. Believe it or not, but the quote, One size does NOT fit all”, was originally made to explain to university students that one standard studying approach is NOT usually suitable for all of their exams*. (*P.S. Please do not quote me on the historical facts of this quote, it’s just the way I interpret it).

             For example, my Microbiology exam requires a fair bit of memorization (names of viruses, their families, how they replicate…) and is an all multiple choice exam. This is very different from my Organic Chemistry exam, which will include some short answer questions and requires familiarity with how various groups of compounds interact with each other. Thus, I’ll probably need to use a lot of reciting, association and memorizing strategies for the first course, while I’ll need to spend much more time doing practice questions and recognizing patterns for the latter.

 In addition, each of these activities will require me to access a different “level of learning”. As Peer Learning Assistants, we often talk about recognizing the importance of these “levels of learning” and knowing in advance what levels your exam will most emphasize, so that you can allocate your TIME and EFFORTS accordingly. Also, similar to climbing up a ladder without slipping off, it is important that you build your way up the levels, because a strong foundation for each step below will make you more prepared for the more difficult questions. So with that, let’s get a summary for each level (from bottom to top):

  1. Memorization: All courses and exams involve some degree of memorization (but some emphasize this much more than others). Knowing facts, dates, names of people and theories is perhaps the most basic level of learning you need to master. Some strategies, including using flash cards, reciting terms, and making up mnemonics (e.g. “Super Man Helps Every One” for the order of the great lakes from west to east) are very helpful strategies to practice this skill.          
  1. Understand Connections: Many multiple choice questions tend to focus on your ability to make connections between the concepts taught in class. This is an effective way for the professor to check if you can demonstrate an understanding of the facts and terms you learned. For example, a biology question may ask, “which of the following options places the process of photosynthesis in the correct order?” The use of visual flow charts and mind maps really help out for this level, because they allow you to visually see and understand how the various concepts are linked together.
  1. Think conceptually; apply and analyze: This level is aimed to mark your critical thinking abilities. Often tested via multiple choice questions, you may be given a situation which looks different to what was taught in class, but follows similar principles. Hence, you may need to apply your knowledge to make an educated guess. For example, in Psychology, you may have learned a theory about why people behave the way they do (nature vs nurture). The question may then give you a situation with someone behaving in a particular manner, and your task may be to choose how a person practicing one of those specific theories would explain the individual’s actions. Using a note taking method such as the Cornell method (which requires you to write a summary in your own words) and making “home-made questions” to test your friends may be effective for this type of learning (as they will stimulate a discussion beyond the facts, and may force you to think through various perspectives).

      4/5. Evaluate and Create: These levels test your creative thinking. Often tested via essay questions, these questions may begin with words such as “design”, “propose”, “distinguish between” and “examine”. Your task here may be to take what was taught in class, and to apply it to a larger cause. In a literature course, this may involve comparing the actions of two characters in the texts you read, and to evaluate them in relation to a personality theory you learned. For a science course, this may involve extrapolating a chemical reaction you learned to one that you have never seen before. Although a little daunting, these questions really push your ability to think “outside the box” (and are useful in the long run, as you want to be able to apply what you are learning in class to the profession you embrace later). Studying for this level may involve practicing the “higher level thinking questions” in your textbooks and making another mind map which links the concepts taught to questions you could infer to see on the exam.

            To summarize, keeping in mind what level of thinking your exam will be testing can really help in finding a well suited strategy to study for your exam. Although there is no right or wrong way to study, there are some ways which are more effective than others. I really hope that you make the smart decision of sparing some time to think about your approach, because as always, you want to MAXIMIZE YOUR LEARNING, while MINIMIZING THE EXTRA TIME you need to spend.


More information:

To get specific tips on how to study for your exam type, check out Learning Strategies “Exam prep” resources be clicking here. Even better, if you are taking a first year course, then check out the “How to Study for …” course-specific workshops which Upper Year PLA’s will be presenting in the upcoming weeks!


Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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How to Get Out of Your Motivation Slump

By Sonya Ben-Ishai, 2nd year Con-Ed English/ Philosophy Student

Week 11 has come in faster than I was expecting. After slowly recovering from a 9-week motivation slump, the future ahead seems extremely quick and overwhelming. While I know it’s okay to feel this way sometimes, there are tons of ways that I like to get going, and get out of my post reading week (maybe even winter break) blues. Here are my top 4 tips to get going in the final weeks to come.

1. Surround yourself with like-minded, hardworking people. No, don’t ditch the friend that binge’s a whole Netflix series every few days, they’re just as important. Instead, when you’re prepared to study, go to a place where other people are thinking like you. The library is a great example of this. If other people around you are working, you’re way more likely to finally finish that assignment you’ve been meaning to do. If you don’t like silence, it’s just as good, and maybe even better to make a study group!

2. Plan Everything. This may seem obvious, but it’s so essential! Writing when my assignments are due is one step, but the extra step that makes everything seem a little more doable is breaking each assignment, each study session, and each task into even smaller to-dos. Every Sunday, it’s become part of my routine to plan for the week ahead. Knowing that I’m prepared takes the too-well-known stress of the unknown and overwhelmed away.  For example, if I have an essay due the following week my schedule may look like this:



  • Pick Essay Topic

  • Read related Material

  • Take Notes


  • Finish Taking Notes

  • Make detailed essay outline


  • Introduction

  • Argument 1, 2


  • Argument 3, 4


  • Conclusion

  • Edit essay


  • Edit essay

  • Finalize essay


  • Finalize Essay


If every assignment and task that I need to complete is planned like this, it becomes a lot more doable and I feel as if I’ve accomplished more. This leads to me feeling motivated to continue the next day. Also, checking off that box every time you do something can make your day even brighter.


3. Find your sleep schedule. Depending on the person, we generally need 8 hours of sleep a night to feel well rested, be alert, and retain information properly. Finding a sleep schedule that works for you, will make you feel 1000% better during the night and the next morning.  Sleep is incredibly important for many reasons:


  • Memory Consolidation. Everything you study during the day needs to be moved from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. Getting enough sleep allows you to absorb much more information in lectures, which leads into more efficient studying. This is also important come exam time. While we may want to pull that all-nighter, there’s really no use if the information goes nowhere in the end. Not sleeping all night does not make you a better and harder-working student. In fact, sleeping makes you a smarter and more efficient student.
  • Gain a more positive mindset. Health is your number one priority. It Is essential that you feel GOOD before concerning yourself with studying. Sleep allows you to be healthier physically, but also mentally. With enough sleep, your mood and well-being will improve significantly. This will make studying more doable and maybe even enjoyable. Having a good sleep makes you Happier and more positive!!!


4. Take Breaks and make YOU time. No one can study for all hours of the day. If you really want to make all study time worth-while, it’s incredibly important to take breaks. Breaks should be taken throughout your study time, but also throughout the day to do something that you love.

  •  50/10 Rule. While you’re studying, a key rule to remember that will make you feel and work even better than before is the 50/10 rule. The rules are simple: work for 50 minutes, take a break for 10. This avoids exhaustion and burn out when studying. It also helps to know that your 10-minute break is coming up. Use this as something to look forward to!
  • Always remember to make time for yourself and do something YOU LOVE. Life is not always about studying, and there is more to life than school. Always remember to make time for yourself, and do the things that you love. This is the ultimate way to keep yourself motivated, positive, and in control. Whether this means going to the gym, going out for dinner with your friends, or just staying in with Netflix and a bowl of popcorn, doing something you love will keep you happy.


Don’t stress. do your best, and forget the rest. Look forward to the future ahead of you. With the right mindset, the next few weeks will be a breeze. Studying for everyone is different. Find what works for you and stick with it. Only you can know your true self and how you study best. Stay positive, and follow your own senses through the next few weeks of staying motivated!!!

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Incorporating Secondary Sources and Research in Essay Writing

By Crista Leung 4th Year, Concurrent Education, English Literature Major

Whether you are taking a class in History, English, Sociology, or another social science or humanities field, it is very likely that an essay assignment requiring research and secondary sources awaits you. Secondary sources include peer-reviewed, scholarly articles that are published in academic journals, and are found in your course readings. Including secondary sources in a paper is important because they support the analyses you make, and can help you develop critical thinking and research skills. Writing an essay on only primary text(s) can be challenging enough; therefore, a paper that requires secondary sources may seem confusing and can add to the challenge of essay writing. But fear not, because the following tips will hopefully give you some ideas as to how you can incorporate the words of scholarly authors into your research essays.

     1. Taking a Theoretical Approach.

For this method, start off by thinking back to all the theories and theorists that you have come across in your courses so far. Some of the more widely applicable theories are Marxist, Freudian, and feminist theories which you can use as a lens to examine a primary text, a historical event, or a social issue. An example of using this approach might be taking Judith Butler and gender performativity (A theory I learned in a Gender Studies course) to do a feminist reading of a text in an English Literature essay. In this approach, once you have chosen a theory, you would introduce it at the beginning of your paper (in the introduction or a separate paragraph after the introduction) by explaining and contextualizing it (What is this theory about? How does it relate to your topic/ primary text?). This approach allows you to set up a theoretical framework for your analysis so that you are using your chosen theory to support your argument (McDougall). It sounded daunting to me when I first heard about using a ‘theoretical framework,’ but all it really asks you to do is use a theory to help you understand or interpret, to develop insights and analysis about a primary text or issue you examine in your essay.

     2. Bringing in Critical Scholarship

As an alternative to using a theory, you may want to use scholarly articles to contextualize and support your argument(s) in an essay. To do that, you would first need to select a couple of peer-reviewed articles written on your topic or primary text. If you have difficulties finding creditable sources I recommend checking out another fun PWA blog for some helpful tips:  Also, “Avoiding Accidental Plagiarism” is a workshop at the Writing Centre that offers useful tips on evaluating the credibility and relevance of sources; if you want to learn more, here is the link to the workshop slides: Unlike when you use the theory approach, you do not need to introduce your sources at the beginning of your essay; instead, you would bring these scholarly perspectives into your body paragraphs to give critical insights, and as evidence to support your analyses and arguments. Some common ways of incorporating these scholarly viewpoints are showing how an argument agrees or disagrees with a point you are making, giving context to your topic or defining a critical term in your essay (McDougall). Keep in mind as you incorporate these scholarly opinions that your essay should focus on your perspective(s) and not on those of your sources. To ensure that your voice, and not the voice of these sources, dominates your paper, try to be concise by paraphrasing what a source says, and don’t forget to explain how a specific insight is relevant to your argument. Moreover, avoid beginning a body paragraph with a secondary source. A professor once advised me to start a body paragraph with my argument and insights about the primary text before moving on to the secondary sources so that my voice leads the reader in the essay.

(McDougall, Aislinn. OnQ post, ENGL271. February 22, 2017)

     3. Defining a term using the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).

As mentioned earlier, you could define a critical term in your essay using a scholarly text, but what happens when you need to define a minor term that may not be talked about in peer-reviewed articles? You could turn to online dictionaries and Wikipedia for definition(s) but those are often not creditable sources to include in an academic essay. In that case, you could look up the word in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). The OED is a creditable secondary source, and it would show you all the multiple definitions of a word and how its meaning has changed overtime. Best of all, the OED is available online to all Queen’s students at Queen’s Library website and in this link here:


To recap, some common ways to incorporate secondary sources in an essay are: 1) using a theory as a lens to examine your topic or primary source, 2) drawing from scholarly articles to give critical insights and to support your arguments, and 3) defining a minor term using the OED. Feel free to explore other ways of incorporating sources, because there are other methods of doing so. But whichever approach you choose, keep in mind that if your essay were a movie, the secondary sources should play supporting roles, whereas your argument should be the star.


Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.


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It’s that time of year…

By Anna Farronato, 4th year ConEd/Environ. Sci student

It’s that time of year… the time of year when you ask yourself, “How did this semester fly by so fast?” The end is closer than it seems… the end of the semester, that is. As midterms come to end, I’m sure many of you have thought how fast the semester went by. That thought has certainly crossed my mind. And now that we are approaching week 10, it is time to start thinking ahead. What could approach even faster than midterms you may ask? FINAL EXAMS!! The last day of classes is April 7th, which may seem like a long time from now; however, it’s only few weeks away! Now is the perfect time to start thinking about preparing for the end of the semester.

One of the most important things to ask yourself is, “Am I keeping up with my courses?” It is not uncommon to fall behind this time of year, as you’ll often find yourself prioritizing midterms and assignments over readings and note making when managing your time. Getting back on track might seem difficult, but it is one of the best things you can do to avoid cramming come exam time. Learning Strategies offers many tips on how to use your time effectively and efficiently. If you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know that one of my favorite strategies is drafting a weekly schedule. If you haven’t done so already, this would be a great time to try it out! If you would like to take scheduling one step further, try making daily to do lists to keep track of day to day tasks, as well as a monthly calendar to keep track of important upcoming due dates. This should help give you a clear visual representation of how much you have on your plate and allow you to prepare ahead of time.  From here, you can start scheduling in time to catch up and complete missed readings, notes, etc.

Now that you’ve got your schedules completed, the real work begins. Getting the motivation to do readings and note making can sometimes be difficult. It is important to set realistic goals and prioritize your time appropriately. One strategy that I find helps motivate me to study is scheduling “study dates” with friends. Knowing that you’ve made a commitment to meet up with a friend to study is a great way to motivate yourself. Forming study groups is also great way to motivate yourself to get work done. If you’re finding that distractions are a problem, try working in a quiet place, away from friends, and disconnect yourself from social media. Everyone is different when it comes to how they study best; you just have to find what’s best for you. Another tip is to try to switch up the courses you are reading and making notes for by breaking up your time with each course and avoiding studying one subject for too long. You can also break up large projects into manageable sections and schedule your most challenging work during the times of the day when you work best. Lastly, remember to reward yourself. I often like to reward myself after completing a successful days work with hanging out with friends, getting Cogro cake, or best of all… SLEEP!

            This time of year can certainly be tough to handle, and that’s why Learning Strategies are here to help! Be sure to visit the Strategies and Tools page to find more helpful tips and tricks on how to prepare for exams, cope with stress, motivate yourself, and much more!


Photo courtesy of UBC Library Communications under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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March Madness

By Sam Taylor, 3rd year Concurrent Education/English student

Personally, I find that March can be one of the most challenging times of the school year. We are all currently experiencing the pressure of hunting for summer jobs, while applying for next year’s extra-curricular activities, all while attempting to keep up with studying and our daily schedules. Some key strategies to get through the March madness are time management, stress management, and focus and concentration.

A few of the “Quick Tips for Undergraduate Students” that the Peer Learning Assistant program suggests are to set goals and priorities, organize yourself, estimate your time realistically, make up a “To Do” list, and keep track of what you accomplish. By setting goals and priorities for yourself during this busy time, it will help you to understand what the most important things are to accomplish. Organizing yourself can make you feel in control and less stressed about finishing everything. Estimating your time realistically can be done by paying attention to how much work you can do in a certain period of time. This can help motivate you to get started on the homework or applications that will take longer. Making a “To Do” list is a great way to get yourself started on all of these tasks. Finally, keeping track of what you accomplish each day can assist you in staying focused on your main priorities and objectives.

I also tend to feel most stressed during the month of March. Having job and extra-curricular interviews on top of studying for tests and completing assignments, tends to leave less room for self-care. The important thing to remember during this busy time is to learn to cope with stress and give yourself time to relax. The Peer Learning Assistant program advises “Ten Ways to Relax Your Stress Away.These are by breathing deeply, stretching by doing yoga or tai chi, exercising aerobically, taking a warm bath, getting a massage, eating healthy, letting it out by laughing, crying, singing, or talking, having guilt-free fun, hanging out with people who you can relax with, and by drinking calming liquids like chamomile tea or warm milk. By using these self-care and stress management techniques, you are fueling yourself full of energy needed to complete your goals and to do well on your objectives.

March is also the month that I feel myself losing focus. That seems ironic to say when it can be one of the busiest times of the school year. But if you think about it, we have been in school now for about seven months. The rigorous studying and extra-curricular commitments can be draining. Plus, we are very close to the end of the school year, sometimes it is difficult not to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and to be in the present.

A few of our suggestions for “Focus and Concentration” are to check your health habits, focus on motivation, and control distractions.

Eating adequately, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can all help you to stay focused on the task at hand. Connecting your present activities to your short-term and long-term goals, setting specific targets, and doing your work before you have fun can keep your motivation in check. Working within your personal limits of staying focused and then expanding them gradually can help you to control distractions and keep yourself on task. March can seem daunting and challenging but it is manageable! Remember, “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” – Melchor Lim

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Editing for Clarity & Flow

By Arianne Ferreira 4th Year, Global Development Studies & World Languages

meme with a man opening his mouth and the text: "I don't know what I'm writing about"

So your paper, or at least your draft, is all done. As much as you might want to pack up, hand it in and just be done with it already, if you want a good grade, this next step in your writing process – editing – is crucial and you should probably hold on to your paper a little while longer. The good news is that you should take a break at this point! You’ve worked hard; now is a great time to take a step back and recuperate a bit after writing. If you try to edit your paper right away you will not be able to see it with fresh eyes and could very easily miss mistakes you made by reading it the way you think you’ve written it, instead of how it actually is. The best thing you can do right now is get up, walk around, switch tasks, maybe even take the rest of the night off and come back to this assignment in a couple of hours or the next day.

Editing is one of the most important stages of any kind of writing process. Sure, you need to have the content all there, but what good is it if it does not read clearly and leaves your reader confused? Editing is your way of making sure that you translated the ideas in your head clearly onto paper in properly structured sentences and paragraphs. Reading over your work allows you to see if your argument makes sense, your thesis is supported throughout, your conclusion is clear, and that overall, your paper reads smoothly. This is why it is so important to edit with a fresh set of eyes. Coming back from a break will allow you to see mistakes you might have otherwise missed. Another helpful strategy to avoid that problem is to have a friend or peer read over your work. Having someone else take a look at your paper surely reduces the bias that could hinder good editing. You could also try reading your paper out loud to yourself, as weird as you might think that is. For one, reading out loud makes your brain slow down, and also, hearing your words helps you to catch oddly worded phrases or simple grammar mistakes that you could easily brush by when skimming it over in your head.

One of my favourite tools for editing is called the reverse outline. To do a reverse outline, you will need a reasonably complete draft. Read it through and, while doing so, identify each paragraph’s main idea (pro tip: if you have trouble identifying a paragraph’s main idea, perhaps you’ve crammed too many ideas into the paragraph. Check out the Writing Centre online handouts on paragraphing!). Jot down the main idea in 1-3 words in the margin next to the paragraph. Once every paragraph is labelled in this way, make a list of all the paragraphs’ labels in a separate document, in the order that they appear on your paper. When you read through that list, the topic progression and idea building should make sense and be clear to follow. If you find that the structure of the paper does not make sense, you can easily move paragraphs around to improve the flow of your ideas. Likewise, if you find that there is more than one paragraph about the same topic, you may need to be more concise in your writing and consider combining those paragraphs. For more information on doing a reverse outline, see and the Writing Centre website for more handouts. Happy editing!



Photo courtesy of Amy Mathews under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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3 Tips to Help Develop Your Essay Writing Style

By Micah Norris, 3rd Year History/Art History student

It may sometimes feel that the strictures of university essay writing limit our ability to develop our own personal writing style, but this belief cannot be further from the truth. A professor of mine once said that by the end of the school year, he could tell whose essay he was reading without even looking at our names. How? We all have a distinct way of writing that is just as unique as our talking voice. Writing style is the manner in which we express our ideas; this manner includes word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and tone. An effective style will keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Let’s look at three ways to further advance your writing style!

  1. Write Daily!

The best way to develop your writing style is also the easiest (bonus!). The more you write, the more you are able to understand who you are as a writer and be able to improve. Consider carrying a journal around with you and write about your daily activities. The subject doesn’t have to be complicated. Write about that cute dog you pet, what you ate for dinner, or anything that you think is worth writing down! You will begin to notice recurring patterns in your writing (such as certain phrases or words you tend to use) and can then decide what aspects of your writing work well and what needs to be developed more. Frequent writing will also help you develop skills in conveying ideas concisely and efficiently, which is a major asset for essay writing. I also encourage you to go back and re-read your past writing. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown as a writer!

To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your daily life, check out Queen’s Learning Strategies advice on time management here:

  1. Pay Attention to Tone

 Just as when we speak, there is often more meaning in how we say something than what we’re saying in our writing—this is called tone. When you write an essay, think about the attitude with which you want to approach a given topic. Two important writing tools that help express your desired tone are adjectives and punctuation.  Consider the example below:

  1.  Due to the Union Army’s tremendous military success, they valiantly defeated the Confederates on May 9, 1865 and ended the U.S Civil War!
  2.  Despite the efforts of the Confederates, they were defeated by the Union Army on May 9, 1865, thus ending the U.S Civil War.

Using value-laden words such as “tremendous” and “valiantly,” and emphatic punctuation such as an exclamation mark, changes my tone. The second example’s more moderate tone is more appropriate to academic writing. Always remember to make sure that your essay’s language and punctuation match your intended tone.

  1. Explore Different Writing Styles

 Academic writing is meant to be formal and professional, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to write essays. To figure out a writing style that best suits you, it may be helpful to explore different ways of writing. Perhaps you are used to persuasive writing, where you try to convince your reader of a certain idea or opinion by taking a strong one-sided stance in your essay. If you are looking for a new way to convey ideas, you can approach your writing with an expository style. This style focuses more on revealing facts to your reader in sequential points, almost like walking them step-by-step through your ideas. Keep in mind that different styles work best for different assignments, so being able to write in more than one writing style is very advantageous.

 Tip: A good way to explore different writing styles is to pay critical attention to the style of other writers. Next time you’re reading a book or newspaper article, think about how the author is trying to talk to you, the reader. Explore a variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. There is no limit when it comes to reading!

Photo courtesy of Lucas under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.




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“Never say never; is it too late to…” try to change?

By Joyce Leung, 4th year ConEd/Psychology student

Whether that’s changing your habits, mindset, attitude, or relationship – it’s not always going to be an easy step over. One thing is for sure though, you’re never too old (or late) to change you or anything.

As a fourth year undergrad student looking back, I have changed a lot in my abilities, skills, and mindset. “Why?” When I entered university I decided that I wanted to improve, change, and learn, which is something I hope to always be doing. “How?” Namely through experience, putting myself out there, and being okay with trying and failing, but also with these ideas guiding my way.


#1.  You must recognize that it won’t be a quick or effortless change… but that you still want to try

Tell yourself it’s going to be hard because it very likely will be and accept it because you are putting yourself in a place where it’s not in your realm of the usual or familiar. That is what you hope to break out of. Be ready for the challenge and difficulties, rather than thinking that it’ll be an easy, short process.


#2. You’re your own biggest critic but also… your biggest obstacle and supporter.

Once you’re okay and see that this will be outside your comfort zone know that it’s you who can come up with the excuses but also that you are the only one who can get this done. I learned that I truly am the only one who can change yourself. This is incredibly true if I think back to the times my mom nagged me to change my habits to when I personally put my words (not hers) into action finally. I did that because I wanted to change myself for myself. No one can make it happen, just you.


#3. Be real with yourself. Make a plan. And revise it until it works.

You know what you are like when you’re at your best and also at your lowest. Make a plan that will work with you and that will also get the work done. Create realistic milestone goals that suits your style that build up to your ultimate end goal, while it still pushing you. Write down what it will look and feel like if your plan is working so you have cues to look out for. Afterwards, write down all the things stopping you or that have stopped. That might be the difficulty in finding time in your busy schedule, which may be the reason you’ll stop. Or that you remembered the last time you tried this you gave up part way because it just wasn’t working out.

Once you’ve listed down the barriers and obstacles, dedicate realistic solutions that will help you overcome them. That may be devoting a page or a notebook to track your progress or designing a plan that only takes a few minutes a day to fix that time issue. Or writing down what you would tell a friend if they wanted to give up, or asking friends to help you with this mission.

Don’t forget or lose sight. Be aware and attentive to your plan. Celebrate the small victories because that is progress adding up! Count the small steps – don’t expect Rome to be built in a day! What do the results look like? If it isn’t working, what do I need to adjust? You will probably adjust your plan and that’s almost expected. You might need to take a break sometimes and that’s okay, but never stop trying because it will work eventually if you do.


#4. Easily said, hardly done but who’s counting? Who’s celebrating?

The answer’s YOU! In any case, remember you’re accountable and holding accountability is a great way to get things done. In my experience, if I don’t write my progress or experience down, I will forget about my plans to change altogether. Find your way of holding yourself accountable!

In addition, too often do we lose track of our goals much like those New Year’s resolutions you might have forgotten already. Just as likely, you’ve probably guilt tripped and cycled through that once you’d missed a step in your grand scheme to eradicate or lessen a habit or trait of yours. I’ve been there, and done that. At the end of the day though, I realized that I’m the one who can make this change but guilt tripping won’t add to this development. Accepting the setbacks is hard, but recognize that you are not your mistakes and disappointments and that you are also your successes and are important in the lives of your family and friends. What you can’t forget is that you can get back up on your feet and continue trying. I know you can! And you know that too.




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Photo courtesy of Adrian Scottow under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Exercising a Growth Mindset

 By Sam Werger, 4th year History student

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”


University can be many things to many people. For some it is an opportunity to leave their small hometown for the bright lights of the big city. For others it’s a chance to make new friends and meet all kinds of new people. A person’s university career can be a chance to learn about one’s self and grow emotionally, physically, and mentally. University is perhaps the best opportunity many of us have to develop our skills and generally improve ourselves. Growth at university depends largely upon one’s ability and willingness to exercise a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

Well, a growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. For example, someone with a fixed mindset would see a failure as the end of the road and might give up when they have failed. In contrast, someone with a growth mindset will see a failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure is an inevitability (unless you’re some sort of super-human in which case you can probably stop reading now) but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. I’ve certainly failed to achieve certain goals I’ve had and failed to live up to my own expectations of myself. I’ve made mistakes academically and socially. And yet, as I look forward to the last two months of my undergraduate career I can say with certainty that my time at university has been a success.

I was able to succeed because I didn’t allow my failures to define me. I maintained a growth mindset and viewed my failures as stepping stones towards a greater success. Every time I failed I also got a new lesson. Every time I didn’t do well on a test or paper I learned what it takes to succeed in school. Every time I was disappointed in myself I learned a little bit more about what I want to achieve in life. Through my failures I have gained perspective and learned lessons that helped me eventually succeed.

So the next time you fail to meet your goals don’t look at that failure as an end. Don’t even look at it as a failure. Instead, look at it as a lesson and a stepping stone on the path to success. Growing depends upon our view of things, not the things themselves.

For more on Growth Mindsets click here.


Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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