Get your Head in the Game: 5 Ways to Deal with Distractions

 By Sunny Zheng, 3rd year Life Sciences student

As a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA), one of the most common questions students approach me with is, “How do I deal with distractions?” Good question. This is something that everybody seems to struggle with, even us, PLAs. Unfortunately, there is no miracle solution that will help you avoid all distractions. However, there are several simple strategies that can help you be less distracted and I will provide you with 5 of them below.


1. Save your hardest work for your best time of day

Do your most difficult assignments during the time of the day that you feel most alert. You will least likely be distracted during this time, so it makes sense to save your work for then. For me, this is early morning, after a refreshing sleep and before getting drained from the activities of the day. For others, this time may be in the evening, when you feel more relaxed.


2. Distraction pad

Have a little notepad beside you while studying and every time you get distracted with a thought, write it down, then push it aside for later. Distracting thoughts can be anything from remembering that you still have another assignment to complete, to daydreaming about your next meal. Later on in the day when you have some free time, you can review your distraction pad to see if any of those thoughts were important and needed to be addressed.


3. Work within your attention span

Do you ever find yourself working for so long that your mind becomes hazy and you realize that you’re reading the same paragraph over and over again without absorbing anything? Instead of getting frustrated about losing focus, learn to work within your attention span. Figure out how long you can stay focused before your thoughts start to wander, and then divide up your assignment into chunks lasting that period of time. You should also take breaks in between your work sessions! Breaks provide a chance for you to recharge your energy. As for me, I like to use the 50/10 rule, where I work for 50 minutes and then rest for 10 minutes.


4. Unplug!

A huge distraction for students these days is social media. Many people have found that the best way to avoid this distraction is to remove all technology from sight. Like they say, “out of sight, out of mind!” Try setting your phone on silent and then putting it away. If you don’t need your laptop, hide that as well. Without seeing electronic devices, you will be less tempted to check social media. If you must work on your laptop, however, try keeping only those tabs you need and closing all irrelevant ones, like Facebook and YouTube.


5. Blocking social media with apps!

If you find it difficult to control yourself from checking social media websites while studying, don’t worry because there are apps that can help you with that. For example, “Self-control” is an app offered on Macs that you can use to block certain websites for as long as you choose. If you’re a PC user, there is a great Google chrome extension called “StayFocused” (Mac users can use this as well) that allows you to restrict the amount of time you spend on specific websites. Other apps are also available and they are listed here.


So, there you have it – five tips to help you avoid distractions. Hopefully, you’ve learned something useful that you can apply to your studying routine. It is important to remember, however, that there is no magic solution that will help you stay fully on task. It is perfectly normal to be distracted from time to time. But during those situations where you can’t afford to be distracted, try the tips listed above, or check out a bunch of other ones listed here.

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Checking in After Reading Week – Completing the Marathon, but in a Proactive Way

By Sohaib Haseeb, 3rd year Life Sci student

It’s hard to believe, but we’re halfway through the semester. Reading week is now over, we’ve had a chance to relax, take a break from the school’s stress, but it’s time to get back in the swing of things.

If you’ve got a busy schedule ahead filled with midterms, assignments, and papers, it’s hard to stay calm, and panic overtakes us, but don’t worry, you’ve just had a fulfilling break, and there’s no need to dread about fitting everything in your lives. It’s time to take charge. No matter how stressful the upcoming life might seem, there are steps that we can take to manage stress, but more importantly, to keep up on work but have fun at the same time. Be mindful, maintaining a healthy balance in life is important for our well-being and day-to-day satisfaction. How do we achieve a balanced lifestyle in the midst of our heavy schedules?

Here are some tips and tricks I use to maintain balance and manage stress:

Believe it or not, taking a break from school and work and having a nice walk in the park, or socializing with friends can have a big impact on our productivity. Making time for just ourselves is so hard it seems, but it’s essential for lowering stress and being happy and healthy. We need to learn to give our minds and body a rest! My mum always says, “Pay extra attention to your health and put the right fuel in the body.” Stay proactive, watch what you eat, and don’t skip meals, because speaking from personal experience, a health crisis is the last thing we need in our busy lives. Stress is a daily part of life, but don’t let it get to you. It might seem that school work keeps piling up and there is nothing we can do to reduce the burden, take each day, step-by-step. This is essential to managing stress, and being healthy. Prioritization is key, but staying on-top of it is what really makes the difference. Try monthly or weekly calendars, keeping an agenda, and reassessing your workload every day. We’ll always have more work than we can fit in a day, but breaking it down into small chunks and prioritizing each task can put a lot of structure to our day, with the added bonus of reducing stress.

Lastly, reward yourself and try to find positives in the day. Tell yourself you can do it, because you can – we all can! We’re all at Queen’s University, and that in itself is a big achievement! We are all trying our best to do the tasks at hand in the time given, and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

For more information on wellness and stress, visit our Health Promotion friends at Student Wellness Services!


Photo courtesy of Christopher A. Dominic under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Stauffer Marks the Study Spot…? Not Always!

By Sophie Lachapelle, 3rd year Health Studies/Devs student

Most students know – from experience – that a study spot can make or break a study session. If you’ve been around Stauffer Library lately, you know finding a place to study in that building is like trying to find a needle in a four-floor tall haystack full of books. Finally tracking down one of those study carrels is like finding buried treasure. Okay, maybe not, but when you’ve been searching for a place to sit for 30 minutes, finding a study spot is pretty close to striking gold. Luckily for us unlucky study-spot searchers, Stauffer Library isn’t the only place to cram for that up-coming exam. “Where else can I go,” you ask? Let’s go on a treasure hunt for the best study spot.

Let’s look at a map of campus.


The first thing to do when trying to find a great study spot is to do a Study Area Analysis of different places on campus. Ask yourself true or false questions about different study spaces to see if it works for you. Some of these statements can include:

  • T or F     Other people often interrupt me when I study here         

  • T or F     Much of what I can see here reminds me of things that don’t have anything to do with studying

  • T or F     I am often distracted when I study here

  • T or F     I take too many breaks here

  • T or F     I find it too warm or too cold to study here

  • T or F     There isn’t enough light to study here

  • T or F     There is too much/not enough noise here

The list can go on, depending on how you prefer your study spaces to look or feel.

The biggest thing is finding a place that will allow for distraction-free studying. In my first year, this place was my room in residence. I had a single room on a relatively quiet floor with the perfect amount of white noise from the construction outside. But a lot of my friends found there was too many distractions in residence or at home; if you’re like my friends, cross home off of the map – you won’t find your treasured study spot there. I also prefer a fair amount of background noise when I study, so the basement of Douglas Library and the study rooms in Bioscience were not ideal for me. I crossed those places off of my map.

Hunting for a study spot is a process. It can be long and arduous, and you may encounter many adventures along the way – like getting lost in the maze that is Mac-Corry Hall or confronting giant squirrels living in the trees around Summer Hill House.

If you need some inspiration, here is a list of study spots that we at Learning Strategies have compiled from student suggestions:

  • Basement of Bracken Library: Completely silent with a café close by!

  • Common Ground: Pleasantly noisy with lots of treats.

  • The Tea Room: Lots of light, noise, and tea.

  • Lounge space in the ARC: Great space to sprawl out your studying supplies.

  • Coffee Shops in Downtown Kingston: Gives you a break from campus and supports local businesses!

  • ITS Lab in Jeffery Hall: Quiet, access to computers, and lots of space.

  • Mac-Corry Cafeteria: Steady stream of background noise, and great for group assignments.

  • Stirling Library: Out of the way and generally quiet.

  • Theological Hall, 3rd Floor: Quiet, not well known.

  • Kingston Hall: Again, quiet and not often appreciated for its amiable studying qualities.

  • Bioscience Undergraduate study rooms: Kick up your feet on a couch or cozy up at a desk, your pick!

  • Kingston-Frontenac Public Library: If the novels don’t distract you, this is a quiet and friendly place to get some work done off campus.

  • The Grad Club: During off hours, the upper rooms here are a great place to get lunch and that assignment done!

  • Medical Building Lobby: Comfy couches, steady noise, and lots of natural light.

  • Lower floors of Douglas Library: Under-utilized, but great spaces for group projects and discussion.

Remember, discovering that treasured study spot might take some time, but hopefully this list inspires you to reject the ‘library-only’ study policy and try something new – especially with exams coming up!

If you’d like to know more about finding that perfect study spot, come visit our office in Stauffer Library, Room 143 and grab one of our handouts! You can also find resources on focus, motivation & procrastination, and studying strategies in our office or on our website so that you can take full advantage of your new study spot. Happy hunting!


Photo courtesy of Queen’s University under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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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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Top 3 Tips of Where to Start When Editing Your Paper

By Cassidy Burr, 2nd year English/Art History

For many years of my life, I was against editing my papers. I thought I did enough editing as I wrote, and that what I had done was “good enough.” Well, let me tell you what a difference editing can make and how “good enough” is no longer good enough for me. Looking at your paper with fresh eyes, and reading it all the way through, can make all the difference, but it can also be intimidating. Here are my top 3 tips on where to start editing your paper.

  1. The Lonely “This”

Let’s start out with one that a lot of people miss, but is easy to fix. Look for any time you have written the word “this” without anything after it. For example: “The environment is negatively affected by this.” This what? Being specific will help make your argument clearer and get to what you are trying to say faster. “This” needs to be followed by a noun which is clearly connected to a previous idea. The corrected example could be something like, “The environment is negatively affected by this cataclysmic event.”

  1. Tightly-Packed Sentences

A general rule of thumb is that your sentence should not be more than 4 lines long. Sometimes including a long sentence is fitting, but it still has to be properly punctuated. Even if you use the right punctuation, it still might be confusing for the reader if there are too many ideas in one sentence. Check your writing: how many ideas are you trying to include in a sentence? If there are more than one, try to break it up. If you can’t see the divide in the sentence, maybe ask a friend to read it and look for where the divide could go.

  1. Common Commas

Most of the time while talking to my friends about editing our papers, we talk about commas, and I think it is safe to say that commas are one of the most common forms of punctuation with which writers struggle. One hard and fast rule to look out for is to never put a comma between a subject and a verb. However, good writers need to know comma rules –  for more details check out the Writing Centre’s simple explanation here (PDF).

Even though this list is short, I hope that these three tips will help you get started with editing your paper, or maybe convince you that editing is worth it.


Photo courtesy of David Mulder under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0. 

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Make the most out of Reading Week!

By Sophia Klymchuk, 2nd year Con-Ed French/Psych student

It’s hard to believe that I am typing this, but we are now in Week 6, halfway through the semester! On an even happier note, reading week is coming up in only a few short days. Whether you are staying on campus or jumping on the next flight to Cancun, there are ways you can make sure that you make the most out of this week off, academically and mentally.

They call it “Reading Week” for a reason. For many of you, you may currently find yourself in a swamp of many assignments, midterms and mid-semester catching up to do. One week off is a great opportunity to get most of the studying, essay-writing and reading done, if you plan accordingly.

The first step is to go back to square one, and consult the syllabus for every course you plan on working on during the break. This is a good way to get a bird’s eye view of everything that must be done in the upcoming weeks following your break, as well as anything you may have missed during the first half of the semester. The syllabus is your key to not get the dreaded feeling of being overwhelmed. If you don’t know where to start with your Reading Week schedule, the Peer Learning Assistants will be offering sessions at Stauffer Library this week to help you out. Times and more information are at the end of this post.

The next step is to take the information from your syllabus and make your plan for the week. This can be as flexible as you want it to be, depending on how much time you want to devote to work during the week. You may be thinking “Oh, I only have a little bit of stuff to do during the break, I don’t need to write it down!” but even writing the smallest things down will increase the chance that you will do them, as well as your motivation. A set plan, if anything, gives you a good idea of what your week will look like and will assure that you do not miss out on anything.

If you are going back home for the break, make sure you have an area where you can study without any distractions. I, like many students, tend to get distracted by my home environment. My mom’s cooking and the presence of my siblings makes it hard to get work done. Find a spot in your hometown where you can work in a comfortable environment without any distractions, whether it’s your local library or a new café that just opened.

            “But I will be in Cancun all week! I can’t possibly get anything done!” You may be right, but only to an extent. There will still be some found time during your vacation that you can get some work done. Found time refers to time that comes up unexpectedly during your day that you can use to be productive. For example, if you have a big midterm coming up the week after your break, set aside some time this week to make some cue cards. Recite them during your plane ride. If you have a major text to read, use the time you spend on the beach to get some reading done. Nothing beats lounging by the water with a book in hand!

Most importantly, make sure to set aside time for breaks amidst all your work. It is a break, after all! Take the time to catch up with old friends, start a new show or spend time with family. Put your break times in your schedule as well, after periods of work to reward yourself.

Productive Breaks: Reading Week Schedule Drop-In is a session held by the Peer Learning Assistants, who will be offering one-on-one help, designed to help you plan your reading week efficiently. Your schedule will be tailored to your own needs and will ensure that you will get everything done! The drop-in will be held on February 15th at Stauffer Library, Room 121, from 12 to 7pm. Stop by!


Photo courtesy of the Sophia Klymchuk.

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Take Time to Make Time! The Life of a Very Busy Student

By Jessica MacNaught, 3rd year Con-Ed Linguistics/French students

My favourite part about Queen’s is how many opportunities there are to get involved. With all of the different organizations on (and off) campus, you’re sure to find something to pour your heart and soul into – and I’ve found so many different groups that call to me!

The small problem with this is that with so many ways to get involved, it’s really easy to over-commit. Sometimes, between classes, clubs, and committees, I find myself a lot busier for a lot longer than I ever thought  I would be. After a 15-hour day on campus without touching any of my homework, I realized that I was spending a lot less time on school than I need to. Whether you are involved in one extracurricular or five, it’s all about balance – you need to find a way to make time for school, and, most importantly, for yourself.

Here are some tips and tricks that I use to find extra time!

Believe it or not, investing a little time to make yourself a schedule will actually save you time in the long run. Using a weekly schedule – whether it is digital, on a calendar on your wall, or in a planner – is a great way to budget your time and see where you have some free time to work, play, or rest. The weekly schedule template provided by Student Academic Success Services, which can be found here, is a great way to get started! I like that it is separated into half-hour blocks, so it is easy to divide time down to small chunks. The half-hour blocks also fit perfectly into how classes at Queen’s are scheduled. To make your weekly schedule, add in all of your fixed commitments – classes, homework, volunteer time, and extracurriculars – as well as the time you take each week to be active and take care of yourself (ie, cook, eat, and clean). You can also add in a goal for when you want to sleep and wake up, because sleep is so important! After you do this, you can see a visual representation of your free time in all of the blank parts. This is your flex time – time to devote to studying, socializing, or just relaxing. A weekly schedule also means no surprises – when a new activity comes up, add it in right away so you are prepared!

Another way to make time for yourself is to use “flex time” for doing work. Flex time is free time that comes up unexpectedly, for example, time spent riding on the train or time that you gain when your class is canceled. Using this unexpected free time to be productive saves you time to relax or catch up on work during your usual free time.

Another way that I save time is through meal prepping. While this isn’t an academic tip, I find it super helpful to not have to worry about cooking dinner on those nights I get home late from meetings, or spending money to grab a quick lunch on campus. A great way to meal prep is using a one-pan meal, like this one from Buzzfeed. You can add any type of sauce or seasoning to jazz up the chicken, and sub in or out any veggies you like! Adding a grain or starch like rice or quinoa helps to stretch this meal out even farther. You can easily pack it for lunch, too! Just portion it out into a Tupperware container after cooking, and throw it into your bag to eat for lunch!

Something that really helped me put my time use into perspective is this handy sheet from SASS. This time use chart helps you to count out how much time you are using towards a specific task, whether it’s socializing with friends or working at your part-time job. At the end of the sheet, tally up your hours. There are 168 hours in a week, and I was surprised to see how I was spending them – maybe you will be too! This sheet helps you to prioritize the time you spend.

After all, just remember: you have the same 168 hours a week as Beyoncé. It’s how you use them that matters!


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

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How to Beat the Winter Blues

 By Sam Taylor, 3rd year Con Ed English Major

             It’s week five and reading week is just around the corner. We are almost half way through second semester. That means halfway to the freedom of summertime and halfway to the warm and bright summer weather. Reading week is a great time to help us rejuvenate ourselves to take on the last few weeks of the school year! But… you may be feeling lazy, sluggish, and unmotivated. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a prevalent condition in which weather negatively affects people’s moods (Ontario CMHA). CMHA states that potential symptoms for SAD during the winter weather are change in appetite, weight gain, decreased energy, fatigue, tendency to oversleep, feelings of anxiety and despair, etc. (Ontario CMHA). Unfortunately, it tends to appear in people over the age of 20, which is a lot of university students (Ontario CMHA).

Luckily, there are many ways to beat the winter blues! The first suggestion is to make your environment brighter. Our bodies are often craving more daylight because we are not getting enough in the winter. Try sitting closer to your window with your blinds or curtains open while you are doing homework. As well, you could join a friend for a winter walk. This is a great way to take a study break, catch up with a friend, and get more vitamin D!

Another tip is to eat smarter. We all have cravings, which is completely normal. Eating candy and carbohydrates can temporarily give you the fix you crave but it is said that these foods can increase feelings of anxiety and depression (Real Simple). Some of the best “winter time power foods” to eat are Brussel sprouts, pomegranates, cinnamon, citrus, beef, kiwi, cabbage, and sweet potato (Diabetic Living).

Another great way to both relieve the winter blues and stress is to exercise. There are many different types of exercise that you can do depending on what you enjoy. Yoga is a great way to help reduce anxiety, increase oxygen flow, and improve your overall mood (Real Simple). Pilates is an exercise to strengthen your core, which has been said to lead to better sleeping patterns (Real Simple). A good sleeping pattern is often difficult to achieve as a university student. As well as, studies show that lifting weights is good for toning your muscles and for your mental muscles. It is said that weight training can increase your ability to focus on planning, regulating behaviour, and multitasking. All of these are things that are required of us as university students. Utilizing exercise to help both your physical and mental health are ways to overcome symptoms of SAD.

Other ways to improve your symptoms of the winter blues are to turn on some upbeat music, plan a vacation (which doesn’t actually have to be far or expensive), and helping others. Researchers have proven that listening to upbeat or cheery music can improve your mood both short term and long term (Real Simple). Try setting your alarm with upbeat music so that you wake up to something already positive in your day! Planning a vacation is another great way to increase your happiness. Unfortunately, we are students and this is not always plausible. But! Going downtown shopping, eating, and skating during the winter is one way to take a break from school work for an afternoon and forget about the winter blues. Finally, helping others is a way to make someone else feel amazing, which in turn helps you to feel great as well. Take some time to volunteer with one of the many organizations on campus, you won’t be disappointed!


Works Cited

Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario (n.d.) Retrieved February 2, 2017, from

Diabetic Living (n.d.) Retrieved February 2, 2017, from

“How to Beat the Winter Blues.” No date. Online image. 2 February 2017.

Real Simple Food Collection and Lifestyle Network (n.d.) Retrieved February 2, 2017, from

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Why You Should Start Thinking About Your March Assignments Now!

By Emily McLaughlin, 4th year Devs/Psych student

It’s officially February! The cold blistering winds and freezing temperatures make the walks to campus seem long and extremely uninviting. But just as February as arrived so quickly, it will soon pass and final assignments will be upon us in a flash! It may seem a little preemptive to start planning out your final assignments now in Week 5, but you might actually want to consider it for a few reasons.

First of all, picking a topic is hard especially when you are crunched for time and have multiple things on the go. Writing an essay about a topic you don’t enjoy makes the writing process seem long and increases procrastination. But writing a topic about something you are extremely passionate means that you will have a lot to say but it can be difficult find a focus. Thinking about this now gives you time to visit your professor or TA and get their input on your topic. They can help you hammer out a thesis and make sure your assignment fits the criteria they are looking for!

The other reason I highly recommend thinking about your assignments now is to give yourself ample time for research! I’ll make a confession; I have left assignments until the last minute before and not had time to read the entire article so I have only read the abstract or the introduction. This is fairly obvious to professors and TAs when you are only citing the first few pages. Reading the entire article will give you ample background knowledge in the topic and prepare you to make a strong and cohesive argument! Another thing I highly recommend is finding a book you can use for your topic! This tip may be much more relevant to art students. The books in Stauffer aren’t just for looks! Reading a few chapters of a book can help you to find new ideas for your topic. Giving yourself time to read a few articles or a book can help to inform yourself before making a place

Finally making a plan is incredibly important. Divide up your time specifically. Work backwards from the due date to ensure you have enough time to finish the assignment and have time to edit it. Plan to finish two days before the deadline to give yourself extra time in case something happens and to have time to edit. Starting early also allows you to schedule an appointment with the Writing Centre to work with a professional writing consultant to help perfect your writing and learn skills to make yourself a confident writer. Using our assignment calculator will give you an idea of how much time you will really need to complete the assignment so you don’t fall victim to planning fallacy. Commit to a day to start and write it on a calendar. Dividing up your 10-page essay into small parts will also make the essay less scary. Writing 5 pages in 1 day and 5 pages the next day can seem overwhelming whereas writing 2 pages a day for 5 days (maybe with a day off!) can seem a lot less stressful! Think of your mental health and help yourself by beginning early!

Being in university can often cause you to fall into a shortsighted view of the semester. Remember that time flies by! Using our term calendar can help you keep a more long-term few of the semester. I’ll be completely honest; I used to think my professors were crazy when they told us to start our Week 10 assignments in Week 6, but after trying it, I can tell you that it will save you a lot of stress! Spreading out your assignment rather than cramming them into one week can also help to reduce stress when you have 3 assignments due in one week.  Start your research now and become really invested in your topic! It will allow you to explore new interests and give you time to explore new angles!

Planning is a something that is often forgotten; don’t let yourself fall into that trap! You will be especially thankful for looking to the long term now. Reward yourself closer to the deadline when you have extra free time because you have dominated the concept of forward thinking! And just a reminder, exams are only 8 weeks away!


Photo courtesy of
  Areta Ekarafi under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Welcome to Week 4 – Time to check your progress

By Gaurav Talwar, 2nd year Life Sciences Student

With this new semester rolling along, the annual, trendy conversation starter, Can you believe it’s already week 4? has made its comeback. Having spoken to a few of my friends and fellow peers in the last couple of days, I feel that the typical conversation around this topic goes as follows:

“I can’t believe midterms are already here.”

“I know right, it feels like we just got back from the winter break. But the work has already started to pile up.”  

…… (insert a few more details)

“Agreed. I guess we just got to push through until reading week. 🙂

With midterms around the corner (or already started), assignments starting to pile up and reading week approaching in less than 20 days, I believe one of the best decisions you can make is to use week 4 as a check point to reflect on your progress thus far. But exactly how do you start to EVALUATE YOURSELF? Well, here is a little guide to get you started:

  1. Reflect on the experiences you had during your first semester. Look back at what strategies worked well (for exam prep, self care…) and which you could have improved on. Was there a particular course you did well on or really enjoyed? If so, how did you approach it and is there a way that you can stay on top of your game again? Likewise, were there any really stressful times (e.g. having to cram some study sessions the day before your exam, like I did) and how could you have prevented it? Remember, university is a time to learn and grow. Embrace the skills you learned and start throwing away the habits you want to lose.
  2. Ask yourself: do I feel satisfied with how I am doing so far and am I headed on the right track? This may be a tough question to answer, but be truthful to yourself and you will get a better picture of how you are doing.
    1. Start simple: Are you keeping up with your self-care? That is, are you getting the ideal 7-8 hours of sleep (or the amount that keeps you energized and focused during the day), eating a well-balanced meal (if not, make yourself a nutrition log and start eating better!) and getting your minimum 150 min of weekly exercise? As simple as these questions may seem, you want to make sure that you are practicing your healthy habits and are staying physically and psychologically fit.
    2. Dig a little deeper: Was there a New Year Resolution or goal that you promised to achieve at the start of the semester? How far are you in accomplishing it? Also, I’d recommend you think about your passions and get involved in the community if you haven’t done so already. It’s a nice feeling to be able to do something productive, fun and rewarding all at the same time.
  3. Develop an action plan.
    1. Start by setting some SMART goals. At Queen’s Learning Strategies, we recommend students to set goals which are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. For example, a few of my friends and I are starting up a new club here at Queen’s. We have thought about it since first semester, but didn’t take much action. So as one of my goals, I will be working to finish up a couple of grant applications by the end of this week. Each day, I am setting aside an hour to answer two application questions (which is how long I gauge it will take me), and by doing so, I hope we will be productive to get the club started.
    2. Make a weekly schedule. Often, it can be hard to think far ahead and to plan out what you need to get done. However, with Reading week coming up, I think you can make this task a little easier by trying to plan what you need to get done before the break. Once you have a good idea, I suggest you look at our Weekly Schedule template, follow the instructions on the back, and start checking off your goals one at a time!
  4. Finally, keep yourself motivated and energized! Whenever you feel tired or overwhelmed, think about the big picture of how you want the year to go. Then, look back at your goals, remember their importance, and get back to work. Also, feel free to share your goals with friends and family or reach out to a learning strategist to help you along your journey!

By taking this proactive initiative to check on your progress, I hope you get a better sense of you are doing and what steps you need to take to make this semester even more successful than you can imagine. And ultimately, always keep this in mind: Your university years will continue to fly by. All you can do is to try your best, have fun, and make the most out of your experience.


Photo courtesy of we collaborate under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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