September Stress and Semester Success: Balancing School with Other Commitments

By Shannon Hogan, 3rd-year French and History student

Ah, September… An exciting month of trying new classes, catching up with friends, and making fall “looks” with that great new sweater… Wait, what?!

Yeah, September can be great, but getting back to school is hectic! All at once, you have to handle a busy class schedule, get involved in extra curriculars, find time to line up at the bookstore, maintain your workout schedule, talk to your family, and sleep enough, among other commitments. When everyone and their cousin wants a bit of your time, it’s easy to feel stretched too thin.

If you’re struggling to find enough time to do everything you need and want to do, try these techniques to help you balance your commitments:

1. Prioritize

Write down every single thing you have to do for the next two weeks, then make that list less daunting by ranking the tasks from most to least important. Mark tasks that you need to get done ASAP with an “A,” tasks that you should do soon with a “B,” and tasks that you could do if you have leftover time with a “C.” Work on getting all the As done first, followed by the Bs, and then the Cs.

Remember: What you decide to prioritize may be different from what someone else decides to prioritize, and that’s okay! Everyone has their own scale of what’s most important to them.

2. Reflect your priorities in your schedule.

Once you know what you want to devote the most attention to, schedule time to do it! Make yourself a weekly or term calendar that helps you plan ahead for big deadlines and maintain your day-to-day commitments. Here are some average numbers that you could test out when you’re allocating your time.

  • Spend 10 hours per week on each course, including class time, readings, homework, assignments, and review.
  • Spend 7-9 hours per night sleeping.
  • Spend 2 hours making and eating meals each day.

To maximize concentration and free time, you can also incorporate study techniques like working from 9-5 each day, focusing for 50 minutes before taking a 10 minute break, and doing the most difficult tasks at the start of study periods.

3. Scrap the to-do list.

It can be discouraging to look at your to-do list at the end of the day and see that some tasks aren’t crossed off. A good alternative is to make an accomplishment list at the end of each day: Write out every task that you completed to remind yourself of how much you’ve really done – it’s probably more than you think! This list also has the added bonus of showing you how much you can realistically get done in a day, which will help you to accurately allocate your time when you’re making your schedule.


So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by your commitments, remember that it’s okay to be busy, and that it’s not wrong to make time to do the things that make you happiest. It’s all about balance!

For more time management resources, please visit


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What Kung Fu Panda Can Teach Us About Staying Motivated

By Ian Farndon, 4th-year History and English student

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, Po the panda must defeat the looming threat of Tai Lung, a seemingly unstoppable kung fu master, by training in kung fu himself. With only a final, massive goal in sight, Po feels overwhelmed and loses the will to train. As the school year begins to ramp up, and you face the daunting task of working through a seemingly endless amount of schoolwork, you may find it difficult to maintain motivation and concentration in much the same way as Po. Fortunately, Po’s master, Shifu, finds a solution to this problem: positive reinforcement (or more simply, “Treat Yo’ Self!”).

Shifu discovers that the best way to encourage Po to train is by rewarding the panda’s incremental advances with food, such as when he offers Po dumplings after his student wins a sparring match. By creating shorter-term, manageable goals for Po to achieve (such as beating his master in sparring), and providing a reward as each goal is passed, Shifu helps Po advance towards his long-term goal and defeat Tai Lung.

I personally find that using a reward-based system noticeably helps me stay focused on schoolwork. For instance, without a “carrot at the end of the stick,” my mind often wanders when studying for exams, leading me to spend more time on a single topic than I should. If I set a goal for myself with some sort of reward at the end, however, the motivation to reach the reward encourages me to push through and finish what I started in a more timely fashion.

This reward can be anything that works for you, from watching an episode of Archer after completing a paragraph of an essay, to eating a handful of Smarties after you finish a page of readings. Of course, it’s important not to go overboard – if it looks more like you’re “marathon-ing” Game of Thrones instead of studying, you’re doing it wrong. Create reasonable goals, with reasonable rewards, and you may find yourself focused enough to perform tasks faster, with no drop in quality – whether you be completing schoolwork, or training to fight a homicidal tiger.


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Planning Out Your Semester: Some Tips and Tricks

By Rachel Day, 4th-year Gender Studies student

By now, you should have received your class syllabi and be finishing up readings for week one. If you’re not, then this post is definitely meant for you! I am a bit of an organization and planning expert; it’s a trait that my friends both love and hate about me. As a fourth year student now, I definitely have the planning skills down pat. Here are some of my personal favourite tips and tricks to help you plan out your semester—the organized way:

Get ahead and stay ahead on readings

I know readings are awful and they’re basically the last thing you want to do, but they are important. It took me a couple of years to learn this so don’t make that mistake. A good strategy (one that I employ religiously) is to start a reading as soon as I finish one. Maybe not the exact second I finish, but I don’t wait until week 4 to read week 4’s readings. To ensure that I retain the information and can reference to it for an essay if need be, I make sure to take notes on the important stuff and record the page numbers.

Make an assignment planner

I would advise doing this the moment you receive all your syllabi, but doing it at some point within September is key. There are a bunch of different formats and templates you can use to make this planner. You can go the fancy, colourful and pretty way, or the simple pen and paper route. It’s your semester and your assignments so you track them however you want. I like to include details like the weight of the assignment so I have that somewhere I can easily refer to. Then, when you submit the assignment, highlight it off your planner. It’s incredibly satisfying!

Sticky note dates to contact your professor/TA

In your planner, sticky note 1-2 weeks before each assignment due date for you to email your professor/TA to set up a meeting to discuss said assignment. I prefer to meet with them once I have a topic and/or a working thesis just to talk about my ideas and make sure I am on the right track. Feedback from your professor before you start writing is always handy. Since making this a habit, my grades have significantly improved.

Take advantage of your productive hours

You know you best. As much as campus and peer learning assistants and professors try to push you work within a specific set of hours, you need to find hours in the day that work for you. Maybe you like working 2-3 hours every day before breaking for a meal or small social event, and then getting back to it. Maybe you prefer working 5-9pm and sleeping in instead. Of course, don’t pull all-nighters because you need sleep to function.


Here are some last-minute-self-explanatory tips: make good use of campus resources (The Writing Center, Student Academic Success Services, Peer Mentors, etc.), schedule in social hour with friends or with yourself, and try to get your 150 every week.

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How to keep control of the steering wheel (AKA your schedule)

By Inderpreet Gill

Being a university student is more than just academics. Extra-curricular activities are great ways to get involved and make new friends, explore new interests or continue participating in old interests. I found being a part of a club or an organization as a way to take a break from school when I needed to.

When I first started getting involved with extra-curricular activities, my schedule went from being relatively empty to not at all empty. With every meeting that I added to my calendar, I started to feel like I was losing control. I was not in charge of my days as much anymore. It was great that I was getting involved but this wave of anxiety came over me because my days were being chipped away to this meeting and that meeting.

It was not until I started forgetting about deadlines or missing meetings that I realized something needed to change. The anxiety only escalated because I had no sense of my own schedule. I needed to find a balance if I wanted to continue being involved.

Here is what I did to gain control over my schedule again:

  1. Get an agenda. I also like to have an electronic calendar. I have easier access to my phone during the day so it helps to take a quick glance at what my day looks like when I wake up in the morning.
  2. Enter important dates (assignment deadlines, midterm and exam dates) into your calendar(s)/agenda(s).
  3. Schedule in your extra-curricular meetings and event dates.

This worked for me because deadlines and meeting dates were on paper and not in my head anymore. I had this sense of relief when I saw everything laid out on paper.

When everything was in my head, I felt as if I did not have enough time in a day to do school work or things like laundry. Seeing it on paper, I had my “aha!” moment because it turns out, I did have enough time in my days to myself where I could work on assignments, FaceTime my family, and do some laundry. I have discovered a system that works for me when schedule my daily life and it has been less stressful since.

We have plenty of resources to help you discover your system, too.

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Finding motivation

By Viki Lentini, 2nd-year Nursing student

Sometimes, being a student can be hard. When the profs pile on the assignments and all you’ve eaten in the past three days is instant ramen and PB&J, it can be hard to find the drive to do anything.

When this happens, it’s healthy to take a step back and ask yourself why you don’t feel motivated.

Sometimes, the answer to this question is boredom. At this point, take a minute to recall what your goal is. Personally, my goal is to be a travel nurse. I have a little drawing above my desk of me in scrubs looking at an ocean. I captioned it The Dream and added a quote:

What you do today can improve all your tomorrows. –Ralph Marston

This is usually enough to pull me through whatever reading or research assignment I had been dreading. If drawing yourself isn’t really your style, try just putting your goal in writing.

Another barrier to motivation can be feeling overwhelmed. For this, I’d recommend organizing what you have going on. One strategy I like is A Prioritized To-Do List using the Dump &Sift Method. Since that was a bit of a mouthful, I’ll break it down a little.

The Dump &Sift Method involves taking a piece of paper and writing absolutely everything you think you may have to do in the next two weeks. Then, go through and rate each item from 1-3 based on priority. 1’s are kind of urgent, and 3’s would be nice but aren’t absolutely necessary.

I make my To-Do lists a little differently. I take an 8 ½ by 11 and turn it into a chart, with a column for each day of the week. Each column acts as a To-Do list for that day. I like it because I can see that even if I don’t have a certain thing planned for today, I can see that I have planned to take care of it later in the week and that it isn’t forgotten.

A final challenge to motivation can be if you’re preoccupied with one of life’s curveballs. If it’s a minor thing like an irritating cold, I recommend breaking tasks into very small chunks with breaks taken between each session. The first session should be the one where you plan what each chunk of work should be.

If something major is affecting you like an illness or a personal loss, you should seek out the help of professionals. In my own experience I have found academic advisors and professors to be great resources. Not to scare you, but I would say it is actually essential to contact your profs. Looking at my own and my classmates’ experiences, I would say this can be the difference that enables you to still be successful.

Other resources include professional learning strategy consultations and, earlier in the semester, peer mentorship. I’ve been mentored twice and absolutely recommend it!

For more techniques to battle procrastination and feed your motivation, and for other learning strategies, please visit our online resources.

Good luck my friends!

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Memorizing vocabulary easily and effectively

By Tanveen Rai, 4th-year Bio/Psychology student

When is memorization beneficial?

As students we have all been told time and time again to stay on top of material and gradually gain an understanding of course material. One of the first steps involved in learning new material is getting to know the terminology, and this is initially done through memorization.

When I say memorization, I am not necessarily talking about rote memorization where your spit out information in a robotic manner. This can actually be very time consuming and difficult to do. Instead it is beneficial to make word associations.

The most obvious example of when memorization is essential is in a language class where students have to be able to translate words and correctly conjugate verbs. However, memorization is also helpful in almost any other course such as biology, psychology, geology and the list goes on.

For example…

In an introductory anatomy class I took this semester, we had to be able to name the bones that make up the axial and appendicular skeletons. I’m going to be using this example throughout the article in order to illustrate how to most effectively memorize.

Here is a list of some of the bones that make up the axial and appendicular skeletons:

  • Humerus
  • Femur
  • Shoulder girdle
  • Radius
  • Fibula
  • Patella
  • Bones of skull
  • Ulna
  • Tibia
  • Ribs

Effective memory strategies

1. Chunking

The easiest way to remember the bones listed is by chunking. Chunking involves breaking this relatively large list into smaller groups.

For instance, the bones can be divided into bones that belong to the axial skeleton versus those that belong in the appendicular skeleton:

Axial skeleton:

  • Bones of the skull
  • Ribs

Appendicular skeleton:

  • Humerus
  • Femur
  • Shoulder girdle
  • Radius
  • Fibula
  • Patella
  • Ulna
  • Tibia

The appendicular skeleton section can then be further subdivided by grouping bones that make up the arm versus bones that make up the leg. By making associations between the different bones, it will become easier to remember what goes where.

  • Bones of arm: humerus, radius, ulna
  • Bones of leg: femur, fibula, patella, tibia

Consider visually representing these categories using a mind map or other graphic organizer to help your memorization even more.

2. Repetition

One strategy that works really well for me is to rewrite words over and over. This can be especially useful for a language class where by writing the vocabulary out you also learn how to spell the word at the same time.

Another strategy I use when have to label diagrams is to repeatedly label them and to also recite the terms out loud.

The key is to repeat, drill and review, ideally spreading out these review sessions over several days (rather than trying to do it all at once). The more you review the easier you will be able to recall information.

3. Flashcards

Another question that can be asked in relation to the anatomy example is to describe the function of each bone. Using flashcards to quiz yourself is a great method to quickly learn definitions of words or as in this case the function of a particular structure.

For example, on one side of my flashcard, I would write the keyword “Femur.” On the reverse, I would write the details: “bone in thigh; very strong; enables movement of lower extremities.”

Flashcards also go hand in hand with the first and second strategies. You can separate the flashcards and organize them into separate groups to more easily remember them. Having a set of flashcards also means that you can train yourself over and over again and can do so pretty much anywhere — even in line while waiting for your coffee!

For more information, see our online resource on Memory Strategies.

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Lessons learned: How looking back can help you get ahead

By Sam Werger, 3rd-year History student

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” — Johnny Cash

Students attend university for different reasons. For whatever reason we decide to get a university education, we all end up learning something (hopefully). Whether we’re learning about the French Revolution, or mechanical engineering, or the internal workings of the human digestive system, we all learn something while at university.

As important as classes are, some of the most important things we learn at university may have nothing to do with formal classroom education at all. The things we learn about ourselves are perhaps just as, if not more, important as the things we learn in lecture halls and seminars. In four years we evolve from intimidated first-years to confident fourth year students. We learn how to juggle a busy schedule and how to succeed in every part of life.

Most importantly, we learn what kind of person we are and what kind of person we want to be.

Part of the learning process is making mistakes. We are only human and humans make mistakes. If you’re like me, you’ve made quite a few mistakes over the years. Whether it was waiting to study for a mid-term until the night before the test, or spending half of a lecture looking at memes on the internet, the mistakes themselves aren’t that important. The important part is what we learn from those mistakes.

Will we let our mistakes define us? Or we will have the courage to look back at our past mistakes and see them as steppingstones instead of obstacles? By looking back at our experiences- our successes and our failures- we can improve our present and our future. Instead of shying away from past mistakes and failures, own those failures. Don’t allow them to drag you down. Use them to lift yourself up.

Whether you’re a first-year student preparing for the final weeks of your first year at university or a seasoned fourth-year gearing up for the bittersweet final chapter of your undergraduate career, I urge everyone to look back and reflect on their past. Perhaps you’ll find yourself looking at your first-year self and remembering all those mistakes you made. Maybe you’ll find yourself looking at how much you’ve changed since September.

Whatever you find yourself looking at, try to look at one thing in particular: your mistakes. Do not turn away from your shortcomings. Grab onto them and use them as a step on the stairway to a better you. Let your mistake guide you on your path and not obstruct it. And like Mr. Johnny Cash said, don’t dwell on your mistakes, but don’t forget them either — they can be your most valuable tool for improvement.

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Managing school, extra-curriculars and life

By Tess Kuhelj, 4th-year Concurrent Education student (French and Geography)

One of the best qualities of Queen’s is the numerous clubs, groups and teams that are available to students. Maybe you’re thinking about what to sign up for next year.

However, if you’re one of those people who loves getting involved, having all those opportunities available to you probably means you’re part of three clubs, six groups, four intramural teams, have a part-time job and taking a full course load. Although you may love everything you’re involved in, sometimes you have to take a step back and prioritize.

Now I’m not saying you should stop getting involved, but the only way to manage all your activities, stay on top of school work and maintain good health is with moderation and excellent planning.

Picking and choosing

Getting involved in extra-curriculars is often the best and most memorable part of people’s university experience because you meet new friends and get exposed to wonderful opportunities. In fact, having commitments other than schoolwork can help your study habits because if you have a meeting or shift that day, you have a time frame for how long you have to complete your homework.

However, this is only applicable if you are in a manageable number of extra-curriculars. My recommendation is to pick only a few extra-curriculars that you are really interested in so that you will still have time for schoolwork and rest.

Each person is different and knows their limit, but I recommend starting with two things (it can be one job and one club, two clubs, one club and one intramural, etc.). If you find that you are managing well with your 2 extra-curriculars and still have a burning passion to join more, go for it!

You can keep doing this with an increasing amount of extra-curriculars as long as make sure you are monitoring how well you are balancing everything and know when enough is enough.

This way, you are choosing the extra-curriculars that mean the most to you and are still giving yourself time for school, “me time” and social commitments.

Making a schedule

Being a master of schedule-making is key when you have a very busy schedule. At the start of each month, input your class times, any static meetings or shifts you have, and your bedtime on your calendar. Then, on a weekly basis you can go in and add any extra meetings, games or shifts as needed.

Make sure you are inputting enough time to complete all your readings and assignments; just because they are not at a concrete time does NOT mean you don’t have to schedule time to do them! Otherwise the time is takes to complete the work will be taken up by something else and you will find yourself needing to pull all-nighters before things are due.

Your schedule will keep you organized and help you remember that you do have enough hours in the day if you use them all properly (or … possibly realize that you are over-booked and should take something off your plate!).


Even though you may have only picked a few of the activities you are most interested in and have made a killer schedule, it is still important to have priorities.

To do this, write down everything you are a part of and make sure to include school and you-time. Then, starting at “1 – most important”, rank how important each activity is to you (hopefully you-time and school are 1 and 2!) until each extra-curricular is assigned a number.

With this ranking in place, on really busy weeks you’ll know which meetings you may have to miss or shifts you may have to trade. If you find it hard to choose one single activity to always put on the back burner, try switching it up between two or three extra-curriculars so that you’re staying relatively committed to all of them.

Remember, busy is good but too busy is not productive in any way! Hopefully this blog has given you some helpful tips on how to balance school and everything else. Good luck!

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With three weeks left in the term, it’s time to start thinking “exam prep”!

By Caleigh Treissman, 4th-year Psychology student

April (and exam season) might feel far off in the distance right now, but here’s a secret to help you rock those final exams: get organized early!

Final exam prep can look a little different for everybody, but here are some tips and tricks to get you started:

Get organized

Getting organized is a crucial step to acing those final exams. You should gather all the information you will need to prepare for your exam and make sure it is in a format that you can review and clearly read/understand.

Treat your syllabus like a checklist: Do you have notes for every lecture? Have you done all your readings?

If there is something you’re missing, go get it!

Plan the work, work the plan

Make a study schedule early so that you can fit in all the studying you will need to do, and still have time to take care of yourself during exams.

Make sure you are getting in the hours for each course that you need, with some flex time in case something unexpected comes up.

Schedule in time for yourself: shower, eat, exercise and de-stress! Making the time for yourself will only help you succeed.

Get down to it

Final exams can be a stressful experience, but by planning ahead and getting organized you will be in a great position to do well!

Don’t overwhelm yourself: Don’t spend all day in Stauffer working on one subject! Mix up your subjects and study spots; it will help you feel more refreshed each time you sit down to study.

Reward yourself! What are your favourite treats or relaxation activities?

Try some group study. We recommend studying with a group about 25% of the time!

Use your resources: TAs, your professors and the PLAs all want you to succeed! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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Motivation: It’s GO time!

By Grace McCabe, 5th year English major, Religious Studies minor

To some, it may seem like the semester is winding down, but final assignments, papers, reports, and preparation for exams is ramping up as due dates quickly approach and it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done…in other words, IT’S GO TIME! At times like this, it can be difficult to find and maintain motivation, which is why I have complied a small checklist of things that have helped me in the past and will hopefully help you in getting the wheels turning on the train out of motivation station!

Set goals by looking ahead

This is a little visualization technique I like to use as a motivator to help me get through any stressful or demanding set of tasks. Look ahead to what is on the other side of that task; for some, it’s going home for the summer, graduation, travel, a job, volunteer experience, visiting with friends and family, starting that Netflix series everyone was talking about or catching up on sleep. Whatever the end goal or result is, focus on that to motivate you to continue to work really hard right now.

Rewards, such as any (and more) of the ones listed above, can be very powerful things that motivate us to work better and harder. If you haven’t yet thought about what those rewards are for you, try making a list of what your rewards are going to be at the end of the semester. Pin that list somewhere you can see or carry it with you and pull it out when you’re feeling low on motivation in order to fuel back up and keep going!

Checklists or To Do lists

Yes, you read that right. One of my tips within my checklist for motivation is exactly that…making checklists! If you don’t already use daily or weekly checklists or to do lists, try making one for yourself for all the tasks you have to get done by the end of the day or end of the week and check them off as you go. These types of smaller, detailed lists let you see and manage your progression and you can use them to motivate you to keep on going to get to the end of your list. Extra tip: personalize to do lists by using different coloured post it notes or pens and check off the tasks with big, exaggerated strikethroughs and markings. Celebrate your accomplishments!

Surround yourself with other motivated people

Find other motivated people to form a study group with or just to be around in order to help you harness and maintain motivation. You can help each other stay on track and share your own strategies for staying motivated through difficult times. Bonus tip: Studies have shown it is effective to study in groups 25% of the time.

Believe in yourself

This can sometimes be easier said than done, but I mean it when I say it. You are awesome! Believe that you can achieve and succeed at all you have to get done between now and the end of the semester. You’ve made it this far, which means you’re doing many things right already…keep going! You rock! Bonus bonus tip: if you have a favourite quote or mantra, post this somewhere and recite it to yourself when you need an extra boost of motivation!

For more tips on motivation, and much more, visit our online resources.

“Breathe” photo courtesy of planetlight under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.




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