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Efficient study: two weeks and counting

Hello, everyone! Wow, I cannot believe it has been two weeks since I moved to Kingston and the school year started. It feels like two months have passed. I’ve already done so many things, met so many people, and become so integrated into campus life that I can’t believe I’ve done it all within two weeks. It feels like I’ve been here forever.

I’ve made new friends, been added to study group chats, and had a fun night of poker with my new neighbours. I’ve been keeping healthy, taking an average of 14,000 steps per day walking back and forth around campus. In terms of school life, I have learned so much content and I feel like I have become more productive than I was last year.

In my last blog, I wrote about my many goals: procrastination and motivation, finding my best study methods, and time management. I find that being on campus naturally subdues my procrastination. Living on campus helps me have a study mindset that was difficult to get into when I was learning from home last year. A few weeks ago, I toured all the Queen’s libraries with my friend to find the one I could call home for the next three years. The law library is my favourite, but keep that a secret between you and me; I’m afraid it’ll be overrun with students if they all know how beautiful it is. I also love going to Stauffer to study after dinner when it’s a bit quieter. You’ll often find me on the first floor in the evenings—though I know the dangers of staying up late studying, so I try to be careful!

Before the school year started, I read up on SASS’ learning strategies. Two that I’m implementing right now are preview and spaced practice (http://sass.queensu.ca/memory/). I’m currently taking many challenging courses, and for some classes, like differential equations, it’s difficult for me to understand when I walk blindly into the lecture. To aid in my comprehension, I read and annotate the lecture notes before the class to understand what’s going on. To compare, it’s like driving down an utterly unfamiliar road versus driving down a road you’ve already taken once. Although you didn’t memorize the directions perfectly, you feel a bit more comfortable and familiar with going that route than you did the first time.

I try and stay active during lectures, but I need to improve my listening comprehension while taking notes. I definitely cannot do both at once, so reading before class is essential. Previewing content also helps with spaced practice (short review sessions over multiple days or weeks rather than cramming) since I generally review old content before reading new content. I haven’t noticed a substantial change in results yet, but I’m looking forward to see how this method will help over time!

Example of mindmap notes
I organized the methods I planned to take notes with for each class so I could be a bit more prepared and work effectively.

I also like spaced practise because it keeps me motivated and focused. It seems like the ideal amount of time to study per period is no more than 3 hours because, after a while, we get distracted and can’t focus. I use the Pomodoro method of working (being “on”) 25 minutes and then a break (being “off”) for 10 minutes. Some people do “on” for 20 minutes and “off” for 5, or “on” for 50 minutes and “off” for 15. Each person works effectively in different ways, but we all need breaks to reward ourselves and continue focusing. I find that taking breaks when cramming makes me feel guilty, whereas gaps in spaced practice do not (since I’m supposed to be spacing out my work for better learning, anyway). So try spaced practice—it’s way better than those long cramming sessions!

When I plan time to study or preview lecture notes, I use the weekly calendar that I made. I block sections of my daily schedule (which is within my weekly calendar) to easily see the time I have throughout the day. I like to see the occupied and unoccupied spaces I have in my calendar to gauge what I can and can’t do within a day. I used to have to-do lists, but they didn’t allow me to see the exact times I had available, so I quickly became overwhelmed. I know that many students use Google Calendar or the SASS weekly calendar to block off time. They’re great methods to schedule out your days and weeks and ensure you have time to complete the tasks you want to do. Time-blocking is probably one of my favourite things about organizing!

sample weekly calendar
Any example of my weekly calendar with my daily schedule underneath.

My last thought: a lot of things can change within a short period. Just last month, I finished my summer exams in Guelph, enjoyed the remnants of the summer, and got ready for my second year of university. Now, I feel like I’ve had entirely new study habits just because of a new environment and a tweak of scheduling and learning strategies. By the next time you hear from me, I’ll have submitted a 10-page report with my APSC 200 project teammates, started intramural volleyball, and probably met a lot more people.

I’m looking forward to the good changes in your next few weeks too. Let’s make them great changes! 😊

I’ll see you next time, Gaels! – Liyi

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New podcast from QUIC & SASS! Tune in to International Voices at Queen’s

What is it? IV@Q is a supportive listening space for members of the Queen’s University community, developed in partnership between SASS and the QUIC. Episodes include topics about culture shock, developing your authorial voice, and navigating housing in Canada.

Who is the host? The host of the first season of IV@Q is AmirHossein Sojoodi, a PhD student in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). You can find more information about him at https://amirsojoodi.github.io/

Who can use it? We welcome listeners from our local Queen’s community and around the world.

How does it work? Episodes can be streamed from the CFRC website or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Earn a certificate from QUIC & SASS while overcoming academic culture shock!

ACC promo imageThe Academic Connections Certificate (ACC) allows you to uncover the academic expectations at Queen’s University through programs and services about academic success and overcoming academic culture shock. Participation in the ACC is flexible; complete the certificate in a few weeks or over the academic year, and engage online or in person! Register online and you will be invited to join the onQ course. A PDF of the ACC brochure is available here.

Core certificate requirements

Attend all four sessions of Overcoming Academic Culture Shock: Strategies for Success at Queen’s University (or complete modules on onQ)

  • Session 1: Academic learning
  • Session 2: Academic communication
  • Session 3: Academic integrity
  • Session 4: Academic writing

Additional requirements

  • Attend any two sessions of Write Nights. Write Nights are weekly interactive writing workshops where you are empowered to make choices as a writer. A different writing topic is discussed each week, and topics include academic phrases, articles, writing structure, transitions, prepositions, source integration, pronouns, and avoiding idioms.
  • Attend any one Wellness Session and document participation. Choose a session related to wellness offered by the Queen’s International Centre, Student Wellness Services, and/or the Student Experience Office. See the list of possibilities and document participation in onQ.
  • Sign up for any service or program from 1:1 Connections. Try out a one-to-one service or program offered within the Division of Student Affairs. See the list of possibilities, follow directions to sign up, and document participation in onQ.

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New Tutorial! Levelling Up: Essential Skills for Second-year Success

Introducing Levelling Up: Essential Skills for Second-year Success, our new online mini-course for undergraduate students entering their second year. In this series of short lessons, you’ll learn more about core second-year topics:

  • Interpreting feedback to understand your professors’ expectations at this level and improve your work over time
  • Developing your critical thinking so that your analytical and evaluative skills can tackle second-year work
  • Integrating complex research into your writing by synthesizing, summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting work
  • Building a friendly scholarly community as you return to or arrive on campus for the first time
Screenshot from Levelling Up module

Start where you choose, dive in and out of the course as you please, and return to the course whenever you need it throughout this year.

Get started now to feel confident about and prepared for your second year!

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SASS campus reopening information

students sitting in the shade outside Stauffer LibraryAs the Queen’s community returns to campus, SASS is offering a range of online and in-person options in Fall 2021.

  • All appointments will take place online. Read more about SASS’ appointments.
  • Undergraduate and graduate workshops will be offered in-person and online. See the events calendar for more details.
  • SASS’ staff and peer team will offer a range of events, including drop-in advice sessions and study and writing groups, across campus. Follow our Instagram feed for upcoming events.

SASS’ reception desk on the ground floor of Stauffer Library will be open 8:30 to 4:30, Monday to Friday, starting September 1, for students looking for assistance with reservations or further information about our services.

While the pandemic continues, the best way to contact us remains by email or direct message to our Instagram or Facebook pages.

For further information about Queen’s re-opening framework and health and safety on campus, please visit the Safe Return to Campus website

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Top tips for managing test anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety. It signals that something important is at stake and motivates us to make necessary changes to manage that task. We all experience a certain amount of anxiety or nervousness before a test. Try these strategies to keep anxiety at a manageable level.

1. Take care of yourself2. Start studying early3. Use effective study strategies4. Control what you can5. Use relaxation techniques

Take care of yourself

Overcoming anxiety is a process. It’s important to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis—not just when you have a test coming up. Build in strategies for regular stress management and self-care:

  • eat well and drink plenty of water, including on the day of the exam.
  • exercise as a regular part of your routine.
  • get plenty of sleep on a regular basis. Sleep is directly related to your ability to think clearly, remember what you’ve learned, and deal with your anxiety.

Start studying early

Give yourself time to study well. Use SASS’s template to make a study schedule. Break down course content and structure your 3-hour study blocks. Want to know what a good study schedule looks like? Here is a sample plan (15 study hours over 5 days).

Use effective study strategies

Organize the information meaningfully (e.g., use the course learning objectives; make summary sheets and mind maps). Elaborate on the material (e.g., ask how and why; look for connections and relationships between concepts; apply to new contexts). In math, spend 20% of your time reviewing concepts and 80% of your time working on problems

But the BEST thing you can do? Self-test every time you sit down to study. Self-testing helps you learn better, identifies what you don’t know as well, improves memory through active recall, and lets you practice test anxiety management.

Control what you can

Control what you can by making sure you’re clear about the course expectations, how to prepare, what is allowed and what isn’t. Get comfortable with the online test environment. There is a lot of information available, including FAQs on remote proctoring and resources for how to work with remote proctoring tools.

Use relaxation techniques

Have some things you do to regain your focus and tolerate the discomfort brought on by anxiety.

  • Mindset shifts: visualizing success, noticing your own thinking and using encouraging words with yourself, and establishing good practices early.
  • Grounding exercises: five-finger breathing, squeezing lemons, chair-body scanning, and rhythmic breathing.

Student Wellness Services have also posted strategies for exam anxiety management, to help students maintain their physical, mental and social well-being as they study.

For more information to help you become aware of, accept, and take action against test anxiety, check out this resource, co-created by Student Wellness Services and Student Academic Success Services.

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Forward-only multiple-choice exam tips 

A “forward-only online exam starts at the first question and progresses one question at a time, in order, to the end. It doesn’t allow you to preview the questions, start with the answers you know, or go back to check your answersstrategies that usually work well in normal” multiple choice exams. So what can you do? 

PreparationStrategies for the test

Preparation 

When you prepare, do plenty of practice questions in exam conditions—without books, and with a timer.  

Plan out the maximum amount of time you’ll give to each question. If you have an hour to tackle sixty multiple choice questions, for example, then you should aim to spend 1 minute on each question. Some you’ll know right away, but others will take a bit of thinking time; be prepared to stay on track. 

Develop a plan for if/when you start feeling anxious or overwhelmed. See our resource on test anxiety for lots of great tips. 

Set up a good workspace for yourself during your examsomewhere you can be comfortable and concentrate, and that meets the requirements of the online exam.  Gather all permitted resources (e.g., calculators, books, notes—ask your professor what’s allowed!). Let housemates/family members know when your exam is, so you won’t be disturbed.

Strategies for the test 

Start the exam with a brain dump. Take 2-3 minutes to write down key  information, equations, statistics, etc., that you believe will be important on a sheet of paper. This will help you remember them later and get your brain thinking about the topics. 

When you read each question, cover up the answer choices with a card or your hand. (Even if it’s a question that relies on the answers to complete the question, this strategy is still helpful.) Doing this gives you some thinking space to understand the question before you see the answers. 

Before you look at the answerswrite down what you think the answer is. If it helps, write down important concepts or ideas that you need to use in your answer. 

Then, check the answer choices: which one is closest to your answer? This process reduces your reliance on working memory: there’s no need to hold the answer in your head because it’s written down.  

If you have no idea what the answer is, take a minute to write down anything you do know about the topic, or look again at your brain dump sheet. Re-read and analyze the question:

  • What parts do you know; what parts don’t you know?
  • Does what you know give you any clues about how to answer what you don’t know?
  • Are there any absolute terms (“never,” “always”)?

Use this information to make decisions about the answer choices: which options can you eliminate? Which seem plausible, based on what you wrote down and your general knowledge of the course? 

If you’re really stuck, take a moment to stop. Try the breathing exercises from our resource on test anxiety, and try to clear your mind. Don’t just hit next and move on: if you’ve planned to take 1 minute for every question, spend the whole minute. Even if you don’t get the answer, you’ll feel calmer for the next question. 

Before you move on, try to eliminate any incorrect—or likely—incorrect answers, then guess. Even eliminating one answer from a possible four will boost your chances of guessing from 25% to 33%. 

Once you’ve moved on to the next question, do your best to leave the previous one behind; don’t worry about whether you got it right, when what you need to do is focus on the question in front of you. 

Good luck! For more help with preparing for and writing tests and exams, visit our website. 

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Get it Done Week: March 22-26

It’s time to get it done, Queen’s! Join us for Get it Done from March 22-26 for a full week of supported studying. We’re hosting group study sessions and “Study with Me” sessions to help you complete your work and prepare for final exams.

Schedule of events:

March 22: Group Study session 1 (Zoom)

March 23: Study with Me session (Instagram Live)

March 24: Group Study session 2 (Zoom)

March 25: Study with Me session (Instagram Live)

March 26: Group Study session 3 (Zoom)

At each group study session, we’re giving away 3 $10 gift cards. The lucky winners can choose between a gift card to the Queen’s Campus Bookstore, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Spotify, or Indigo.

Learn more and register for one or all of our sessions on SASS’s events page

 

 

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I Don’t Know How to Sail (A Half Truth)

Sarah, Health/Environmental Studies, Class of 2022

I’m not a fan of inspirational quotes. In all honesty, I find them tacky. Over the first quarantine in April, after my exams, I found myself staring at the ceiling, desperate for any inspiration in the unknown that was going to be my summer. No internship, exchange cancelled, summer courses looming, hoping for the chance to serve people coffee again (if I am one character from Friends, it’s Rachel. But only Rachel saying, “I’m getting coffee and it’s not even for me”). Exhausted, I combed through the depths of my laptop, going through archived notes, hoping to find some chink of light. I found this quote I wrote down from Little Women: “I am not afraid of storms for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” I broke my rule on inspirational quotes.

Cover of novel Little Women

I have wanted to learn to sail for years. That comes as no secret to those who know me, and to those who have been following these posts (the ocean analogies had to come from somewhere!). That being said, I have no idea how to sail, as circumstance has limited my learning opportunities. Even though the task itself isn’t something, I’m ready to get going when I can—and I know that the belief in your ability to carry out the task is, as with all things, going to be vital. This belief is known as task self-efficacy.

Task self-efficacy is a theory drawn from health promotion, which aims to promote and enable healthy behaviours. The idea fits under the broader range of self-efficacy, defined as the belief we have in our ability to complete something. Self-efficacy is foundational. Scholars argue that it’s the believing in ourselves that kickstarts the behaviour change itself. That belief doesn’t always come from an instantaneous “aha” moment; it can take a lot of work to mold. This molding is achieved through tools called “behaviour change techniques” (BCTs). In theory, you can use BCTs to influence task self-efficacy and, in turn, affect behaviour outcome.

So, why the crash course in health behaviour change?

I’d argue that a lot of core concepts in health behaviour change are applicable to adapting to the online learning environment. Everyone has been through a crash course in online learning this semester. For better or for worse, the fall semester is over. The fall semester gives us a benchmark on how we did with this transition, what we need to do to improve or maintain our current learning strategies. We can think of online learning as the task that we’ve undertaken. I know at the beginning we all felt like we had no sense of self-efficacy when it came to online learning. But the task is done, and again, for better or for worse, we have a benchmark idea of our abilities. The point being, we did it. In and of itself, that shows we got through it, and we can do it again. I’d say that because we have this benchmark, we will be able to do better. Like how way back in first year, none of us knew what we were doing, but by third year, we have (mostly) figured it out. The same applies now. Your belief in yourself, and attempts to evaluate your progress and set new goals, will help you improve this semester.

On that note, I’ve taken 3 main lessons away from last semester.

(1) You need to take of yourself.

At Student Academic Success Services, we often discuss how there are a lot of things that influence academic performance in students. It’s why we emphasize getting good sleep, eating right, and exercise. Essentially, following the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, published this year by the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies is a great roadmap for how to stay healthy. But the key to using those guidelines is the promise to yourself to take care of yourself. I’m not talking face masks, takeout, and binging Netflix (while those might help!). Not committing to taking care of your health and well-being is a sure way to have a miserable time at university, and to struggle with your academic work. I am irony embodied in this case: I’m a health student and blogger who hasn’t done this as effectively as I could have been with online learning. I’ve actively identified areas of my daily routines, both academic and non-academic, that need improvement to promote my overall well-being. Make some small commitment right now to improve your wellbeing. It could be a five-minute walk, making one healthy choice at your next mealtime, or going to bed just a few minutes earlier today. Even small changes will help.

(2) Stay in touch with professors and TAs.

I never used to go to office hours or talk to TAs. When content was confusing, or assignments unclear, I blamed myself for not being smart enough to figure it out on my own. Online school has made me come out of that bubble. It’s made me go to office hours (sometimes just for the sake of virtual human interaction) and ask questions. It’s made me get to know my professors a little bit more, deconstructing the “larger than life” academic persona my various high school teachers have burned into my memory as what to expect from professors. Profs are people too, who often want to see students asking questions, being curious and inquisitive (with a laugh or two in between as conversations go). Online assignment instructions can be confusing, and there isn’t shame in asking a TA or professor for clarification. Utilize your e-mail, OnQ discussion boards, office hours – don’t be afraid to just say, “I don’t get this,” and explain why. Your ego might be bruised asking for help, but your grades will not be.

(3) Prioritize.

As brilliant a student as I am (or maybe not…), I have difficulty prioritizing. I take a lot on because I have such a strong drive to make the most of my university experience. Thus, I work really long hours. I have a friend whose father is a professor. He often checks in with me and asks if I’m doing okay because I seem “very stressed.” There are times where I wish I had my planner on me to show him just how packed my days are. My reality is there are a lot of things in my day I cannot change. I have to work to support myself, I have to do classwork, I have to do well in said classes to keep my financial aid – there is every reason to be stressed and have a packed day. To combat this evident stress, I’ve begun thinking within the specific framework of this BCT called “Framing/Reframing”. This BCT calls on us to deliberately take on a new perspective of our behaviour to change the way we feel about the behaviour. So, instead of cursing my inability to say no, I frame my days with this sentence: “There are only 24 hours in a day, and I come first.” With this reframing, I adopt a mantra of “look at the work I have the privilege of doing”, instead of “I have so much to do.” The reality and busy nature of my days won’t change, but my attitude and behaviour can.

It’s okay not to know how to sail your ship. It’s the experience of figuring out the task itself, using transferable skills, and building confidence, that gives you enough strength to weather whatever academic storm comes at you. And with winter term over, I know collectively, we have the strength to do this again. Hopefully, for the better.

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