By Lily Zhu, 3rd year Concurrent Education, English and French Student
When editing a paper, one of the first things to look at is the thesis statement—for good reason. The thesis statement is the most important component of your essay. It is the MAIN IDEA, which means that everything you argue in your essay should relate back to your thesis.
It’s pretty common for a paper to have a strong, argumentative, well-written thesis, but then end up going in a different direction. While you might want to return to that original statement, it’s important to remember that you can adjust your thesis just as much as the rest of your essay. So after exploring your topic in writing your first draft, there’s a way to make sure that your thesis is “up-to-date” before working on your final draft.
While editing, it can be a bit difficult to figure out if you are talking about the right points from your thesis statement, which is why it’s important to organize your thesis so that it is clear what your argument entails. In some ways, this editing technique is like making a reverse outline, where you write down the main points of each of your paragraphs to get an overview of the individual parts of your paper. Now, we’re going to use a similar approach with the thesis statement below:
“Through their abstract style, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.” (from Writing Centre Handout)
Try breaking it down into the main points that will be discussed in the essay. What are the individual components in this sentence?
“Through their abstract style, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.”
From here, we can see that there are two main points surrounding the subject, the Group of Seven, and one of which can be broken down into two sub-points:
- Revitalizing the art of landscape painting
- Redefining the Canadian vision of
a) the landscape
b) the nation itself
Hence, the main ideas of your body paragraphs should correspond to each of the points.
The thesis also indicates how the subject achieves these two (or three) things: through their abstract style. The “how” component should be where you draw your evidence from for your arguments and should be present throughout your body paragraphs.
If there are major points in your essay that don’t relate to any of the main points, or if your “how” component is different from what you presented in the thesis, that’s when you know there are “off-track” ideas that deviate from the intended argument of the essay. In this case, you will have to either remove these points from your paper, or adjust the thesis so that it includes these ideas.
Let’s say, after you’ve completed the first draft for this paper, that you realized that your evidence is based on the Group of Seven’s use of colour and shape rather than their abstract style while discussing their artistic legacy. How can you update your thesis so that it reflects this new idea?
From the breakdown, we can see that this new idea is part of the “how” component. So, we will fix only that part of the thesis, which should not compromise the rest of the argument that you want to maintain:
“Through their innovative use of colour and shape, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.”
Rather than the thesis being an introduction to your arguments, as we were probably taught in high school, I like to think of it as a CONCLUSION of all your ideas in an essay. As the thesis is probably one of the first parts you write, there are a lot of things later in the writing process that could potentially cause you to lose the focus and specificity of the intended argument, such as adding in new evidence as you move along. Although developing more ideas is a natural and important part of the writing process (it shows that you’re thinking more elaborately!), the new input of information means that the thesis might not sufficiently represent the all the ideas in the body of the essay. Taking apart your thesis and reorganizing it is a way to make sure that it reflects the changes you made in the editing process. So, the next time you’re not sure if your essay makes sense, take a careful look at your thesis!
By Zier Zhou, 2nd year Life Sciences student
It’s been more than 20 years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but the series still remains as relevant to our lives as ever. Perhaps your invitation letter from Hogwarts never came into existence, but there is certainly no harm in adding a creative twist to your study session by setting an enchanting atmosphere. Furthermore, discover what each of the four Houses have to say about learning, and unlock your greatest potential.
Sounds for your ears
Aside from the classic Harry Potter soundtrack, with well-known tracks including Hedwig’s theme and Harry’s Wondrous World, listen to ambient sounds of the crackling fireplace in the Gryffindor common room, the scribbles of quills and flipping of parchment in the Hogwarts Library, or the happy chatter in the Great Hall during the holidays. You can search for such videos on YouTube, and they might just help you increase your concentration.
Perfect places to study
While it’s fine to stay at home with a cozy blanket and a cup of your favourite tea, a change of scenery is at times necessary for restoring motivation and boosting productivity. Some of the nicest spots on campus that resemble something you would see at Hogwarts are the main room at the Lederman Law Library, the Fireplace reading room at Stauffer, and of course, the famous Harry Potter room on the third floor of Douglas.
Inspiration from the Houses
Ravenclaws are known to be studious, not because their minds are superior to those of other Houses, but because of their boundless curiosity and love for knowledge. The brain prioritizes information by meaning and relevance, which means that you remember things much better when you’re interested in what you’re learning. If you have time, read ahead before the lecture to get a general idea of the covered topics, since you can make strong neural connections by associating new concepts with those that you already have stored in memory. You’re also more likely to do extra practice questions in the textbook or look for answers on your own when you enjoy the content. For a Ravenclaw, there is no such thing as overlearning.
When it comes to realizing their ambitions, Slytherins succeed in large part due to their cleverness and tenacity. Set high expectations for yourself, and then take pride in your accomplishments. When it comes to studying, be selective by setting your priorities straight and starting with the most crucial tasks. Pay attention to the words in bold when you’re reading, as well as the material that’s emphasized and repeated during lectures. Visualize not only long-term goals, but the time you plan to spend on various activities using a weekly schedule. Be creative with your learning by drawing out mind maps that categorize and connect the main ideas. Finally, remember that self-confidence is a powerful thing. If you think you can do it, then you probably can.
For their kind and industrious spirit, Hufflepuffs deserve way more recognition than what they are often given. Develop good habits this year by attending all your classes, keeping up with the readings, and reviewing notes as frequently as needed. Make flashcards and use mnemonics to remember facts, dedicate extra time to understanding a difficult concept, and never hesitate to help others understand it too. You can tell that you have a good grasp on it when you’re able to teach it to someone else. Stay organized by consistently updating your planner, and break down your study goals by creating daily to-do lists. With enough hard work and patience, you will eventually realize wonderful self-growth.
Everyone knows that Gryffindors are applauded for their exceptional courage and integrity. In class, don’t be afraid to sit in the front row, or start a conversation and befriend the person beside you. Raising your hand to answer a question won’t make you seem like a know-it-all, and asking one doesn’t mean you’re dumb at all. It’s useless to worry excessively about what others might think. If you’re going to do something, you might as well do your best, so be active when it comes to learning. Pay full attention by reading and reciting the content out loud. Visit your professor during their office hours if you need clarification on a challenging topic. Studying in groups can also be very effective when you quiz each other on the material. You will encounter setbacks along your journey, but try to eliminate those negative thoughts, and instead view them as valuable prospects for improvement.
Whether it’s casting spells or writing midterms, remember that you are in control of the powers within your mind. Best of luck with this semester, and happy studying!
Photo courtesy of Queen’s University under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
By Chelsea Hall, 2nd-year Life Sciences student
The start of the new year marks the beginning of the winter term: you will have a new schedule, face different challenges, experience more possibilities open to you and so much more. Although new year resolutions are often hard to keep, you can learn good habits anytime. There is no better time to do so than now!
Keep, Toss and Try
Take a moment to reflect on your fall term. Are you pleased with your current marks? What study skills worked for you (or which ones did not)? Where was your favourite study location? What resources did you utilize? Asking yourself these questions (or similar ones) is a simple, but valuable exercise.
You can even try our Study Skills Questionnaire to give you started. It will give you a pretty good idea as to what went well in the fall term, if you are moving forward in the direction you want to be and what improvements need to be made.
Use the Keep, Toss and Try approach for your winter term. Decide the following: what you are going to keep doing to help you be successful; what will you throw away that isn’t working; where do you hope to improve; and what new strategies or habits do you want to try?
Manage Your Time and Start Early
At the start of term, you have the luxury of not being behind on work — and frankly it is best to try and keep it that way!
Start by creating a four-month term calendar complete with examination days as well as assignment/essay and laboratory due dates. This will enable you to visually see weeks that are going to be challenging and plan your time accordingly. In addition, laying out the four-month term calendar means that due dates and exams will not sneak up on you as easily.
Another useful organization tool is creating a weekly schedule that includes more than just class time. Create a schedule that includes all your extracurricular involvements (volunteering, athletics, clubs…), designated study time and be sure to include some downtime as well! Be generous in the time that you allocate for each activity as most things tend to take longer than first thought!
Keep a Positive Attitude
Something I wish I had been told in my first year of university is that your fall marks don’t define you. Whether your exams went incredibly well or not so great, the winter term offers you the opportunity to start fresh. For year-long courses, you can improve your grades, or you can start completely anew with half-year courses. Don’t get discouraged: remember that optimism is one of the top determining factors for academic success.
Why not try attending one of Learning Strategies’ free workshops this term to get you started on the right foot? Our workshop schedule is available online — check it out!
By Becky Bando, 3rd-year Concurrent Education, English student
Imagine you’ve changed half of your courses six weeks into the year. But these weren’t just any random courses; these were courses required for your new major. And this change wasn’t just a small shift in your major, like moving from Chemistry to Biology; it was a drastic change, like moving from Math to English. This means weeks of work to catch up on as well as learning a whole new set of skills connected to your major. Not to mention, entering new classes not knowing anyone. What if you change your mind and regret your new major?
I remember when I changed my major, I felt as if I had failed. I was scared that others would also view me this way and think I took the “easy way out.” And yes, sadly, there were some people who made comments like, “oh, that course was too hard for you?”. This social pressure didn’t exactly make my transition to learning, studying, and catching up in my new courses any easier. It wasn’t until I talked to my academic advisor that I truly felt confident, or at least more at ease, with my decision. Instead of dissuading me from changing my major, she admired my confidence in being able to choose something that was right for me. It was through talking to my academic advisor, my family, my peers, and members of SASS that I got back on track, and I have never been happier with my decision. Now I’m studying something that I actually like, which is really the best thing you can hope for out of your university experience. However, it was definitely a little stressful in the beginning. Through this experience, I learned that with the right resources, you can make a smooth transition to a new major, minor, or even faculty.
Talk to your professor
While some professors will only give you a syllabus and wish you good luck when you transfer into their course, most professors are extremely understanding and will go to great lengths to ensure that your transition into their classroom is as smooth as possible. It can be intimidating approaching a professor not knowing what to expect, but you must remind yourself that only good can come out of speaking to them. To make this process easier, it’s a good idea to generate a list of questions that you would like to ask them so that you can start the course off on the right foot. Here are some examples:
- How much time should I allocate to the readings each week?
- What are some great resources that could help catch me up in this course?
- Are there any specific note-taking or study strategies that you recommend when approaching readings?
- Will my mark be affected at all due to my late transition into the course (ex: participation marks)? If so, are there any alternative method for catching up on those marks? (Make sure that you won’t be surprised when you receive your final mark for the course.)
- Would you be able to provide me with the lecture notes that I have missed, if there are any? (You would be surprised at the number of professors who are willing to send you their powerpoint slides.)
- Is there any other advice you can give me?
Make a friend
While it can be even more intimidating to approach a student in class, getting to know someone taking the same course will help give you the inside scoop on how to do well. Besides, what if your roles were reversed? You would probably be happy to help and give advice to an anxious student if they approached you. In fact, you would probably feel flattered that a student thinks you look like you know what you’re doing. Here are some good questions to ask your new classmate:
- Is there a Facebook page or group chat for this course where students ask questions or share notes/resources? (You’d be surprised at how quickly Facebook pages made by students can bring you up to date on what’s been going on and the overall vibe of the course.)
- What should I prioritize in this course? Should I invest more time in completing assignments or studying for quizzes? (This is a question that a lot of professors might not provide a clear answer to since they likely consider everything in their course as being equally important.)
- What’s the best way to take notes for this course? Do you mind if I look at your notes from last week to see how I should be framing mine? (Some students may even give you their notes if they’re generous.)
- How are you finding this course? Are there any tips you would give to doing well in this course?
Find Resources on Campus
While your professors and friends can help you start a course off on the right foot, there are some things that only you can figure out. This includes new strategies and skills you need to learn for studying for course-specific exams and managing stress levels. For example, you wouldn’t study for an English exam the same way you would study for a Biology exam. There are many resources on campus that can help you with this transition:
- Student Academic Success Services: SASS offers many great resources for conquering the academic skills to succeed in any course. This includes workshops run by Peer Learning Assistants, Writing Centre consultations for essays and lab reports, appointments with Learning Strategists, helpful online handouts and much more: https://sass.queensu.ca/.
- Student Wellness Services: It can be overwhelming trying to catch up on everything within the first few weeks of transferring into one, two, or even three new courses. Health should always be a number one priority, and Student Wellness Services is the best place to ensure you are maintaining both your mental and physical health: http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/home.
Of course, the best resource available to you is the academic advisor in your present faculty. Each faculty has an academic advisor whose role is to help ensure the success of your academic journey at Queen’s. They can help you readjust your university course plan and provide more insight on specific courses you’re thinking of taking.
An academic advisor will also tell you that changing majors, minors, and faculties is common in university. Most students don’t get to see how common this actually is because of how put together everyone appears on the outside. Trust me, no one is that put together. Changing your university plan shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be seen as something quite courageous, since you’re taking the initiative to explore and follow your passion. Isn’t that what university is for?
Photo courtesy of Queen’s University under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
By Caleigh Treissman, 3rd-year Psychology major
After the break, getting back into the rhythm of school can sometimes be difficult: the return of responsibility and stress, saying goodbye to family and friends from home. The important thing to remember is that YOU CAN GET BACK INTO THE GROOVE!
We recognize that motivation may be low to start, so here are a few handy tips to get you started!
- Be gentle with yourself. Recognize that it may take you a while to get back into the school work groove! Don’t get down on yourself, take breaks and do what you can!
- Set realistic goals. Don’t plan to do all those readings that you’re dreading all at once! Break them up into manageable chunks!
- Prioritize in order to stay on top of your work! What is each assignment worth? How long will it take you to complete? Ask yourself these questions and do the most important work first!
- Reward yourself when you are able to accomplish tasks that seemed daunting at first!
- Believe in yourself above all else! Put motivational quotations and reminders of your long-term goals around your room to remind yourself why you are here.
Make sure to use your term and weekly schedules in order to keep track of assignments and exams!
It may take some time to really feel back in the groove of school again, but Learning Strategies and the Peer Learning Assistants are here for you if you need some extra support!
By Orly Lipsitz, 3rd-year psychology student
A big part of exam season is the environment you choose to study in. You might be wondering how some of your friends have no problem studying all day in CoGro, or you might be asking yourself how some other friends do all their studying in silent cubicles in Stauffer, Douglas or Bracken. Did you know that one aspect of your personality type—introversion vs extroversion–likely plays a role in determining the best study environment for you?
Are you introverted?
Do you like your time alone? Prefer to listen to music on your own rather than going out? Research has shown that there is a difference in performance for introverts vs. extroverts depending on their study environment (Green, McCown and Broyles, 1985). Performance of introverts on complex cognitive tasks (e.g. writing an essay, analyzing an article, solving a math problem) is negatively affected by distractors such as music and background noise. Introverts do worse when there is background noise than when there is silence. What does this mean? If you think of yourself as introverted, your best bet at studying would probably be studying without music in a quiet environment (Dobbs, Furnha and McClelland, 2010). You might also find that you get more easily distracted by small amounts of noise, like the two people sitting across from you talking in the library, whereas your extroverted friends might not even look up when someone drops a huge textbook on the ground. This has actually been confirmed by research—it takes much louder noise for an extrovert to get distracted from their material than for an introvert to get distracted. Introverts show greater sensitivity to lower intensity noise than extroverts (Green, McCown and Broyles, 1985).
So what places on campus would be good for introverts to study?
- Biosci 2nd floor
- Kingston public libraries
- Empty classrooms
If you are extroverted, this is the section for you! Some studies have shown that extroverts respond to tasks with greater accuracy when in an environment with higher noise intensity (Green et al., 1985). However, other studies have shown that both introverts and extroverts perform better in quieter environments (Furnham, Gunter and Peterson, 1994).
Where should you study if you want a noisier environment?
- Cafés around Kingston
- The Tea Room
- The ARC
- Botterell Hall Market Café
However, most people can’t be boxed into a specific category of introvert versus extrovert. Where you choose to study might also depend on the mood you are in or what work you need to get done. For some tasks, you might prefer silent work areas. For others, you might prefer a little bit of background noise and stimulation.
Some places to go to that are somewhere in the middle include:
- BioSci atrium
- Mac-Correy cafeteria (depending on time of day- it is louder during lunchtime)
- Residence common rooms
- Tables outside of Stauffer
- 3rd floor ARC (above CoGro)
- New medical building
Don’t forget, what works for others might not work for you. Try out different study areas and different methods of studying—such as studying with music and studying without (although if you use music, it is best to listen to classical music or music you are unfamiliar with so that you do not get distracted by the lyrics). At SASS, we recommend that students spend approximately 25% of their study time reviewing with a group. There are lots of places on campus to work as a group, including many of the areas listed above. Additionally, you can book study rooms in advance (http://booking.library.queensu.ca/booking/stauffer-rooms) in the various Queen’s libraries. Many faculties also offer study rooms specifically for students in their faculty as well.
If you need more help finding the right way to study for you, drop by SASS (Stauffer Room 143)!
Green, R. G., McCown, E. J., & Broyles, J. W. (1985) Effects of noise on sensitivity of introverts and extraverts to signals in a vigilance task. Personality and Individual Differences, 6(2), 237-241.
Furnham, A., Gunter, B., and Peterson, E. (1994). Television distraction and the performance on introverts and extroverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8(7), 705-711.
Dobbs, S., Furnham, A., and McClelland, A. (2010). The effect of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(2), 307-313.
Photo courtesy of Luca Moglia under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
By Cherry Chun, 2nd Year Life Sciences student
Throughout my time at university, I’ve noticed that one of the factors that played a significant role in my stress level was time (or lack of it). Being able to better manage my time allows me to accomplish things more efficiently and effectively. Although I still find time management quite difficult to juggle between academics, clubs, and life’s other commitments, here are some useful tips and tricks I’ve picked up throughout my struggles at university.
Make a Timetable for Each Week
Every weekend, I plan the following week’s tasks. For example, I jot down (in point form) an anatomy quiz on Tuesday, a biology assignment on Thursday, and a statistics midterm on Friday. Doing this helps me put into perspective what I need to complete and prioritize for that week. I feel as though this helps to reduce the stress that comes with assignments and tests by allowing me to feel more prepared for each one. Feel free to design and use your study timetable in whichever way you want! If you’re a more highlighter-and-markers kind of person, colour code the timetable to your heart’s content. Remember, this is something that’s solely for you. Make sure you understand what your timetable means and organize it however you want.
Own a Planner or Equivalent
In addition to having a weekly planner, I find it equally important to have a daily planner you can carry around for your daily schedule. The daily planner allows you to address specifics on a day-to-day basis. When the daily planner is used in conjunction with the weekly schedule, it helps me to broadly visualize how my week is going to go, and then know exactly what I need to complete each day. In my planner, I like to use the ABC method of prioritization. To use the method, jot down everything that you have to do during the day, then put the letters A, B, and C next to each one. A is for the most important tasks, B for the semi-important ones, and C for those that you can complete another day. I usually base the prioritization on several factors, such as academic deadlines, the weight of the marks involved, and the difficulty level of the task. Using this method ultimately allows me to complete tasks on time with less stress involved, which is always great!
Using Your Phone to Stay on Track
To help keep organized throughout the week, I also like to use my phone to keep myself updated on upcoming events or important tasks I need to complete. The go-to function are the pre-installed calendar and reminder apps. I usually jot down in point form what it is I need to be reminded of, such as remembering to hand in an assignment at a specific time, and set the app up to remind me exactly a day prior. I use this function for everyday activities as well, such as remembering to take out the garbage or to attend group meetings. I like to use this method in conjunction with the planner and the weekly schedule because I feel as though all three methods provide a different function.
Although the weekly planner is great for viewing the entire week in one glance, it’s hard to visualize each specific day. This disadvantage of only using the weekly planner can be offset by also using the daily planner to help you keep organized for each day. And your phone can help remind you of the important tasks on an almost minute-to-minute basis. But remember: all of these methods are just recommendations, and it’s ultimately up to you to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. However, what I can tell you is that time management, in any occupation or situation, is a crucial thing to have, and knowing how to better manage time really only comes with practice. Start practicing now to manage your study time, reduce your stress, and prepare for the world of work after graduation.
Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
By Hannah Thiessen 3rd Year, Con Ed (History/English) student
I must admit that, even as I’m writing this, I am in the midst of procrastinating. With my due date looming tonight, I am reaching the frenzied state of productivity that only occurs in these times. Procrastinating ignites in me heightened levels of productivity, but the collateral damages that result are heightened anxiousness and loss of precious sleep, as well as a general morale slump.
Although in the aftermath of these frenzies of procrastination-induced productivity I recognize that these patterns of behaviour are not sustainable, time and again I revert to them as an invariable strategy of completing the various tasks that academia assigns me. I am working on it though. As I find myself well into my third year of university, I am slowly learning and developing strategies to fight the seductive but destructive habits of procrastination. These strategies are not infallible, and will likely not all work for you, but hopefully at least a few of these strategies will help you join the fight against procrastination too!
In no apparent order, here is how I combat procrastination:
- Optimism: I know that this is slightly frivolous and not quantitative, but I think that it’s vital to approach upcoming assignments with optimism. Right out of the gate at the beginning of the year I mark all of the assignments of my semester in my schedule using my syllabi. This allows me to see them coming well in advance, and be confident with the time I have for them. I can prepare for them in large and small ways as they draw near, sometimes even just through googling my topic and getting that little bit more of background info. A foundation laid like this is more easily built upon toward the completion of my tasks than jumping into tasks at the last minute.
- Time Management 101: Okay, disclaimer, I am far from excellent at time management, but as I recognize that my primary time wasters include social media and Netflix, I have downloaded an extension on my laptop to block these websites for specific periods of time. It works effectively on multiple levels; I am reminded to focus each time I attempt to access the sites, and I can also see how much time is left before I can allow myself a break, as the extension has a ‘sleep timer.’
- Friends and Studying: I love booking study rooms with my friends as a way to fight procrastination. The friends that participate in these study rooms are commonly from different faculties, so we all do independent work, yet we can motivate each other and keep each other accountable to stay on task. Alternatively, we also distract one another at times, so it’s important to choose friends that are good at balancing the productive and distracted times. Friends that bring tea kettles are a bonus!
- Breaks: Taking breaks is surely something you’ve been told about before, and ‘know’ about, but allow me to elaborate on my reflections. Breaks are best for fighting procrastination when they are earned. Rather than setting timed goals that result in half-baked focus until the timer goes of, I set quantitative goals such as pages read or words written. This results in realized goals rather than unintentional time wasted.
- Time to Communicate: Something that greatly motivates me to avoid procrastination is my desire to improve my work by communicating with my professors or TA’s, or even going to The Writing Centre when necessary. I know that taking time to hear the feedback of the person marking my work will vastly improve said work, and that in many cases they point me in a new and better direction. Opportunities to go to office hours do not happen the night before though, so I strive to give myself at least a week before the due date to reach out to my prof or TA. Even if, as in most cases, my work is incomplete, I know that I will come out of my time with them having gained valuable help. As well, especially in my first year, I fought the intimidation of physically seeing my marker by simply emailing them. I find that faculty members are consistently fast at replying to my queries via email, and while their responses aren’t necessarily as helpful as a live encounter, they are certainly helpful nonetheless.
So there you have it. I use these strategies as I try my best to not procrastinate. It really is worth it, and when I am successful I find myself being more relaxed, rested, and available for hanging out with friends and having fun, an equally important aspect of university life. Ultimately, fighting procrastination is all about your attitude towards your work, so give school (and fun!) your best, and do yourself a favour by not leaving your work to the last minute. We can do this!
Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash
By Erin Dzioba 3rd year Sociology student
The importance of self-management, time management, and school-life balance while coping with chronic pain.
Chronic pain…where do I even begin?
I started struggling with chronic pain when I was in grade nine. I had emergency spinal surgery due to a tumour that was paralyzing me from my chest down to my feet. I’m now a third year undergraduate. However, as a result of the 11-hour surgery, I now struggle with chronic pain every moment I am awake. I’m writing this blog to comfort other chronic pain survivors, give you some tips on how to manage your life with school while in pain, and educate those who aren’t fully aware of this physical disability. Much of the advice I give here would help out those suffering from similar chronic or ongoing mental or physical issues.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is a physical disability that causes pain and occurs every day. The pain is diagnosed as chronic when it lasts longer than 12 weeks. Chronic pain cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Chronic pain often not only affects the survivor physically, but other health problems can arise: insomnia, fatigue, decreased appetite, mood changes such as depression, anxiety, and irritability, are not unusual. My chronic pain has lasted six years and, though being in pain every moment of the day can seem daunting, my experience has helped me grow in a way that allows me to reach out to and help people like you.
Living with chronic pain at school has affected my energy levels. On good days, I wake up and am motivated to be productive while my pain is at its least. On bad days, I wake up already in pain, not wanting to get out of bed, and just the thought of going to class makes me unmotivated. School takes up most of my time, and I treat it like a full time job. Unfortunately, however, school is the largest factor in worsening my pain due to endless hours of sitting, studying, reading, and writing. As a result, I am often isolated because once I’m done my to-do list for school, I usually have no energy to do anything else, like socialize or even cook for myself.
The isolating effect of chronic pain can often negatively affect my motivation to do just about anything. I have had to learn how to balance my schoolwork, social life, eating well, and doing things that feed my soul. I get frustrated with my chronic pain on a daily basis, as it is disappointing to constantly be amending my schedule around my pain – saying no to social events, having low energy levels, not finishing the work I have to do, and not even being able to engage in any of my hobbies because the only way to diminish my pain is to lay in bed.
My ability to focus has been affected by my chronic pain. Sitting in class for an hour and a half feels like a six-hour car ride to me. My pain will start within five minutes of sitting down in class, so it takes a lot of willpower to focus and take effective notes. One of the main reasons I became a Peer Learning Assistant was to learn for myself how to flourish in school through all of the great strategies we teach. To have maximum focus, I have to be in a comfortable position that supports my back. Once I know that my pain won’t arise in this position, my ability to focus lasts a significantly longer time than if I was leaning over a desk at Stauffer.
“Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome.” – Unknown Author
Tip #1: Self-Management & Self-Care
My first tip about how to get past the decreased energy levels, isolation, and lack of ability to focus caused by my chronic pain relates to self-management and self-care.
Self-management is a process, and it may or may not come easily, but chronic pain will help you discover more about yourself, such as what really makes you happy and distracts you from your pain, who around you lightens your mood when you’re having a bad day, and how to effectively communicate with people. If you experience chronic pain, you have to learn how to problem solve, advocate for yourself, and learn decision-making. I have had to find a way to draw a line between working on school and doing things that make me happy. The silver lining to having chronic pain can be hard to find, but it has taught me the importance of balancing my daily life.
Meditation has helped me accept my chronic pain. For me, meditation involves lying down where my pain is alleviated so I can focus. Meditation helps my mind be at peace and ease, and has helped me accept that I am a survivor of chronic pain. The physical act of focusing on my breathing calms my muscles and slows my heart rate, which in turn can actually alleviate some of my physical pain.
Similarly, I try to deal with my chronic pain by getting out into nature. Whenever I find myself spiralling into a dark hole of hopelessness when my pain gets bad, I try my hardest to go outside as it brings me out of my dark thoughts and back to the present. I feel grounded.
It is important to acknowledge that survivors are different in their management preferences. It may take a while to find the right treatment for you, but there are many routes to calm and ease the difficulties associated with chronic pain.
Tip #2: Time Management
Time management is the key to success. When just sitting in class after an hour my back starts to hurt, you can imagine how hard it is for me to spend hours at the library or sitting up doing my readings, writing essays, completing assignments, etc. To improve your time management, try to find what time of the day your pain is at its least. For me, my pain is least in the morning and worsens as the day goes on. I take advantage of that morning period to power through some work. Finding your productive time will allow you to rest when you’re in pain without stress or guilt that you haven’t done your school work.
Creating weekly and even daily schedules will help you finish some work while managing your pain. You can learn more about creating detailed schedules here. I want to draw your attention to a couple of my favourite methods. The ABC method of prioritization is one that I use to help manage my time. It works like this: label all the tasks you have to do with the letter A; label tasks that should be done with the letter B; and tasks you want to do but don’t have to do with the letter C. Now you know what to address first when you’re feeling at your best, and what you can put out of your mind until tomorrow. Meanwhile, a monthly calendar helps me prioritize tasks over the coming weeks. Having a monthly view of due dates and other events is important because you won’t miss anything when creating a day’s ABC to-do-list.
Tip #3: School-Life Balance
School-life balance helps you stay healthy, physically and mentally. School-life balance is one of the main reasons why I am able to persevere and cope with my chronic pain. If, as I’ve shown you above, you work while your pain is at its least, you can also spend time looking after yourself and doing things you enjoy if your pain worsens.
So, how does one actually balance school, eating well, doing things you enjoy, socializing, and finding time to sleep? My advice is to create a daily routine. I know that my mornings are a vital time when I push myself to the fullest, but also reward myself when I achieve goals. I have specific days of the week where I schedule in certain activities that keep me entertained or relaxed, like hobbies and socializing. It is so important to prioritize activities that maintain your mental and physical health alongside schoolwork. Whenever I schedule something I have to do for school in my to-do list, I also add something for myself. I challenge you to do the same, and hopefully you will achieve school-life balance.
A Final Note
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors, peers, family, and professionals if you’re struggling. A support system of friends and family members who listen and offer emotional support is a great tool, but there are lots of professionals at Queen’s who’ll help you too. A starting point to getting assistance is through Student Wellness Services. You can phone them at 613-533-2506. Counselling services, which can be reached at 613-533-6000 extension 78264, are always ready to help you out too. If you need help with learning and writing, the staff and peer assistants at Student Academic Success Services will help you out through workshops or one-on-one appointments. But you might not always need formal assistance: try asking your professors for extensions if you can’t get your work done by the due date because of how chronic pain or any other similar condition. Lots of faculty and staff at the university will be understanding and want to help you out. Good luck!
By: Gaurav Talwar, 3rd Year Life Sciences Student
Scenario 1: “Wow, that was an easy midterm. I am too good for university… I’ll just party for the next few weeks and cram closer to exam time.”
Scenario 2: “That midterm was awful. This subject isn’t meant for me… there is no point in trying for the final exam. It will be a waste of time.”
If I asked which scenario you would prefer to be in, you would probably choose scenario 1. However, on a closer examination, you might realize that neither scenario embodies the most productive mindset for approaching university, or even life in general.
At SASS, we differentiate between two types of mindsets; a fixed mindset, embodied in the example scenarios above, and a growth mindset, which is what I will elaborate on later in this post. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that they are born with a certain, unchangeable, level of ability in a task, and that regardless of their efforts, they cannot change their proficiency. In contrast, someone practicing a growth mindset takes a more constructive view and realizes that through commitment, practice, and effort, they can develop their abilities.
Being in the midst of my ninth university midterm/exam period, I can confidently say that practicing a growth mindset is one of the most effective strategies you can embrace. Each midterm experience presents a unique opportunity for personal development. Not only do you learn new content and then study it later to improve mastery and recall, but you also learn more about your preferred ways to prepare for exams. With a growth mindset, you can free yourself to refine your ability to tackle the content, to manage your emotions and nerves during stressful situations, and overall feel more optimistic about your learning.
However, developing a growth mindset is a skill itself, and not a way of thinking which you can simply switch on. Here are a few techniques which I would recommend you try to practice this skill:
- Every week, set aside some time to reflect on your progress. What did you learn that week and how did it build on your previous skills? Also, reflect on some goals (more on setting “SMART” goals here) which you did and did not achieve. What was the difference between your approach to each goal, and how will you tweak your approach to achieve the goals you set for the next week?
By consistently reflecting on your progress, you practice your ability to self-regulate. At the same time, you realize that even small changes in your approach to learning can have a large, overall impact on your success.
- When reflecting on an experience (such as a midterm), don’t focus only on the effort or only on the outcome. Instead, praise yourself for the effective strategies which helped you get to the outcome, as explained by Carol Dweck, a pioneer in theories of mindset (more information here). A rationale behind this is the following: If you spend many hours preparing for a test which ultimately goes poorly, then consoling yourself by praising how long you spent studying may not be effective. This is because if you repeat the same approach to studying in the future, then you may face another disappointing result. Ultimately, you may feel that you are unable to develop your skills. Likewise, focusing solely on the result can either make you feel overconfident (if the exam went well), or demoralized (if it didn’t go so well).
The better approach, is to break up the exam into sections (either by question type or content). Then, evaluate what strategies you used to help prepare for each section. Praise yourself for the strategies which helped you do well, while aim to try new strategies to replace those which were not so effective (e.g. doing more practice from a textbook instead of re-reading your notes numerous times, a pitfall I have often fallen into).
- Acknowledge the power of the word “yet”. We all have areas of weaknesses. But instead of viewing the weakness as a static inability, look at it as an area for improvement. So begin by acknowledging the skill you want to improve. Then, realize that you may not be comfortable in this skill “yet”, and therefore can improve in the future. For example, you may not have mastered a key concept in your math class yet, but by approaching your professor during office hours, doing more practice problems, and searching for additional resources online, you can master the topic.
- Once you recognize an area of development, embrace the “Creator” role to develop your skill. Although there can be external circumstances outside of your control, you can still control the way you respond to adversity. Likewise, you can create a more constructive situation, by taking responsibility of your actions and making more effective choices. So if an exam doesn’t go so well, take accountability for the performance, and then work on the alternative strategies you think of (e.g. practicing, approaching your professor and searching online as mentioned in point 3). (For more information on the Creator role and how it applies to a related topic, Stress Management, click )
By practicing the tips mentioned above, hopefully you will begin to view the process of writing midterms as an enriching experience, rather than a hurdle which you can or cannot overcome. So if you find yourself in one of the scenarios mentioned at the start of the blog, reflect on your inner voice. Ask yourself, “Is it my fixed or growth mindset speaking to me?”. If it’s your growth mindset, then perhaps it will sound something like this:
Scenario 1: “Wow, that midterm went well. I guess it indicates that I am on track to understanding the concepts. I should continue using the strategies I am using, and make sure to add in new elements which can make the final exam preparation an even more smooth transition.”
Scenario 2: “That midterm didn’t go so well. I should reflect on where I went wrong. Did I focus too much on certain details while missing other concepts? Or did I know my material but couldn’t focus well during the exam? I should work on these skills to be more successful on the upcoming exam.”
And remember, your growth mindset is your friend. It takes time and commitment to establish and maintain a friendship, but it’s always worth the effort.
For more strategies and information, please click here
Photo courtesy of Ken Whytock under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.