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Visualize Your Notes: The Mind Map

Rahul, Class of 2022, Psychology

In my two years of undergrad, mind mapping wasn’t my initial note-taking method. I used to annotate printed slides, which most university students do.

However, annotating printed slides just didn’t work for me since I ended up summarizing what was written down and spending too much time translating it into something more visual—the way I liked to learn the material from my courses.

Towards the end of my first year, I ended up scurrying along to Mac-Corry to study by the glass boards for who knows how long, mostly for PSYC 100. It was an astonishing amount of material that I had to study! As the exam date neared, I realized that I needed to somehow see all the information at once. In those moments, I made several mind maps, one for each module. The time I spent creating them and understanding what I was seeing, it helped me successfully pass my PSYC 100 exam!

So, what is a mind map?

Think of a mind map like a map of Queen’s – consider Stauffer Library as the central location, where the main roads leading from it include University Avenue and Union Street. Here, Stauffer Library represents the central topic and the main roads represent the main ideas. The secondary roads include Bader Lane, 5th Field Company Lane, Arch Street, etc; these roads represent secondary ideas. The landmarks on campus can be represented as images on your mind map to better visualize what these streets look like.

Making a mind map involves selecting and organizing information in a visual, hierarchical format that radiates from a central topic. The monotonous information written down into my PSYC 100 notes was transformed into several diagrams that were colourful, highly organized, and memorable.

See what we have here? Something more visual, rather than text-heavy notes that have been scrawled down into your notebook that you will eventually have to better organize in the long run.

Why should you use a mind map?

A mind map’s biggest advantage lies in its visual power.

  • It shows relationships and connections.
  • It’s scalable—you can represent the content of a lecture or textbook chapter, or a whole course.
  • It’s flexible—you can write in charts, tables, timelines, or other visual diagrams; you can put your ideas down in any order, as soon as they pop into your head.
  • You can draw and insert pictures associated with ideas.
  • You can make flashcards out of them; this is a big one! From the map of ideas that I’ve seen, I have been able to curate multiple types of questions out of them: definitions, compare/contrast, true/false, and questions that get at the how/why of the information, where courses challenge your thinking the most.
  • It’s compact and all on one page–making it much easier to explain the topic to a friend.
  • The keywords/phrases that you put down trigger associations with details/other ideas.
  • When you learn additional information, you can immediately categorize it under a branch instead of blindly transcribing the information that is presented to you.

How can you make your mind map stand out?

  • Use images.
  • Use colour—don’t make it boring! The more you put into your mind maps, the more likely you will be able to concentrate on creating them.
  • Draw arrows to indicate relationships between topics. This enables you to create associations between ideas. Additionally, you visualize these relationships since you are already making a mind map!

What else can you use a mind map for?

  1. For outlining your assignments: a way to flesh out your ideas.
  2. For breaking down a big project into smaller steps.
  3. Brainstorming sessions.
  4. Scheduling; determining what your priorities are and how/when to tackle them.

A strategic approach

  1. Have a reading to do before class? Skim the reading and map out the main ideas and subtopics in it. Then, read for detail, while adding on to what you have previously written; this method will help you concentrate more on your readings now that you know what to read for.
  2. Before class, read, if possible, any slides that are posted and map out the main ideas and subtopics in them. If any of these overlap with a reading you needed to do beforehand, it’s very likely that these overlapping topics will be on a test or exam, so make sure you *star* them.
  3. During class, add what you have gained onto the main ideas and details you have previously written down—like doing a reading, you’ll be more focused during lecture since you’ll know what to pay attention to.
  4. After class, determine what the missing gaps are in the information–what don’t you understand? Email your prof or request to visit them during their office hours.
  5. Once you have all the information that you need, take the time to format your mind map; add colour, draw connections between the ideas, add images; do anything that makes it stick out in your mind!

Key Takeaways

  1. Mind maps are powerful visual tools for seeing the main ideas, their details, and the connections between them. In other words, it allows you to see both the map as a whole and its main and side streets!
  2. A bonus of mind maps is that details can be easily added, deleted and moved around, in any order.
  3. Mind maps combine elements from other note-taking methods (i.e. hierarchy, colour, visuals, summaries, charts, etc.) and are generally best for courses that focus on conceptual ideas.


  • More note-taking methods, including a description of mind mapping.
  • Hazel Wagner, a lifelong learner, shares her work on mind mapping and what it can do for understanding, memorization, and retention in this Ted Talk.
  • This website provides a detailed description of what mind mapping is and the theory behind its practicality.

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Walking the tightrope: How to find balance at university

Korinna, Class of 2022, Life Sciences 

You might have some fond memories of being at the circus when you were little; now, you get to re-experience all that wonder in university. The circus, in many ways, can be a metaphor for your experience at Queen’s: it is crazy and unpredictable, and can elicit a wide range of emotions. Like a tightrope walker’s performance, our success depends on finding and maintaining our balance. As a busy student you may find yourself as a tightrope walker trying to stay balanced on the wire while juggling your performance. Balance is not easy to maintain as a student who has to juggle school, relationships, jobs and more. Sometimes it can feel like there’s more than we can handle, and we wobble back and forth, juggling all aspects of your life. Being a combination of a tightrope walker and a juggler is common, but that doesn’t make it easy or fun.

It’s stressful when we’re trying to balance everything, especially while you are walking along the wire and trying to juggle at the same time. Here are some tips from the big top that can help you manage your juggling act while staying balanced on the wire. Let’s pull back the curtain and see what lessons we can learn among all these flips and tricks.

  1. Plan your act: set a schedule.

Whether you are performing in a circus or in university, you have lots to do. Instead of improvising your performance, you should plan your act. This will help you stay organized and manage your time more effectively. Use a weekly schedule to plan when you’ll go to classes, eat, sleep, exercise, fulfill commitments and do homework. Make sure you also plan some time to relax and enjoy the show. Use a term calendar to keep track of due dates for assignments and see the big picture for the whole term. This will also help you to plan your weekly schedule.

Here are some templates and some tools you can use to schedule your time:

  1. Make it to the end of the tightrope. Set specific goals.

It’s hard to walk on a tightrope when you don’t have anything to focus on. Just as it’s important for a tightrope walker to see the platform at the end of the wire, it is important for you to set clear goals, to know exactly what you are working towards. Setting goals will help you prioritize the important things in your life and help you stay on track to achieve them.

Imagine yourself on a tightrope. Now, think about three areas in your life that you want to succeed in this year and envision them at the end of the wire. These areas could be your health, academics, finances, friends and family or any of your other interests. Take some time to think about what is important to you and set some long term and/or short-term goals. Long term goals are things you hope to achieve in the next year or couple years. Short term goals are things you hope to achieve in the next couple of weeks or months. When you are writing your goals, keep in mind that they will be most effective if they are SMART, or:

  • Specific (What do you want to accomplish?)
  • Measurable (How will you know when it is accomplished?)
  • Achievable (Is this realistic?)
  • Relevant (Is this worthwhile?)
  • Time-sensitive (When will you accomplish this goal?)

Write your goals somewhere that you can see them, so you are reminded of what you are working towards. Reflect on these goals every couple of weeks to track your progress and to see if they are still relevant.

  1. Toss your hat in the circus ring. Be social and get involved.

Get involved on campus or in the community. Don’t spend your time at Queen’s as a spectator and sitting on the bleachers; toss your hat into the ring and become part of the act. There are endless clubs, committees, volunteer opportunities and teams to join. Get involved with things you are passionate about and things that will push you to learn something new. Make the most out of university. Set aside some time during the week to step away from academics and spend time doing things you love.

  1. Be the ringmaster. Take care of yourself.

You are the ringmaster. You are the leader of your own show. You are important, and this means that your health is a priority. Although university can be a stressful time and academics are also important, don’t let this tip you over to one direction and lose control of your act. Stay balanced by taking care of your mental health, getting enough sleep, making sure you’re eating well and exercising. When the show is over, take some time behind the scenes to decompress and relax. Take a moment to relax and set some time away from work and school. Find a way to treat yourself after you’ve had a busy day or accomplished a goal. Like an acrobat putting on sweatpants or a clown taking off their makeup and having a nap, make sure you’re taking some time to yourself to step away from all the stress. It’s easy to forget about these things but they will help you stay focused for the whole act. Self-care is also essential for the three tips above.

If you find yourself toppling over and falling off the tightrope, take some time to collect yourself. Ask yourself: “Am I leaning to one side more than the other?” If so, be sure to use these four lessons to help yourself to find balance. There are many resources on campus, such as Student Academic Success Services, that can help you recover and maintain your balance. Don’t forget that the resources are your safety net and they will always catch you and help you get back up!

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Studying for midterms: A baker’s recipe

Simrat, Class of 2020, Life Sciences

As a stress baker and someone who enjoys baking in general, I relate most of my life experiences to baking. Studying for a midterm can also be related to baking. Not convinced? Let’s see if I can convince you.

Cookies rising as they bake in the oven

A recipe is like studying for a midterm. Any baker will look over a recipe, but a great baker will try to fully understand what the recipe entails before attempting to follow it. That includes understanding each step, noting what ingredients are needed and estimating how long the process will take. Similarly, before starting to study for a midterm, the most important things to do are fully understand its structure and content, and know how much time you have to complete the midterm.

This understanding helps guide your studying by not only specifying the content you need to study but also by allowing you to think of questions that may be asked. If you have a lot of short-answer questions on your midterm, you may want to make up your own questions from your lecture notes. When you have your questions, try answering them! Actively re-learning your notes like that can really help you to remember content on midterms, quizzes and tests.

It is also important to understand the time you will have to complete your recipe. Sometimes, you may have to wait for your cake to cool before you frost it but during that time, you may need to complete another task. In an exam, mismanaged time can impact the quality of your answers; as well, you may not spend enough time on a question worth significantly more than others. Be sure to manage your time on an exam first and foremost. For example, if you have a 3 hour exam with 60 multiple choice questions, you can give yourself 10 minutes to read through the exam, about 2 minutes per question and 60 minutes, or less, to review at the end. The same way you wouldn’t want to serve a misshapen unappetizing cake, you don’t want to serve your TA a disorganized, rushed exam.

Next, we have the ingredients, vital to any recipe. The ingredients are like your notes. The same way an amazing baker should know about their ingredients, you should have great notes. Without that knowledge, the baker might not know how to make the recipe as delectable as it can be! If they didn’t know, for example, that eggs make cakes fluffier and bind ingredients together, how would they know whether or not eggs are really necessary? Understanding your notes and having great reference material when studying is integral to your final product. When writing your midterm, be sure to keep your notes handy—they will be the difference. Instead of creating a flat, amateurish cake, studying a great set of notes will make will improve the quality of your answers to make your midterm more like a mouth-watering, fluffy cake.

Additionally, the recipe directions are like your learning strategies! Each step represents a different learning strategy. They are there to guide how you employ your ingredients and, if they’re used correctly, they have very pleasing results. Learning strategies from the SASS website are what guide your studying of the content. Personally, I like to use the 50/10 method to ensure my studying is productive and efficient. By taking a 10 minute break after 50 minutes of studying, it allows your brain to finish consolidating the information you went over and become prepared to consolidate more. Forgetting to take a break may hinder your studying because your brain will not be able to keep up with the demand to commit the previous content to memory. Similarly, allowing your batter to rest/chill allows most reactions to fully occur before you bake it, which doubles the amount the batter rises!

Three bakers and the magic of baking

Finally, every baker has their own secret ingredient. For some, it may be a specific learning strategy and for others, it could be as simple as reading notes aloud or studying in groups. Just because a secret ingredient works for one person in their kitchen doesn’t mean it will work for you! Stick to what you know and be sure to pick up some new tricks along the way to try when you’re ready. For me, a fantastic playlist helps me study well and adds that magic to my baking. It may take you a while to find your secret ingredient, but when you do; your creations will taste so much better!

I’ll leave you with my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe and a blessing as you go on to write your midterms. May your grades rise as your cookies do!

SASS’s lovely chocolate chip cookies


  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar, then mix in egg and vanilla. Add salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add flour slowly until well mixed. Fold in chocolate chips.

Chill dough for at least two hours (makes the cookies spread double time).

Bake 12-13 minutes, then cool for 3-5 minutes in the tray before transferring to wire rack.

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Peer blog: Escaping Exam Blues

By: Alana Kearney, 4th year Concurrent Education, English major

We all know that feeling of looming exams and deadlines. Libraries are packed, stressed students are everywhere, and campus seems to have a grey cloud stuck above it. Although academics are important, mental and physical self-care is equally as vital in ensuring a successful exam season. After going through four years of exam seasons, I have come up with some tips and tricks to ensure a successful exam season and escape those dreaded exam blues:

1.Take breaks

This one may seem obvious, but when you are five hours deep into your Stauffer grind the day before an exam, a break may seem like the furthest thing on your mind. The 50/10 rule is a great way to schedule in breaks! After 50 minutes of studying, give yourself 10 minutes to go on Facebook, watch a YouTube video, or go for a quick walk. You will come back to your studying refreshed and ready to focus again.

2. Switch up your location

There are tons of places in Kingston that offer places to study! Libraries like Bracken offer a quiet alternative to Stauffer, while coffee shops downtown such as Crave and Sipps have lots of seating and a welcoming environment. If the weather is nice, Victoria Park is an awesome place to get some work done while enjoying the outdoors. Picking different places to study may help you feel less caught up in the exam stress that encompasses campus.

3. Plan ahead

Planning your exam schedule is a great way to combat the stress that comes along with exam season. The SASS Study Plan can help you stay on track (read about how to use it here). Putting in fixed commitments and estimated studying hours will leave you with space that you can use for things that make you happy. It may seem silly to plan things like going to the gym or painting your nails, but when you are overwhelmed with stress you will be glad to have a planned break.

4. Reward yourself

Find something you love and reward yourself with it throughout the exam season! It can be whatever fits your needs but for me it is always chocolate pretzels. After a long day of studying, having a nice treat is something to look forward to and helps me calm down and regroup for the next day. A reward could be anything that helps bring some joy back into your day.

5. Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep during exams?! Pulling all-nighters or only getting a few hours of sleep may seem like the only way to accomplish everything; however, it will only hurt you in the long run. Sleep is necessary for learning, memory, and good physical and mental health. When you sleep, your brain processes everything you studied during the day into your long-term memory. You’ll also boost your immune system so it can fight off potential illness during this busy time.

Good luck on exams!

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Peer blog: University—all studying and no fun?

By: Cherry Chun, 3rd Year Life Sciences

 It’s that time of the year again—exam season, the last hurdle for students before the repose of summer days comes at last. Exam season often seems filled with sleepless nights and a whole lot of stress induced by intensive studying. However, this blog is here to remind you of the other aspect of university that’s discarded during this time—extracurriculars.

During this time of the year, when the winter term is coming to an end, many clubs at Queen’s seek new members. This recruitment may be a surprise—or the last thing on your mind—for a lot of people, as it was for me in my first year. Recruitment for clubs occurs not only at the start of September, but mostly at the end of the year. Although this period of time may be quite stressful, I also highly recommend keeping on eye out for potential clubs you may be interested in joining for the next academic year. The information that you gain from your lectures is valuable, but the experience you gain from the clubs you join is equally important. Whether it is related to your field of major or not, joining a club as a hobby can also impart invaluable knowledge that you never thought you needed!

As a Life Sciences student, I’ve been learning a bit about the pathology of various neurodegenerative disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). From lectures, I was able to recognize various symptoms and cellular mechanisms involved with the neurodegenerative disease. But when I joined the Queen’s ALS Club, the way I viewed the disease completely changed. I began to view ALS from the patients’ perspectives—their hardships and struggles against ALS widened my narrow viewpoint, which was filled only with hard facts.

If I could give one tip to an incoming student at Queen’s or to my own first-year self, I would say this: don’t be afraid to join any clubs you have an interest in! Just as academics are important, the experiential learning you can acquire from joining a club is also crucial. Join the TEDxQueensU, or the Queen’s Squirrel Watching Club. There’s a club for practically any hobby you may have—and if there isn’t, don’t be afraid to start your own, as there are bound to be like-minded people in the sea of 25,000 students here.

In the end, I agree that exam season is stressful and makes it hard to focus on anything else. All I ask is that you keep all this information in the back of your mind and remember that university is more than just the academics and tests!

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Peer blog: Sleep: my favourite, but often forgotten study strategy

By: Meghan White, 2nd Year Biology

I lost my ‘bedtime’ in elementary school but I would always go to sleep early anyway. In high school, everyone thought I was ridiculous for going to sleep early. They thought that I would surely change my sleep schedule when university came. Then I started at Queen’s, and some days I do rely on coffee, but usually I sleep 8-10 hours a night. University students aren’t well-known for their good sleep habits and I’ve had so many people tell me they don’t understand my self-imposed bedtime or say that it wouldn’t work for them. Not sleeping well is the norm, and is sometimes regarded as an accomplishment. Yet should it be?

Sleep is important, and exists for a reason. It has physical, emotional, and even academic benefits. It can help control metabolism, decrease inflammatory proteins, and reduce stress (Vyazovskiy 2015). Moreover, people are often much more joyful, energetic and attentive after a full night’s sleep; at least, I am!

Sleep is also key in memory consolidation and encoding, which is useful when you’re trying to understand and use complex new information in courses. Memory can be broken down into three parts: encoding (processing/acquiring information), storage (maintaining information), and retrieval (recalling information). Sleeping helps in the transition of taking in information to retaining it, making content-heavy courses seem more bearable. While you sleep, your hippocampus rearranges your memory and strengthens the emotional components of it, which can increase your creativity. Sleep also increases your attention span, which can lead to better note-taking, more effective studying and greater productivity overall.

My friends definitely notice when my sleep changes or if I’ve been awake for too long; I’m exhausted yet hyper, I’m unmotivated and I can’t focus for longer than 30 seconds. Sleep loss also has other effects:

  1. It decreases mood and energy. I’m definitely more stressed, more drained, and less happy if I haven’t been able to sleep well for a few days.
  2. It decreases motivation. Trying to stay awake requires all my energy and so I have little left to do anything else. When I find I have no motivation, 20-minute power naps are my best friend.
  3. It decreases productivity. I may be more likely to fall asleep in class, I often can’t concentrate taking an hour to read one page, or I lose all memory capability.
  4. It also weakens my immune system. I find that I get sick way more if I’ve been under stress or haven’t been sleeping. One of the best ways that I get over being sick is by sleeping.

Is the solution just hitting snooze and taking more naps? In some cases yes, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night. This may seem daunting, but the SASS website has a lot of tips for getting not only more sleep, but better sleep. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Sleep as much as you needed to feel refreshed, but not more.
  • Get up at a consistent time throughout the week.
  • Turn off devices and stop work at least half an hour before you go to bed.
  • Make a sleep routine that could include a creating to-do list for tomorrow, stretching, or breathing exercises.
  • Deepen sleep by getting a steady daily amount of exercise.
  • Use white noise to help drown out background noise and improve sleep.
  • Keep your room temperature a little cool.
  • Eat a light snack before bed as hunger disturbs sleep.

If you’re really struggling to sleep and are worried about its impact on your health, contact Student Wellness Services. If you’re just looking to improve your grades in a way that doesn’t leave you burned out and makes you healthier too, here’s to sleep: my new favourite study strategy!


Vyazovskiy V. V. (2015). Sleep, recovery, and metaregulation: explaining the benefits of sleep. Nature and science of sleep7, 171-84. doi:10.2147/NSS.S54036



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Peer Blog: “Everybody’s a Critic”: Tips for Critically Engaging With Secondary Sources You Agree With

By: Jack Williams, 3rd year English Student

This past winter, I had a first-year student come into an appointment looking for help with an annotated bibliography for a Sociology paper. It was her first time ever writing one, and she was understandably concerned about navigating the tricky business of incorporating and evaluating secondary sources.

“It says to critically evaluate my sources,” I remember her saying, “but this source is perfect for my paper. I agree with everything they’re saying and I’m having trouble finding any flaws significant enough to write about, but I can’t just say ‘it was good’ and leave it at that—what am I expected to do here?”

I chuckled to myself; this was a pain I knew all too well. Be it in SOCY 122, ENGL 200, or ENGL 375, I have always found it exceptionally difficult to do more than simply agree with a secondary source that complements my own position. After all, students work with the writings of professional academics, so it is easy to feel as though there’s nothing to add. I have often fallen into the trap of simply reiterating and reaffirming a scholar’s arguments, missing out on the evaluative element which is so essential to the effective use of secondary sources.

It was not until I critically evaluated my working definition of “critical evaluation” that I figured out what I could do with those pesky articles I so inconveniently agreed with.

Drawing upon this (very recently acquired) understanding, I suggested to the student that she consider extending the argument rather than choosing between either supporting or criticizing it. Taking this kind of approach enables you to do a little bit of both; by identifying the relevance of a given article for a different but related issue or field of inquiry, you can express your support for the author’s logic and method while demonstrating critical engagement by expanding on the potential applications of their work. Understanding “critique” as encompassing the expansion of a source’s scope and the refocusing of its consequences in addition to disagreement or refutation is a helpful tool for thinking about how to converse with these sources in your own work and ensure that you are making explicit, meaningful connections which bolster the strength of your own argument.

For example, let’s say I decide to use the SASS website’s guide for writing critical reviews as a secondary source for this post. It outlines two different strategies for approaching a review, and sets out a number of useful questions to help kick start the reader’s thinking: there’s nothing there for me to refute or challenge. I could, however, extend it and claim that the various prompts it sets out are just as applicable to writing annotated bibliographies as they are to critical reviews, as the areas it addresses—scope, logic, evidence, objectivity, organization, style, and general value—are exactly the kinds of concerns which a good annotated bibliography addresses, and can serve as useful focal points for evaluating a given source.

I could extend its implications even further and claim that it can also serve as a useful guide for how to read secondary sources with an eye toward producing arguments from them. If you find yourself really agreeing with a scholar’s work, ask yourself—am I convinced by the evidence? The logic? The style? Why are these factors effective or ineffective? Are they appropriate to the point being made? How do they interact with one another? Could the work be improved by adding, taking away, or expanding on any of these strategies? Evaluative questions like these can form the kernels of arguments, which can help you determine the focus and trajectory of your paper. Thus, I could argue that the critical reviews guide has utility which extends beyond simply writing critical reviews.

Although working with secondary sources can, at times, feel intimidating (indeed, I have struggled with it for most of my academic career), I have found that viewing this engagement as a conversation rather than an argument per se has helped me make more effective use of secondary sources in my own work. As I hope to have demonstrated above, you do not have to criticize a source to engage with it critically: “criticism”, in the academic sense, is more helpfully understood as a holistic process of closely examining the form and content of a piece of writing in order to understand how and why it does what it does. In other words, you need not be a critic, in the polemical sense, to be critical.

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Peer Blog: Catching Up to Road Runners

By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student

If you have ever watched an episode of the cartoon Looney Tunes, I guarantee that at some point during that episode there was a chase scene. We see this same storyline occur in almost every episode between characters such as Sylvester and Tweety, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny. But out of all of these chase scenes, the most intense ones would have to be between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Unlike other antagonists, the Coyote does not appear to have any other food sources aside from the Road Runner since he is out in the dessert. This makes him one of the most desperate predators, and the only Looney Tunes character that I have ever felt sorry for.

Why? Because whenever I am in a situation where I am extremely behind in my academics, I see myself as being in the position of the Coyote when I know I need to be in the position of the Road Runner. Every year I feel as if I am always struggling to keep up with my readings whereas all of my classmates are Road Runners who always seem to be on top of everything. It is important to know though that everyone becomes the Coyote and falls behind in school from time to time. Even those students who appear to be Road Runners are probably more tired of running than you think.

So, as a very experienced coyote myself (who did not do many readings over Reading Week), here are my tips for catching up in school:

#1) Look ahead

While it is important to finish readings that should have been completed earlier, it is more crucial that you look at upcoming readings and assignments. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to catch up that we do not pay attention to what we have coming up next. In Looney Tunes, the Coyote also uses this method by running to specific locations that he knows the Road Runner will come by in the future, rather than running off a cliff (which does happen at times). You can also can anticipate your own Road Runner’s next destination through using your syllabus. So, make sure that you still schedule in time for your upcoming readings and evaluations. Your schedule may also help you understand which readings should be done now, versus during the exam study period when you may have more time to catch up. Here are a few helpful scheduling templates: https://sass.queensu.ca/time-management/schedule-templates/

#2) Don’t fall for the procrastination trap!

Sometimes we take so long planning that we unintentionally get even further behind. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a “worry-planner,” and the Coyote is also a prime example of this. He spends far too much time creating elaborate traps out of sheer desperation. He even makes a painting of a fake tunnel on a wall to trick the Road Runner into crashing into it. So while it is useful to plan ahead, make sure you do not invest all of your time into it. Trust me—a hand-written colored schedule with a color legend to decipher it is not always the quickest option in March. A great way to counter stress-planning is using a variation of the 50/10 rule, where you do 50 minutes of homework but substitute your 10 minutes of relaxation for 10 minutes of planning. The SASS Assignment Calculator is also a quick method of creating a plan without spending too much time on it since it can automatically break an assignment into a series of steps and deadlines for completion: https://sass.queensu.ca/onlineresource/assignment-calculator/

#3) Be realistic and prioritize

Let’s be honest, you were probably working your butt off when you fell behind. So how are you going to catch up to the Road Runner when you were already working your hardest just to keep up with him? The Coyote never faces the fact that the Road Runner is too far ahead of him, yet he still chases him. That being said, just because you cannot complete all of your readings, does not mean you still cannot achieve an acceptable grade. Also, remember that you should never sacrifice your health habits (such as sleeping, exercising and eating) in order to gain more time to catch up. For good health are what make academic success possible. In cases where catching up is impossible, it is important to consider your options. Try identifying which readings and assignments are more important than others; use prioritization strategies such as the ABC method: http://sass.queensu.ca/time-management/

#4) Ask for help

The difference between you and the Coyote is that you are not stranded alone on a desert. There are several resources that can help you get back on track such as:

  • your professor/TA: It can be nerve-wracking admitting to your professor how far behind you are, but the worst thing they can say is that they cannot help you. Though most of the time they can offer more helpful course-specific strategies for catching up. Here are some tips for how to communicate with your professors: https://sass.queensu.ca/communicating-with-profs/.
  • your friends/peers: When I fell behind in my biology course, some of my classmates and I created a Facebook page where we divided up the note-taking on upcoming readings. While this is not the best method for learning course material, it gave us an understanding of the content covered in class and required for assignments.  
  • Student Academic Success Services: The Peer Learning Assistants at SASS offer several helpful workshops on topics such as time management and procrastination. There is even a “Catching Up!” workshop on March 12th (https://sass.queensu.ca/programs/workshops/)! You can also book free one-on-one consultations with Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre (https://sass.queensu.ca/programs/appointments/).

Being weeks behind in a course is one of the worst feelings as a student, and can turn us into the most desperate version of the Coyote. While it may seem as if we will never catch up to the Road Runners of university, we have a chance of getting back on track by staying calm (through following these tips) and not working to the point of burnout. Here are a few other great resources:

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Peer Blog: Finding Your Voice Through Community

Megan Vahabi, 5th Year Education Student

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I completed my undergraduate degree at Queen’s and truly loved every moment. As a Concurrent Education student, this year I started my second degree in Education. For some reason I thought my final year would be the exact same as the previous four I had come to love throughout undergrad. To my surprise, I noticed my life felt more different than similar. The loss of my friends graduating and moving home or to other provinces finally dawned on me. Before the school year, I was excited to have one final hurrah as a Golden Gael. Yet I was feeling something I had not experienced before. Call it grief? The feeling of being left behind? Not quite. Upon reflection, I realized there was a gap in my life—I felt I had less community. Only then did I realized how deeply important it is for me to have a supportive group.

In undergrad, I relied heavily upon extra-curricular involvement to help create balance and structure. Being involved outside of school offered a different kind of stimulation, one for the soul, which offset the stress of academics. The encouragement and validation from my extra-curricular communities helped me learn to feel comfortable in unfamiliar settings. The first risk I took was arguably the most impactful and important. By sharing my story, I hope to convey the value and importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.

Most of my life, I did not know much about my Ojibway heritage. I decided to change this narrative by accepting an invitation to lunch at Four Directions. I was very nervous and riddled with self-doubt. Would I actually fit in? Upon arrival, I was immediately met with open arms and unconditional support. The elders and advisors listened when I was stressed about school and offered tangible solutions. Amidst the hustle and confusion of first year, I felt at home. This was my introduction to the various kinds of “test kitchens” Queen’s has to offer. The new-found confidence gave me second-hand courage which I carried into classes. I became more vocal about my questions and concerns. I went to a professor’s office…they are real people and very kind. I highly recommend having a chat with your favourite prof.

For me, community support is the ultimate recipe for academic success. I like to think of extra-curricular involvement as the test kitchen for the piece de resistance—my academics. The test kitchen is the ideal environment for risk-taking to help foster confidence and a sense of belonging. It is inviting unfamiliarity into your life with open arms and embracing change. Once you have found your “kitchen,” you can begin cooking up new experiences and relationships. So, how have I been creating in the kitchen lately?

This past September, I noticed I was quieter in class and shy. I experienced what I like to call “first-year confusion” once again. With so much of my undergrad community not on campus anymore, I was on the hunt for a new kitchen to whip up some courage. I knew the antidote to my shyness was extra-curricular involvement outside lecture. While on this hunt, I discovered some cool spots to network and meet other graduate students. Did you know every week in the JDUC room 352 there is a drop-in writing space? Or the third floor of the Grad Club is open for students to hang out and study? These kinds of spaces give me comfort, knowing that I can be productive and network at the same time. 

To get the most out of university, I cannot say enough about the importance of finding a community and feeling welcome. It gave me the strength to be more present in class and excited to be on campus. You can never have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to community!

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Peer Blog: An Introvert’s Guide to Class Participation

By: Rachel Mackintosh, English, Class of 2019

Do you listen more than you talk? Do you like thinking deeply about something before speaking up about it? Do you often feel put on the spot in class despite having read the materials?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you’re an introvert! And as an introvert, the classroom environment can often be a daunting setting. In larger first- and second-year classes, merely showing up often translates to a good participation grade. However, as class size decreases in upper years and large lectures turn into intimate seminars, your presence is no longer enough; you are now expected to speak up.

So what is an introverted student to do when 15 – 25% of your grade is affected by a core aspect of your personality? While people might tell you to “get out of your head” or “not to care so much,” it is often more complicated to turn this into a daily practice and permanent solution. 

After years of having a pounding heart and sweaty palms when raising my hand, I now find myself one of the main contributors to one of my 4th-year seminar classes. So, here are some of my tips to help you find confidence in your own voice. 

#1) Do some reflecting.

Take time to think deliberately about why you’re so nervous to speak in the first place. Is it the fear of sounding stupid? Is it the fear of being judged? Sometimes when you articulate these concerns aloud or in writing you can realize the severity – or lack thereof, of the issue. In the former instance, I would recommend booking a learning strategies or counselling appointment that will walk you through personalized solutions. 

#2) You have to prepare.

Last semester, one of my friends who participated in every single class, confessed to me that he hadn’t done a reading for the class in the last couple of weeks. Although frustrated by his extroverted ease, I realized that unlike him, I would never achieve this confident state without preparation.

You are more likely to feel confident if you come to the class discussion prepared and ready to engage with the material having read through everything in advance. To feel extra-confident, maybe do some additional research, or prepare questions. 

#3) Contribute in other ways than just voicing your opinion.

While we often think participation means voicing our opinion or interpretation in a long-winded way, or answering questions posed by the professor, some of the most meaningful conversation can be sparked in different ways. One of my English professors, Scott-Morgan Straker, gave me a tip that still resonates with me:

“The most valuable participation often happens when students ask questions. When students answer a question, that tends to shut discussion down: an interpretation has been found, and the conversation ends. But when students ask questions, that means that there’s some uncertainty or possibly controversy—in other words, something to talk about.

#4) Let go of perfection.

If you take time during class to think through ideas, the conversation will often change topics by the time you’ve decided on the perfect comment. In order to avoid the missed opportunity of contributing, accept that, while you might feel more comfortable thinking through your thoughts before speaking, what ends up coming out of your mouth does not have to be the most perfectly crafted answer. Speaking up in class is not like giving a formal presentation: you’re tone, language, and syntax will be informal, and it’s okay to hesitate or sound a little broken as you think out loud. No one expects perfection.

5) Set a goal for yourself.

Setting a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable goal (see SASS’s guide to goal-setting) can help put what you want to do into action. For instance, over the remainder of the semester, decide that you will speak at least once per class for a course. Making one point each day, something that you can prepare in advance if necessary, is a small, digestible step in the very right direction.

Jerry Seinfeld once said that for every day that he completed his task of writing, he put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain” (Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret). Try this technique for every time you participate in class, add a checkmark next to that day on your class syllabus, and over time this daily practice can turn into a permanent solution.

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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