It’s year four and I’m graduating … When did this happen?!

By Alex Valeri, 4th-year English major

The past few weeks as I walked around campus, I noticed a lot more fresh faces than usual. Queen’s was abuzz with frosh, it seemed! But then a thought struck me: Are other students getting younger or am I simply getting older? I immediately rushed to the closest mirror—no wrinkles, no bald spots, not even a grey hair. Despite the lack of these outward signs, I was forced to confront a very difficult truth: it’s year four and I’m due to graduate in May. So when exactly did this happen? A lot of my fellow fourth years may be feeling the same way. Here are some signs that you may not have accepted that this is the final year of your undergrad:

  • When people ask, “How do you feel?” you still respond in a high-pitched yell, “I feel so good! Oh! I feel so good, oh!” with the accompanying hip thrusts.
  • You still attempt to use your student card to pay for your coffee runs at Tim’s.
  • You still wear your tam so it covers your ears—it gets cold during the winter!

Fourth year means a lot more pressure on you to do well in your classes, to get involved with your favourite club or activity, and spend time with your friends. Some of us may be on the job hunt, looking to do grad work, or maybe wanting to do some travelling. Regardless of what is on the horizon for you, it can be difficult to balance the work that needs to be done in the present and the work that needs to be done to secure your future. Here are some tips, not just for fourth years, but even for other students—this will be you sooner than you think!

Start Early: Getting started as soon as possible will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed as deadlines approach. Even just skimming through a school’s website or reading up on the application process can help prepare you. It’s definitely a good idea to start studying early for the LSAT and MCAT if you think a career in law or medicine might be in the cards for you.

Access Your Allies: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask a friend or a professor to check over your resume or application statement before submitting it. Visit Career Services for extra information or attend a university fair. Talk to your Teaching Assistants or professors for tips on grad school and don’t be afraid to reach out to these schools themselves! Sending an email or inquiry their way shows you are interested and passionate about their program as well as helping you find the information you need.

Budget Your Time: Put aside an hour one day a week to work on your application, study for your test, or apply to jobs. Book this time off in your weekly schedule or add to your weekly to-do list. That being said, don’t drive yourself crazy if you have a really busy week full of assignments!

And…Don’t freak out! Thinking about the future can be overwhelming. Just before you start hyperventilating, remember that you can do this! When you were in high school, the idea of university was probably terrifying and look, you got through that! Take a deep breath, keep your end goal in mind, and don’t forget to have some fun along the way!

Overall, no matter where you’re heading off to next year and no matter how many grey hairs you may or may not have, you’re never too old to ignore the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Photo courtesy of Tony Hisgett under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Balancing the turkey and the pumpkin pie

By Rachael Harkes, 4th-year History/Art History major

As Thanksgiving looms at the end of the week, excitement is in the air for journeys home, good non-student life food, time with the family and most of all, relaxation. Wait, relaxation?! That word can be hard to fit into one’s vocabulary during midterms, but it squeezes in there in anticipation this upcoming weekend, along with freedom (albeit temporary), turkey, and pumpkin-flavoured everything. It helps us push through this stress of Week 5 midterms, but it is important to remember that Thanksgiving isn’t the end but just a slight break.

This is our recovery time – well deserved, for all of us are working hard! – so take time to enjoy it, and recuperate and breathe in this period. Unfortunately, reality lingers not too far away, and it can difficult to balance relaxation with staying on top of upcoming papers, assignments and studying for midterms in Week 6.

Here are a few quick tips to make sure that you come home from Thanksgiving weekend feeling not just full of Turkey, but of energy that allows you to be prepared for the weeks ahead!

Use found time: take advantage of the moments when your family are just sitting around, hanging out. This is the perfect moment to ask your brother, grandmother, or family friends to help quiz you on an upcoming midterm. Prepare cue cards/flashcards on your journey (that bus ride can be long!) and then ask someone to flash a couple cards your way to quiz you and keep you on your toes.

Talking out loud, repetition and teaching someone are all good tactics in retaining information for your midterm. Personally, I plan on getting my brother to quiz me on Latin for my midterm next week (I’m sure he is going to be thrilled to help learn a new language. Perhaps “new” is the wrong word, “dead” might be more accurate!). Your loved ones want to see you succeed and will be more than willing to give you a hand in your studies! Besides, it’s a different form of entertainment for them – they get to learn new things too!

If you are used to waking up fairly early, consider getting up at the same time and studying before the rest of your house wakes up. You can have a moment of peace and quiet to concrete on your work. Don’t have any quiet time over the weekend? Give yourself a chance to organize your schedule for your upcoming assignments. Planning your time wisely is half the battle, and something you can very easily do in between courses at your big meal! Create a schedule for the rest of your semester, or a weekly to-do list. Feeling prepared and organized is a great way to start back at school without doing any mentally strenuous assignments.

Balancing recuperation time and preparing for the upcoming half of the semester can be difficult, but it is attainable! Remember, balance of a healthy body (although maybe a little excess of the pumpkin pie won’t hurt this weekend) and mind will be your key for success! Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend, and spoil yourself!

P.S. Make sure to give thanks for all the opportunities you have — such as education. You have worked so hard already getting through these first five weeks. Now it is time to push through till winter holidays…better yet Homecoming!

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Seltz under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Pre-midterm pick-me-ups!

By Tamar Ailenberg, 4th-year Biology/Psychology SSP

Forget about combating the exam blues, instead, be proactive and prepare for them!

 #1– Avoid the Mid-October Pile-up

It’s never too early or too late to schedule. Scheduling helps students organize their seemingly overwhelming workload. What’s more is it helps you realistically assess what you have to do and how much time you have to do it in. For tips on creating Monthly, Weekly, or Daily Schedules please visit our online time management resources. Monthly schedules give you a bird’s eye view of commitments (your best friend’s birthday, that volunteer thing you can’t miss), midterms, quizzes, and due dates. Weekly schedules are a great tool to roughly plan out your days, prep work and readings, while daily schedules can help you get your errands done and stay on task while you’re doing homework.

 #2 – Get an Incentive

If your love of learning isn’t enough to motivate you, look for another incentive to complete your reading or studying those last few chapters. Here are some ways that can be accomplished:

  1. Set macro-rewards. After reading X number of chapters in the History of Ancient Greece and completing that really challenging Physics assignment, reward yourself by leaving the library and taking the night off from studying. This is a macro reward, since you’re giving yourself a BIG reward after a LARGE amount of work. But, if you’re like me, you don’t have the attention span to last that long. Instead, setting micro rewards may be more helpful in motivating you to complete your work – little rewards to keep you going during you work session.
  2. Set micro-rewards for finishing a few pages or questions. Have you ever had a day where you’re finding it hard to stay on track but easy to lose focus? I know I have. Whenever I feel blah before a study session I’ll buy a coffee and sit it on my desk. Every few pages I’ll take a sip as a reward for staying in the library and working towards the larger goal of finishing the chapter. Bonus: There’s an added incentive to finish readings before the drink acclimates to room temperature. However, this technique works with snacks too – like M&M’s and carrots!
  3. Have a friend put post-it notes in your textbook with encouraging messages or funny jokes. You’ll want to get through your readings to find those hidden treasures! Bonus: Post one sticky note with a joke on it and the answer to the joke a few pages later. Here’s one to get the ball rolling (answer at the end of the blog!)

Question: Why did the scientist go to the tanning salon?

#3 – Have a Change of Pace

When studying becomes monotonous, change your method of studying or switch subjects! If highlighting and note-taking isn’t doing the trick, don’t be afraid to change your study method! Make cue cards, Venn diagrams, draw a timeline or a mind map – any excuse to colour, really. 🙂 My favourite way to study is by making practice tests and sharing them with friends. Predicting questions helps you think critically and sharing them with your friends serves double-fold to assist them and also generate discussions which will in turn benefit you and your memory of the topic. Additionally, if you’re getting tired reading one type of material, switch to another subject that can re-enchant you with studying, while still being productive. Don’t forget to return to the first subject! 🙂

#4 – Have Alternative Outlets

It’s great to be driven and to have goals, but when all of your attention is focused on one dimension this puts pressure on yourself to succeed and even exceed, which can lead to stress. While a little bit of stress can sometimes help you accomplish your goals, too much stress is distracting, unhealthy and does NOT result in productivity – therefore, it will unlikely help you reach your goals. Having interests and passions other than academics helps mitigate academic stress and furthermore gives you something to look forward to doing. So join a club, start that blog you’ve always been thinking about or hit the gym every Tuesday. Volunteering is also a great way to get involved and help yourself by helping others! Check out the AMS website for a full list of Queen’s clubs.

Answer: Because she was a pale-eontologist.

Photo courtesy of William Clifford under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Profs are people, too: How to effectively communicate with your profs

By Grace McCabe, 4th-year English major

One big difference between high school and university is the communication (or lack thereof) that you have with your professor. In high school, your teachers took attendance for each class and kept track of you and your work. Now you are one of several hundred students in a first-year lecture hall! Chances are your professor does not know your name, they most certainly are not taking attendance and you can be sure they are not chasing you to hand in an assignment or study for a test.

Communication with professors is limited, so you’ll want to make the most of opportunities when they arise. More importantly, you can create opportunities to speak with your professors during office hours or through email.

Here are a few guidelines and pieces of advice for communicating with your professor:

1. It all starts with the email: Make sure you address your professor in a respectful and professional manner. DO NOT start an email with “Hey,” or “’Sup man” (it has been done before). DO start an email with “Hello Professor…” or “Dear Doctor…” Your initial greeting sets the tone and shows respect — think of this like serious workplace communication! Also, make sure you sign off appropriately with either “Thank you” or “Regards” and then your name. Professors will sometimes indicate to you how they would like to be addressed. Always give a formal address at the beginning of an email unless otherwise instructed.

2. Think, record, and send: If you feel too intimidated to put up your hand and ask a question in your lecture, that’s okay! Sending your professor a quick email with your questions after class is a great way to open the lines of communication. If something from the lecture was unclear or confusing to you, asking questions through email will show the professor that you are thinking about/ the subject matter outside of the lecture. Very impressive. Your question might be applicable to the entire class and the professor may address it in the next lecture. Make sure that it is an insightful, appropriate, and thought out questions and always thank your professor for their time and attention to your inquiry.

3. Create opportunities: Office hours are a great opportunity to meet with your professor one-on-one and have he or she get to know you and put a face to the name. Professors hold office hours for a reason; they want students to come and they want to hear your ideas. I usually opt to book an appointment with my professors to ensure I have enough time to speak with them and I prepare what I want to say/discuss beforehand. Make the most of your time and of theirs! Open office hours are great too, but make sure you get there early. Also, be aware that you may only get 10 minutes of their time if they have a lot of other students to see. Be appreciative of this time and thank them at the end. You are both busy people so keep that in mind.

4. Think long-term: Establishing relationships with professors is important for the future when you may need a reference. You want your professor to know who you are! You are making an impression right now, so make it a good one. Sitting in the first few rows of your classroom is another great way to make sure you are seen, and trust me — professors notice these things!

If you feel anxious or intimidated about speaking to your professor one-on-one, don’t worry, because it can definitely seem a little scary. When I was in first year, I remember thinking that my professors were these larger than life, all-knowing, all powerful daunting figures. Here they were standing at the front of the lecture hall, speaking out in a booming voice to a giant class and dictating how the hours of my life were to be spent outside the classroom.

But remember that professors are people, too! They’ve all been through this crazy and confusing experience called university and they understand the process so you have that in common right away. They are here to help you succeed in every possible way so make the most of opportunities to communicate with your professors!

Coming up: Stay tuned for a blog next week on How to Communicate with your TA!

Photo courtesy of Richard Stowey under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Are we full-time students … or full-time babysitters?

By Hayley Toivanen, 4th-year English major

Sometimes I think that managing five courses at university is like babysitting five children. On the weekend, you finish all your history readings for the week ahead as if you’ve crooned the baby to sleep.

But wait! The curious toddler, analogous to your English essay, has climbed up onto the stair railing and is leaning precariously to the edge. If you don’t spend time writing those a thousand words soon, your English grade will teeter from an A to a B. Meanwhile, Mathematics, Philosophy, and Religion are pulling at your pant legs, wanting your attention.

It’s hard to keep all five children entertained, fed and happy, just like it’s hard to balance five courses and do well. Here are some tips to organize your day so that you find enough time to keep all of your courses, and more importantly yourself, healthy and happy.

1. The 9 to 5 work day: Being a full-time student is like working at a full-time job. Try to build time for homework and studying around your class schedule, so that your day, roughly from 9am to 5pm, is dedicated to schoolwork. If you have an hour break between classes, go to the library and start your readings. If you have a meeting later in the afternoon, pack your homework and stay on campus for the day instead of going home in between. Making use of this in-between or “found time” means that you have the flexibility to take the evening off.

2. Wake up an hour earlier in the morning: This tip has saved me many times from arriving to class unprepared. Any day that you don’t have an 8:30 class, don’t sleep in but wake-up to complete some homework. This could be finishing off the tasks that fell off your to-do list the night before, or getting on early start on homework due in the week ahead. I would much rather come home after a day of classes knowing I’ve already put in an hour of homework, than have it waiting for me in the evening when I want to relax or spend time with friends..

3. Keep a four-month calendar: I hang a calendar showing the four months of the semester on the wall beside my desk, so that I can see the bigger picture of the weeks ahead. When I get my syllabuses, I mark in all the due dates and test dates for all my classes, so they don’t sneak up on me! Having this calendar outline, I can see which classes will require more attention and time on the weeks that assignments are due.

With these tips in hand, I can usually keep my five courses from falling off the edge (although, during final essay or mid-term season, they all start wailing loudly). Divide up your time accordingly to give all your classes some loving care, but first and foremost, remember to take care of your own well-being.

If you want more help with prioritizing or making a weekly schedule to manage your time, don’t hesitate to stop by the Learning Strategies office, located in room 143 in Stauffer library.

Or just check out our online resources!

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

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What’s your favourite note-taking system?

By Bryn Berry, 3rd-year Commerce student

What’s your favourite note-taking system? Take this quiz to find out, and then try some new note-taking ideas at the end!

Here’s how to interpret your results:

If you are a notebook ninja

Invest in a spiral bound notebook for each class, and get some colourful pens, because this system is all about taking handwritten notes in class and while reading. It helps to take notes while you read, underlining or highlighting key words and noting page numbers in brackets. Don’t forget to organize your notes by chapter or concept so that it matches up to your textbook or readings. When in class, take jot notes in your own words of what the professor is presenting. Again, underline or highlight important concepts.

Not sure what’s important? Listen to how the professor’s tone or intonation changes, whether he/she repeats a concept or statement, or if he/she slows down. To reconcile your notes, return to your reading notes and identify concepts the professor focused on in class. Use another colour and note links between the material in the textbook and the material covered in class. You’ll be a notebook ninja in no time.

For more on how to take effective notes, check out Note-making Strategies.


If you are a slide superhero

Invest in a binder for each class, and make sure you have a highlighter or colourful pens. It is crucial you print out the slides ahead of time. Decide on whether you prefer to have 2, 4, or 6 slides to a page, and whether you like it portrait or landscape orientation. Be consistent — otherwise, you’ll be flipping your binder around and around as you’re studying. Use class time efficiently; underline or highlight important concepts and make sure to note down in your own words what the professor is taking extra time to explain (or what he or she is skipping entirely). This will help you prioritize when you’re studying.

Write out examples the professor puts on the board using the back side of the previous page (so that the concept is open on one side, next to the example). Remember that it might seem obvious now what that acronym stands for or why those numbers are being plugged in to that formula, but in 3 months, it might not be. Take the extra few seconds to write little explanations to yourself – you will thank yourself later, since summarizing ideas in your own words will help your understanding and memory. Finally, review your slides and notes after class. It’s absolutely critical to review notes, or you will forget a large majority of what you’ve learned. Now, where’s my cape?


If you are a tech tackler

You would probably enjoy keeping your notes on a computer or tablet to keep things portable (no more heavy binders) and organized. A fantastic note-organizing application is Microsoft OneNote (part of the Office suite, alongside Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). It allows you to create “notebooks” for each course you’re enrolled in (as well as extra-curriculars!) and syncs online to your free Microsoft account. You can then access your notebooks from any computer with internet access, as well as from your iPad using the free OneNote app on the App Store!

Each notebook allows you to create tabs within each – try using a “tab” for each week of class or major unit of study to keep things organized. OneNote allows you to include slides from the course website and annotate them with your mouse or stylus, and also allows you to type anywhere on the page (goodbye, muddling with Microsoft Word). Also, the program “indexes” the text on your slides so you can do a quick Control-F search to find anything, anywhere! Techies and organization lovers, rejoice.

If you’ve never tried writing by hand, though, we also recommend giving that a try for a couple weeks — while typing notes on a laptop is faster, lots of research shows that hand-writing will improve your retention and understanding of the information. Typing on a laptop happens so quickly that your brain doesn’t get a chance to process or think critically about the information!


If you are a mind mapping machine

It may help you to organize and structure your thoughts in a visual way. We recommend a mind map, which is an interconnected web of thoughts that shows hierarchy and relationships. Think of it as mapping all the connections in your brain. X is connected to Y, which is connected to Z, which has three parts: A, B, C… One good way to approach this is to use a large sheet of paper and different coloured pens or markers. Put the main concept in the middle of the page, and build outwards. This technique is great for making summaries or condensing information that is so detail oriented that you start to forget how it all fits together. It should not be used in isolation, though, as you will likely need those details recorded somewhere in order to prepare adequately for exams. Your mind map can use memory prompts, such as notable examples you associate with a concept or a key acronym. Happy mapping!

For more on mind maps and other visual ways of presenting information, check out Graphic Organizers.


No matter what your type is — or even if you don’t fit into the quiz at all — remember that previewing and reviewing your notes can double your retention of the information! Set aside an hour at the end of each week to look over what you learned, create a few summary sheets, and follow up on any gaps or questions you still have.

Photo courtesy of Dean Hochman under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Three ways to deal with new academic stress

By Chelsea Hall, 2nd-year Life Sciences student

At the start of every school year there is an unparalleled initial thrill, regardless of whether you’re returning to school or beginning your university experience for the first time. During the first month, opportunities seem endless and many students overindulge in the social environment. But then the honeymoon period ends: quizzes, assignments and midterms that at one point seemed like a distant, but necessary, evil are no longer so far away. Accompanying the looming deadlines and assessments can be academic stress. Academic stress, if it’s not handled effectively, can negatively impact a student’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

But there are ways to cope with academic stress effectively! Below are some strategies for dealing with academic stress:

1) To prevent or (more accurately) limit academic stress, manage your time wisely

Time management is said to be a top predictor of academic success and is critical in preventing stress. Common and effective time management tricks are: creating a weekly schedule (list all commitments from time spent getting ready in the morning to your class schedule as this will enable you to see where you have study time available); term calendars (this way due dates and examinations won’t be able to creep up fast on you); lastly, consider school to be your full time job (work from 9am-5pm). No one is born with great time management; it is a skill that can be developed with practice and by using the right strategies!

2) During periods of high academic stress, reduce your anxiety

Despite our best preparations, feeling tense about school is almost inevitable. Learning to recognize and address these feelings is critical in maintaining your mental well-being. Although it may seem intuitive now, maintaining balance and good health is crucial. Not eating (or not eating well), skipping out on your workout or removing yourself from friends and family all for the greater good of capitalizing on work time is not beneficial!

If test anxiety gets to you, there are several techniques to try. Techniques include mentally practice going through the testing experience; walk into the test with your head up and shoulders back; or physical relaxation (take deep breaths, close your eyes visualize warm sunshine…). For the most part, students cannot avoid academic stress entirely. You can, however, learn ways to work through it.

3) When your regular coping strategies stop working, use your resources

Although a certain level of stress is unavoidable, it’s important to distinguish what is normal for you from what is an unhealthy level of anxiety. Academic stress should not impede your ability to perform day-to-day tasks nor should it consume your entire life. Queen’s recognizes the demanding environment that is university and sincerely wants its student body to succeed — so we have a lot of resources here! Academic resources include the Writing Centre, Learning Strategies (and us, the Peer Learning Assistants!); and the Academic Grievance Centre. Beyond the academic resources, I can say from first hand experience that volunteers at the Peer Support Centre or counselors at Health Counseling and Disabilities Services are always available to provide a listening ear and can assist you with developing coping mechanisms for stress.

As the school year progresses, workloads become more demanding and some stress is a normal reaction. Using these coping strategies may help you get through the tough parts of university.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Watson under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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How ready are you really for school?

By Joyce Leung, 2nd-year Concurrent Education student

Just a short while ago, the August days were shining brightly, Stauffer Library was an easier place to find seats, and September seemed far in the future. We’re now one week in and it’s time to wake up and smell the autumn air, because school is now in session!

Whether this is your first year here or if this is just another school year, we have some tips here that may help you transition back into scholarly mode – all ready for success.

1. Be organized: “There are so many brand new courses, I don’t know how to handle them all!”

After the first couple of classes, your instructors have stated what is expected and have given a syllabus with an outline. If you’re a full time student, those are a lot of assignments, readings, and labs to keep track of.

Rather than being overwhelmed by what you have to do, organize yourself with at least one of the following types of schedules (some may work better than others depending on yourself):

  • Weekly Schedule: Block out not just your classes, but also realistic times needed to travel, eat, and hang out with friends. By doing this, it will help put order in the chaos of things you need to do. Not for you? Try using a To-Do list (ABC method), because not everyone likes following a linear schedule.
  • Term (Monthly) Calendar: Help yourself by placing the due dates of assignments, test dates, and lab dates of ALL your courses (colour code!) for each month so you can see ahead and know how to use your time. Other formats: This could be on paper, online calendar, or in your agenda – you do what works for you.
  • Course Calendar: A great way to quickly condense the syllabus info and get what you need and to keep track. Make one for each course and fill out the assignment/test/quiz/lab and write the dates chronologically with the grade value. It will help you not miss any upcoming evaluations!

2. Preparation is key: “I’m doing the readings, but they’re not helping.”

If you do not understand the material the class is talking about, then perhaps you need to hit the books and do the necessary prep work.

Lectures are most effective if you know what will be discussed before hand – that way you can follow and review what you prepped. But if you’re already doing the readings, perhaps the problem is how you’re taking notes. Here are a few effective methods:

  • SQ4R: It’s important to read actively and be present, otherwise it’s easy to spend hours on the same page and not understand the content. This strategy will help you read effectively and learn your material easier and better.
  • Cornell’s study sheet: This is a simple format that will help you easily write or summarize your notes and also doubles as a study sheet. It’s orderly and easy to follow. The template is in the link above. Not for you? In the same link, you will find other note writing methods that may work better for you such as Mind Maps (Great for visual learners and for linking course material), Graphic organizers, Charts and tables, and Flow Charts. (It will tell you the best way to use those methods).

Those are just a few really great tips to make your start of the school year a productive one. But remember, if some of these don’t work for you, it may not be the strategy itself, but perhaps another thing such as study location or time.

If you would like MORE wonderful study and learning tips, check out the vault over here.

If not, send us an email and we can help you out at

Or visit us for Study Skills Coaching so we can get you on your A-game. We’re open 6-8pm at the Stauffer Library on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday starting September 23!

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Turner under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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What I learned as a Teaching Assistant

By Ramona Neferu, 4th-year Engineering Chemistry student

For two years, I have been a teaching assistant for a first year engineering course where students design a product or service for a local organization. This experience has made me become more critical of myself as a student, and I would like to share a few things I’ve learned:

1. Teaching others is a great way to retain information:

As part of my contract, I had to teach a few workshops on physics concepts. Because I chose to study Engineering Chemistry, I had not seen these concepts in more than two years. I found that I had to brush up on the material to an extensive degree to be able to teach it to others. By teaching others, I now have a much more solid grasp of the material because it has been engrained in my knowledge base.

Tip for students: When you’re studying for that exam that is very concept-heavy, try to teach someone else those concepts. This exercise consolidates your understanding of the subject by forcing you to retrieve those thoughts from your memory to organize them in a logical, coherent manner for someone else.

Use analogies to make connections and to help your listener understand the material and to help you remember it better. For example, if you are a Biology student trying to describe a metabolic process to your friend who studies English, finding a creative way to portray how a molecule is broken down in the body would be beneficial. For example, enzymes could be portrayed as monsters that strip away carbon atoms from a sugar molecule. The more ridiculous the story is, the more you will remember it later on an exam.

2. Asking good questions is a skill everyone should consolidate:

As the students I was teaching were explaining their design process to me, I found that at times, I could not follow their logic. Because each project is different, it was tempting to pretend to understand their logic and move on to other activities. However, this approach would be risky when it came to the project’s safety in later stages. As such, I had to listen very actively and ask necessary questions to be able to direct and guide the students appropriately.

Asking questions as a teaching assistant was necessary. But soon I realized that asking questions as a student is just as necessary to get the most out of our university experience. As students, we are in class to learn, so we should make use of our opportunities to ask as many questions as needed. This skill is also valuable in the workplace, grad school, or wherever we will end up after university.

For most people, asking questions is not easy. “What if it’s a silly question?”, “What if the professor just explained it?” are some of the thoughts that race through our minds when we want to ask a question in class. However, other students are often relieved when someone works up the courage to speak up and ask for clarification. Also, the general consensus from professors is that when they’re asked questions, they feel that students are more engaged with the material.

To ease your worries that the question might sound “silly”, here are some tips:

1)   Arrive to class on time! Then you won’t be wondering whether the professor just explained that concept and you missed it by being late to class.

2)   Practice active listening. Put away all distractions like your phone or open tabs on the Internet. Sit near the front of the room, and take notes as the professor is teaching. This will keep you focused and will avoid zoning out. Smile and nod if appropriate, as this will keep you engaged in the lesson. You can then be confident that your question is valid and has not been explained a few minutes ago while you were zoning out.

3)   Practice asking questions in a coherent and logical manner. The way you present yourself matters, so speak clearly and logically when framing the question. Show that you’ve thought of possible solutions to show you have made an effort to understand the problem. This will also give the listener some context into how you’re approaching the question. Most importantly, smile, be confident, and enjoy the learning process.

Best of luck!

Photo courtesy of Chase Elliott Clark under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Full steam ahead on the Exam Express!

By Tamar Ailenberg, 3rd-year Psychology/Biology SSP

This is exam season I challenge you to stay healthy, focused and on top of your game! Think that’s impossible? …Think again!

It may seem too early to start prepping for exams. However, there is one month until exams and preparing the slightest amount now can have enormous gains later on.

Here’s a look at how you can stay on-task this season when studying for exams while remaining healthy, social, and motivated.


START: With a Bird’s Eye View

Print out an April calendar and write in your exams. Include: the course name (or code), the time of your exam, as well as its location. This way, if you have two exams in one day you will be able to plan your day accordingly. You can also include how much your exam is worth if that will be of assistance

It will also be useful to have a calendar for March to track the ongoing projects and assignments your exam preparations do not interfere with your current workload.

NEXT: Weekly Schedule

Have a copy of your weekly timetable or fill out our weekly schedule template. Fill in your academic, extra-curricular, social and any other obligations you have for that week. Also fill in the amount of time you will need to prepare for them as well as how long they will take to execute.

In this process, don’t forget the most important obligation – YOU! Scheduling cooking time, mealtime, travel time, and exercise time are all great ways to ensure you stay healthy. Staying healthy will also ensure the BEST version of you is in that exam room on game day.

Once you have your current obligations filled in, map off time – even it’s just an hour or two every week to study for your examinations. It is a good idea to prioritize your exams – including how long it will take to study for it (are there many details and difficult concepts?), its weight on your final grade, and its importance to your degree plans.

Reviewing lecture notes, doing readings, and investigating unclear concepts are all great ways to get ahead.

LATER: Daily Schedule

Every night before you go to bed, it is advisable to make a to-do list for the next day. This ensures you do not forget and also allows you to rest easily and not worry about obligations. Things like: submit the geology assignment, talk to my English professor, or print out cover letter to bring to my interview at 2:30 are all great things to write down for your memory’s sake!

Also – check out the QLC Assignment Calculator for help with staying on top of assignments! We also have a breakdown of basic information on how to study for exams, as well as information on preparing for virtually all kinds of exams! Just do a control+F search with your keyword to find information on your query.


If you have any questions, please e-mail or drop by Study Skills Coaching with the Peer Learning Assistants: Mondays from 6-8PM in Douglas Library, second floor, or Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6-8pm in Stauffer Library Room 143.

Photo courtesy of Vitaly Volkov under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

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