The trial and error of a student who bites off more than they can chew
By Taylor Wilson-Sipkema, 3rd-year Engineer
A recurring topic between my housemates and I has been how many students feel the pressure to be ridiculously over-achieving at Queen’s. By “overachieving,” I mean the impossible drive to get good grades, be an executive member for 5 different clubs, participate in athletics at a varsity level and still squeeze in the odd Tumbleweed Tuesday or Alfie’s Throwback – all the while making it look effortless and completely attainable. So much pressure!
We’ve come to the general conclusion that Queen’s leads to this kind of pressure because of the personal statement of experience required by every high-school applicant, as well as the school’s extensive alumni network. Now that’s not to say that everyone feels this kind of pressure to perform at an elite level in all of their pursuits – but it is definitely pretty common here. And it can lead to feelings of low self-worth and unfair comparisons to others.
Before you continue reading, I want you to stop for a minute and congratulate yourself on a job well-done just for being here. You’re at university and your future couldn’t be any brighter. If you’ve ever felt that, since you came to Queen’s, you’ve lost that golden-child flair you had in high school, then you are like many other students.
After researching this topic, I found the term was coined as “Big Fish in a Big Pond.” Students often experience enormous pressure to be the perfect student in order to compete with their peers. But even the biggest of fish can bite off more than they can chew.
Ironically enough, the inspiration for this blog came from a realization I had that maybe I myself had in fact took on more than I could handle. I’ll admit that I came to Queen’s as one of those students that had a long track list of achievements, wide-eyed and full of confidence in my abilities. Being the ambitious student that I was, I also chose engineering as my undergraduate degree…just to keep things interesting.
I’m sure you can tell by the tone of this blog that things maybe didn’t go according to plan. After my first year I had lost all confidence. I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I wasn’t as capable as the rest of my classmates.
Fortunately, instead of letting this pressure get the best of me, I learned from my experiences. In my second year, I sought out the help of Learning Strategies. This ultimately saved my academic career and also brought me to becoming a Peer Learning Assistant. I gained back the reassurance that I once had in high school and felt I was capable of getting involved in extra-curriculars.
Always remember that quality is better than quantity. It’s better to only bite off what you can chew and really excel in those areas of your life as opposed to just doing things for the sake of competition. Although it can be a hard decision to give things up, there are only 24 hours in a day. For your health, it’s good to prioritize — and Learning Strategies has information on prioritizing and making those decisions stick.
All of this talk about getting involved and doing well in school can be overwhelming, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, know this…
There is a light at the end of this 4 (or more) year tunnel.
Research also uncovers the effect that pressure may have on students when they graduate. You’ll be ready to take on the real world, where we are not all perfect and we can’t do it all. I hope we learn to understand our capabilities and limits, and be happy with who we are.
Stress is normal and sometimes even helpful, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are resources available. You might start by reading our tips on coping with exam and/or academic anxiety.
Feature image courtesy of hikingartist under the Creative Commons license.
Writing a first-year (or any) English essay can be daunting. This workshop will cover the essentials of writing a successful English paper: titles, conclusions, and everything in between.
This workshop will be offered
Wednesday, October 30, 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Walter Light 205
Monday, November 4, 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., BioSci 1102
Tuesday, November 5, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Dupuis 217
All English 100 students are encouraged to attend; the workshop is also open to any English students who want to review strategies for writing successful English essays.
By Brigid Conroy, 2nd-year Life Sciences student.
You emerge victorious from a power study session or writing a paper, feeling relieved to be done, only to find the yet-unfinished tasks on your to-do list staring you in the face. And to make matters worse, their deadlines have only been creeping closer while you’ve been hard at work. You’ve been here. It’s easy to feel like there isn’t time for anything but a sigh before starting in on the next job. Unfortunately, this negative cycle leaves you feeling like you’re winning every battle and still losing the war. The good news: there’s an easy route to help break this cycle, and it’s paved with brownies, cute animals, and good feelings.
I should clarify – brownies and cute animals are simply examples pulled from my own list of favourite rewards for hard work. A good reward is all about what works for you. For some, going to the gym is a reward while, for others, the gym warrants a reward. Anything from a short walk to wandering into a common room to talk with friends can be a great reward and, once in a while, a dessert or some time on Facebook doesn’t hurt either! The most important part of a reward, however, is taking the time during the activity to congratulate yourself. Positive self-talk and reflecting on the good work you have done is the difference between these activities being breaks and rewards.
Rewards not only keep you positive and motivated when you’re dealing with multiple deadlines, but can make it easier to break the cycle of procrastination. A highly effective strategy for dealing with procrastination is the STING method:
Set a goal
Give yourself a reward
(For more information on STING, visit our online tips about procrastination and motivation).
The final step in this strategy is Give yourself a reward and it’s one that shouldn’t be skipped. This is not because STING won’t work those first few times if you do; it’s the negative habit that forms when you continually skip your well-deserved reward. Overcoming procrastination is so difficult because it involves accepting delayed gratification. This difficulty is only compounded if that gratification is only a few seconds of feeling proud and relieved to have finished before beginning to stress about or work on the next task. By rewarding yourself and taking some time to appreciate the result of the work you put in, you will begin to connect positive feelings to the experience of overcoming procrastination.
One of my favourite strategies is creating a list of accomplishments after an intense week of tests or weekend of assignment writing. Taking the time to jot down or think through everything I accomplished puts me in a positive frame of mind and frees me from the feeling that I can’t win against the never-ending work. In reality, we win every time we hand in a lab or assignment, write a test or exam. So focus on those black lines through your to-do list instead or do a little happy-dance after a big exam. You deserve it!
By Kelli Cole, 2nd-year Life Sciences major
The first month of university has come and gone, and academics mixed with the craziness of being a Queen’s student is starting to catch up with you! Midterm season is here! (A.K.A. Late night studying, frantic cramming, microwavable dinners, and a complete loss of control)! But perhaps, just maybe, this midterm season won’t be this way! Imagine a world where you could keep on top of your courses, take time to have fun, AND feel confident while walking into those “not-so-dreaded” midterm exams! What if I told you that this October this dream could be your reality!
Midterms definitely don’t have to be frightening and stressful! So take a deep breath and check out my top two tips for success this October!
1. Attitude is everything. Going into midterm season with a positive attitude will not only make you less feel more confident and relaxed, but it will also help you to study more effectively! It’s definitely not necessary to jump for joy because you’ve got a final coming up. Nevertheless, try and be conscious of how you respond mentally and physically whenever you think of the upcoming exam! Let’s be honest, every time you mention the exam, you probably are either complaining or stressing about it! Perhaps, maybe just maybe, you tried to go from negative thoughts and reactions to slightly more neutral ones? It might be a good idea to think to yourself, “I’ve worked hard in this class. This exam is a chance for me to show everything I’ve learned. In fact, it’s going to be a good feeling to prove that I’ve learned a lot.”
Whatever positive thoughts you may tell yourself, altering your attitude (even somewhat) towards midterms might help relieve some tension, which in turn may help you to stay calm and focused when studying!
2. Take control! Start by going through your notes and assignments and create a plan! Design a study schedule for yourself based on which subjects need the most work! In fact, Learning Strategies offers a fantastic online resource that contains all the steps to follow for a rockin’ study schedule — our 5-Day Study Plan. This 5-day study plan will walk you through the different stages of studying to make sure that you are as ready as you can be when you sit down for the test. Finally, although it may feel great to study and practice topics you are confident in, focus on topics that may be tricky if they were presented to you on the exam! If you do need to seek help from a prof, T.A., or friend, do so ASAP! The sooner you get a grasp on what may be troubling you… the better.
Lastly, I just want to remind you not to give up! University is tough, not doubt about it! Remember that you were accepted to Queen’s for a reason! It is totally normal to feel discouraged at some points during your academic careers, but also don’t be afraid to reach out for help! There are MANY resources here at Queen’s, the Learning Strategies being one of them! If you need help drafting a study schedule, advice on how to read for effectively, or even tips on motivation and procrastination… we are the place for you! Even if we don’t have the specific resource you are looking for, we will match you up with the right one! Start by following my top two tips for success and help the midterm dream become your reality.
For even more strategies and habits to develop regarding exams, visit our online resources on Exam Prep.
Photo courtesy of Tim Swinson from Flickr Creative Commons.
By Alex Valeri, 3rd year English major
This may come as a surprise to those of you who know me but I am not, in any way, a genius. I don’t have an eidetic memory or an uncanny ability to memorize obscure facts or statistics on the recent fiscal crisis in North America. I can’t read War and Peace in a two hour sitting and I don’t have an IQ of 187 (if you believe that intelligence can be accurately quantified). As much as I would like to believe that I could keep up with the likes of Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds or Spock from Star Trek, I am sorry to say that it’s just not possible, although I do, on occasion, manage to get some Jeopardy answers right.
With that said, this summer as I completed my Peer Learning Assistant homework, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence, otherwise known as EQ — something that immediately caught my interest.
Emotional intelligence means being able to understand and manage your own emotions and thoughts as well as being aware of other people’s feelings around you. It is becoming more and more accepted as a key indicator of success and a way of maximizing your full potential.
People who are emotionally intelligent are self-aware, empathetic, motivated and willing to take responsibility and criticism. They don’t break down in times of a crisis and they are not constantly blaming others for mistakes. These skills allow them to succeed in school, the workplace and everyday life.
Never fear those of you who are reading this description and thinking: “That is definitely NOT me.” There are many ways to improve your EQ, including these three easy adjustments:
1) Eat healthy, sleep and exercise: These are just basic components of healthy living! Doing these three things makes you feel good about yourself and more confident in your abilities. It’s difficult to be an empathetic, self-aware and adaptive person when you are running on 4 hours of sleep every night. [Editor’s note: As a prime example of this, I have a tendency to cry over just about anything if I’m sleep-deprived!]
2) Build positive relationships: Having friends and family you can go to for help, support and advice is crucial during those difficult times in life. It’s also important that you are there for them in return in order to build a fulfilling and lasting relationship. Practice empathy by listening non-judgmentally and without interruption to your upset friend, or just putting yourself in their shoes.
3) Try a new perspective: A positive attitude can totally change your perspective on life. Positivity means being able to smile, laugh and keep things in perspective when times get tough. It also means believing in yourself. One strategy for this is to practice “cognitive re-framing.” When you experience a setback, try viewing it in the following way: “This is just one setback — it doesn’t mean that I won’t succeed at my next task. I’ve recovered from failure before and I’ll recover again. One setback or failure doesn’t mean that I will always experience setback or failure in the future, or that I won’t improve. Mistakes are normal during the learning process. What can I learn from this experience, instead of feel bad about myself?”
As university students, it’s easy to get bogged down with assignments, midterms and worst of all, stress! (Especially around this time of year!) Strong emotional intelligence can help you navigate these tough times and come out on top. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never be upset or feel stress, but developing your EQ may help you manage those stressors more effectively.
Last but not least, remember what Henry Ford said: “Whether you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Would you like to learn more? You can always take the free EQ quiz, or learn more about EQ at the Institute for Health and Human Potential’s Emotional Intelligence.
[Editor’s note: Emotional Intelligence doesn’t mean you’ll always feel like laughing or smiling. Stress, grief, anger, and other troubling emotions are normal, too. But EQ can help you manage those feelings in a more effective way. For more help with EQ and academics, feel free to make an advising appointment with our professional staff by calling 613-533-6315. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, we also recommend the Peer Support Centre in the JDUC as well as Counselling Services at LaSalle Building on campus.]
[Final editor’s note: C’mon, that smiling banana must have made you smile, too, right? Photo courtesy of red5standingby.]
By Elana Moscoe, 3rd year Concurrent Education – History major
I don’t know about you, but it seems as though Week 4 has hit me like a ton of bricks. As always, the semester is whizzing by, and with each passing day, we sink deeper and deeper into our courses, our essay writing, our readings and deadlines that at first appear to be a distant idea, but now are fast approaching.
My brain is also still on summer mode. I find it so difficult to come back to school in September after being off for four months to settle back into a routine, especially when the sun is shining and when I’d much rather be playing frisbee on the pier than playing catch up with my old friend Joseph Stauffer.
My favourite way to settle into a productive, enjoyable and effective routine is to motivate myself to study by finding new study spots on campus. The environment in which you choose to do your studying has a great impact on how successful and productive you will be. I know for me, I need moderate quiet, lots of natural light, a firm chair which I won’t fall asleep in, access to tea and a space that is not too crowded. But everyone is different! I find changing up my studying locations really helps me stay motivated to do my work, rather than falling into a monotonous routine that makes studying unenjoyable.
Although I know many people who can successfully study in their bedrooms, I know that I am absolutely useless when working at my desk in my room. I can find a million and one things to distract myself with — my two favourites are procrasti-cleaning and procrasti-cooking! By changing up your study locations every once in a while, it can re-stimulate you and refresh you as the semester goes on. But that being said, everyone has a different style.
Here are my personal favourite “Off the Beaten Path” study spots on campus. Feel free to add to my list by commenting below!
On Campus Study Spots
- Try Mac-Corey, Kingston Hall, Watson Hall. Empty classrooms are great on weekends and during exam periods for group studying. Take advantage of the chalkboards and white boards to make mindmaps and illustrate key concepts and ideas. Great spots to do some hands on studying and teaching.
Red Room in Kingston Hall
- Big tables, lots of space, generally not too busy
The Fireplace Reading Room in Stauffer
- For a super quiet and sophisticated study spot, this large circular room is made cozy by 3 fireplaces which are on during the colder months of the year. There are nice big tables, but also smaller side tables and comfy chairs for reading. During the day this room gets a lot of natural light, but beware of studying here in the evening as the lights are very dim. It can be soothing but it can also be a contributing factor for feeling sleepy and unproductive.
- During the warmer months, bring a blanket and lean up against a tree, a crack open your textbook to get some readings done while enjoying the fresh air and taking in our beautiful campus.
Third Floor of the ARC:
- Lots of tables, natural light, a great spot to study with a friend. It is a lot quieter than the hustle and bustle of CoGro (Common Ground) below, providing subtle background noise to help some people focus.
Bracken Medicine Library
- Very quiet study space, usually easy to find a spot. The top floor has really comfy couches, and the basement is dead quiet with minimal distractions. This is a great spot if you really need to sit down and focus. Also, it is attached to Botteral Hall which has an incredible caf. Probably the best kept secret at Queen’s.
The JDUC Study Room on the Third Floor
- The best kept secret of the JDUC! This room is always available for studying and is rarely used!
Biosciences Undergraduate Study Room
- Great to stop by between classes. This room is very quiet and has lots of electrical outlets and is in close proximity to both Tim Hortons and potentially your TAs if you need help!
Douglas Library- Third Floor
- While many people love to study in the Harry Potter Room to feel like they are in Hogwarts, I prefer to study in the massive room right across from HP’s lair. You can always find a seat, even during exam time, it has lots of natural light, big tables and is always very quiet. TIP: BYOP (Bring your own power bar! Plugs are in limited supply and if you do, you can even make a friend by sharing!)
The Tea Room
- Located on the corner of Union and Division, the Tea Room is a much smaller, lesser known version of the Common Ground in the ARC. Minimal background noise can be perfect for someone who needs it for stimulation. Also, their Chai Tea lattes are delicious!
- Sipps is a bit further from campus, down by Ontario Street. They have cozy seating and delicious gourmet drinks, treats and sandwiches. Yum!
The Sleepless Goat
- Down on Princess Street, the Goat provides a laid back atmosphere for studying with some background noise and delicious homemade organic food.
Starbucks Coffee on Division and Johnson
- Classic spot, lots of tables inside and outside, a louder environment, super close to campus!
Check out these study spots and be creative with your study habits! Change will help you stay on track, stay focused and help you enjoy the studying process! Get creative and good luck!
Photo courtesy of Tony Hall.
Also – check out our strategies and tools for midterms.
It’s midterm season! Do you feel ready? Here are four easy steps to prepare:
Do you know what the midterm will cover, and what kind of questions will be on the exam (problem solving, multiple choice, short answer)? Are you missing any lecture notes or key information? Have you gathered all the available slides and other hand-outs provided in class so far? Classmates can come in very handy during this stage!
Break your course down into smaller, manageable sub-units. You might choose to chunk by week, lecture notes, chapter, unit, novel, or case study. As you do so, reflect on which chunks you feel comfortable with and which ones might need a little more effort — this will help you prioritize where to spend most of your study time. Think about how many hours you’d like to spend studying each chunk of material. Space out your study time over five days – it’s easier for your brain to remember course content is you study for briefer blocks of time spread over longer periods.
If you can, study in 2-hour or 3-hour blocks, during which you alternate 50 minutes of review and 10 minutes of break time. We call this the 50/10 Rule! Spend 50 minutes re-familiarizing yourself with the information and then reviewing: try flashcards, reciting information, discussion groups, or re-organizing your notes into summary notes. After 50 minutes are up, take a 10 minute break to go for a walk and wake up your brain. Do your best to study during daylight hours, when your brain is more effective.
Pay attention to anything your professor may have repeated or emphasized in lecture; that can be a good sign it will be on the exam.
This is a key component of studying, and one that students often neglect. Why? Because recognizing course concepts as you’re studying is very different from having to recall course concepts during the midterm – we want you to practice recalling these course concepts, without being prompted by your study notes.
A great way to self-test is to create or predict practice midterm questions, and then answer them. You can develop these questions based on your readings, look over exams from the previous year, quiz yourself with flash cards or with a study buddy, or use study guides or sample questions from the textbook. This will help improve your recall time of the information (which is very important during the midterm, for obvious reasons!).
Keep track of what you do well and what you don’t do so well, and make sure to return to those problem areas until you feel more confident.
Check out our strategies and tools for midterms.
Photo courtesy of JuditKlein
By Tanveen Rai, 3rd year Biology/Psyc student
The third week of school has officially begun. And for some of us this week means serious catch up. There are lectures to attend, assignments to do, tests to take, and of course textbooks to read. I honestly can’t believe how fast time is going. How I wish I could make it stop (at least for a little while).
The most time consuming and quite frankly boring task for me are my readings. I HATE READING TEXTBOOKS! So how do I really feel you ask… But I am learning how to make this whole process a lot more enjoyable.
A few tips from me to you:
- Make a schedule and designate when you will read what. Try to stay on top of it. Just remember going home to a chapter to read versus a stack of books is a lot less stressful.
- Read for 50 minutes then walk away for 10. Take a break, because you deserve it! Giving yourself even just ten minutes to relax will help you concentrate better.
- Get in the mood! The material will be more interesting if you want to read it. This is easy to do for classes you enjoy but even if you don’t like the class pretend you do. I know you’re probably thinking I’m crazy but trust me it works.
- Scan the chapter first. Look at the subtitles, summaries, bold or italicized words, and figures to get a general idea of what you will be reading about. This will allow you to have something to build on when you actually start reading.
- Read with a purpose. I have a problem with zoning out when I read. I’ll read something and then two seconds later not remember what I just read. Instead of rereading the same page a hundred times engage in active learning by asking yourself Questions as you read.
- Review the chapter. I bet you thought you were already done! Not quite. After reading the material you need to scan it again and make sure you understood everything. This is the only way to get one up on your textbook!
And if you really want to show the book its place, you’ll review the chapter again in a day or two [editor’s note: this moves the information into your long-term memory so you don’t forget everything in a month!]. It’s not so bad. “I got my [coffee], I got my [books]/ I would share it but today I’m yelling/ [Books] don’t kill my vibe!”
For more information about reading and retaining textbook information, visit our Reading and Notetaking module.
Photo courtesy of Kamal H. from Flickr Creative Commons.
By Dorothy Yu, 4th year Psychology student
Disclaimer: This is entirely my own opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. I’d love to hear any constructive critiques though, so feel free to comment below!
Taking a look at the Queen’s-related Facebook groups on my sidebar, the following three groups stand out in terms of popularity:
- Overheard at Queen’s – 10, 699 members
- Free and For Sale – 8, 996 members
- “Must knows” for courses at Queen’s – 5, 236 members
What does this tell us about Queen’s students?
- We have great school spirit and a tight-knit community of students who love to share funny and wonderful things about their school with each other, as well as occasionally bond over their shared fear of mutant squirrels.
- We like to make money and get freebies. Who doesn’t?
- We care about our courses and doing well in them.
Now, all these things are important and natural things to care about. In particular, we’re ultimately at school to go to class, and we go to university to learn, don’t we?
Or do we?
What I find interesting is the massive number of posts on “Must knows” posing the following question in various iterations:
“Can anyone recommend me some bird courses?”
Bird course (n): an easy course in university. Usually taken to lighten one’s workload; an easy A+. Actual interest in the subject optional.
Now, I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to take an easy elective, or boost your GPA. I understand that med/law/grad schools take into account your grades, and sometimes people really need one or two ridiculously easy courses to help get the grades they need, especially when they’re also taking a bunch of other ridiculously difficult courses. Unfortunately there are few buffers in place in admissions processes to account for course difficulty, but that’s an entirely separate discussion for another day.
What concerns me isn’t so much the desire for good grades, but rather when the desire for good grades trumps the desire to learn.
It’s practical, and some would even say necessary, to balance out those “GPA killer” courses with subjects with a lighter workload that are easier to excel in. But I think what we often forget is that GPA should be a consideration, but shouldn’t be the sole criterion for course selection. After all, don’t we come to university to broaden our horizons? To study a certain subject more in depth? To learn something new?
The purpose of this piece isn’t at all to pass judgment on those who choose to take easier courses, or base their course decisions on level of difficulty. I myself have often worried about a course’s notorious reputation, and even posted in “Must knows” requesting grade distributions and insights into various classes. For some, taking a bird course might actually be the right and most sensible decision – maybe they need to work more that semester to pay for tuition, maybe there’s a medical situation that requires attention, maybe they’re just finding that they need more time to do well and don’t have the time to commit fully to five courses. Maybe the subject of that bird course truly interests you. Maybe it doesn’t. That’s okay. You are the best judge of what kind of workload you can handle, and it’s important to take note of those instincts. All I’m saying is, in the coming week as you finalize your courses, before you hit that enroll button, consider: Does this truly interest me? Am I going to enjoy this course? And, most importantly, am I going to learn this semester?
If the answer is no, maybe reconsider. Take something that isn’t necessarily an easy A+ but rather something you love. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The number one motivator is interest, and if you love something the work won’t even feel like work – it’ll just feel like learning. And when you’re learning, the grades will come naturally.
Featured image from Flickr Creative Commons, taken by Jerine.
Peer Learning Assistant exam care package from 2013.
Read more blog posts from Learning Strategies
Keep up with coursework without spending your life in the library: here are our top 5 tips.
1. The 50/10 rule. Rather than studying in huge marathon chunks for hours on end, work for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Multiply that x3 to make a 3hour study block. Research says: the human attention spans drops after 50 minutes, so it’s best to take a break and come back to your work after your brain is refreshed – this way, you are optimizing your brain efficiency!
2. Work 9-5. Treat school like it’s your job: ten work hours per week per course and five courses per week means a 50-hour work week — and that’s a full-time job! Research says that your brain likes it when you study during daylight hours, and using that ‘found time’ between classes to do schoolwork allows you to free up your evenings and weekends for non-academic activities. Creating your own weekly schedule can help you achieve this.
3. Keep track of due dates in one place. When you get your syllabi for your courses, look at all the due dates – weekly quizzes, labs, larger assignments, midterms – and transfer them onto one big term calendar. This will let you know what’s coming up, so you’ll know when you may need to spend more time in the library, and when you can spend less time in the library! See our online resources on Managing Your Time at University.
4. Find your ideal study space. Sometimes your room isn’t the ideal study space (too many distractions); and for some students, the library isn’t ideal either. Check out our list of super study spots around campus and the city.
5. S-T-I-N-G. Use the STING method to help you get stuff done:
S Select 1 thing to do
T Time yourself – set a timer for 50 minutes
I Ignore everything else for that 50 minutes
N No breaks during that 50 minutes!
G Give yourself a reward after the 50 minutes is up
Read more blog posts from Learning Strategies