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Break it down to avoid a breakdown

By Brigid Conroy, 4th-year Biochemistry student

I have affectionately named the last week of November “The Week of Horror” in recognition of the truly wild number of final assignments and presentations due in the span of those five short days. Managing multiple deadlines is tricky, especially if one or more of the assignments are final projects carrying a significant weight in your final grade. If you are facing several looming deadlines, read on and learn how to break down projects to avoid an end-of-semester breakdown!

A crucial first step in managing multiple deadlines is a monthly view of your due dates for the remainder of the semester. Whether you use the monthly view in a day planner, Google Calendar, or print a Term Calendar Template, the key is to have all of your due dates in one location to which you can easily refer. I keep my calendar posted above my desk so that a quick glance puts me back on track when a Facebook break runs too long! Include the dates of other tests and major activities in your calendar to get an accurate sense of how much time is available for schoolwork over the next several weeks. Be sure to include how much each assignment and test is worth so that you can prioritize your time effectively.

Once all of your deadlines are laid out, take some deep breaths as necessary, and then break down each assignment into manageable chunks with their own deadlines. PLAs like to call this step “making molehills out of mountains.” If you have a good sense of how you’ll break down an assignment, use the Task Analysis tool to lay out each step and select a due date.

Another useful tool, and your first step if you don’t know where to begin, is the Assignment Calculator. Simply enter the due date of the assignment and the calculator will break it into chunks and set a deadline for each. It even provides links to resources that will help you at each stage.

You can adapt these steps to your particular project and you are off to the races! Add these deadlines into your term calendar and adjust them if you find certain steps are taking more or less time than expected. The benefit of breaking down projects is that it not only keeps you on track towards long-term deadlines, but it also makes overwhelming tasks seem more manageable, which is key in combating procrastination!

Now what if this process is complicated by the fact that some of your projects involve group work? These deadlines can be managed in much the same way! In the first group meeting, I always encourage my group members to bring their day-timers or calendars and start a discussion about what other commitments we will be managing around the due date of our project. This allows us to break down the project as a group and set deadlines that work well for everyone. An advantage of group work is that it can keep you accountable for meeting these deadlines by, for example, having members submit their work to a Google Doc.

I spent several days before Hallowe’en joking that I was going to dress up as my to-do list for November as a truly terrifying costume. But with a clear picture of your due dates for the rest of the semester and mountainous tasks broken down into manageable molehills, there is no need for the last weeks of the semester to be scary!

Photo courtesy of Randy Robertson 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 askapla@gmail.com 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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