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Peer blog: 5 strategies for finishing the semester strong

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2023

Hi Gaels! I hope all your midterms went well and that you had a nice break SASS Peer: Santashto rejuvenate. It was a busy month, to say the least, but the semester is far from over. We are entering the last stretch of the term, and this is a period that could make or break our semester. The finish line is in sight and it is up to us how we finish the race. However, the transition from midterm season to summative assignment season can be a stressful time. In this installment of my SASS blog, I’ll provide you with some valuable tips that I’ve been experimenting with lately to manage my work and study load, especially when it comes to prepping for midterms.

  1. The daily task list. Apart from the actual challenges that my midterms posed, one of the biggest difficulties I had this month was getting everything done. There was just so much work this month that things felt overwhelming at times, so I decided to create a daily task list for myself. Sticking to the schedule wasn’t smooth sailing, as I’d hoped it would be…

When I first made the list, I put way too many tasks for myself to complete in a day. I ended up feeling just as overwhelmed because it looked as though I really did have a never-ending list of work and tasks to complete in a limited amount of time. It was only after a few days of experimentation that I began to make a list that I was able to stick to. It does take a few days to a week to create task lists that are realistic because you need those first few days to gauge the time needed to finish something. My advice is to start by putting fewer tasks than you think you can complete and slowly keep adding tasks until you reach your goal! So even though finishing 5 lab reports in a day would be amazing, you have to create a realistic task list that you can stick to you and still be on top of all your responsibilities. The trick is to think about balance, and to remember that not finishing a task or two in a day is not the end of the world!

Overall, the schedule was a huge help because it made something that seemed almost impossible—my never-ending task list—become possible! Another bonus was that checking off a task from the list motivated me to finish the next task and so on (and I needed all the motivation I could get this month!). But all jokes aside this is an amazing tool to use at any time of the year, but it is only as powerful as you make it to be! 

  1. Cue cards. Use cue cards for the material you need to memorize (e.g. definitions), then test yourself regularly. Even a couple of minutes working through your cards can help! This is an amazing technique because it involves active recall and it helps you understand what course material you need to improve on. Disclaimer: Don’t get carried away trying make your cue cards all fancy: get the information you need on the cards, rather than pretty pictures and formatting.

  2. Past papers. Test your knowledge using past midterms or quizzes. It will get you used to an assessment-like method that will likely be similar to the real deal. Looking over all the wrong answers can help you gauge where your weaknesses are, helping you to fine-tune your knowledge and use your time wisely. If you’re not sure where to find past papers for your courses, Queen’s Exam Bank is a good place to look.

  3. Active reading. Avoid passive reading, which means just re-reading or highlighting text without really using the information you’re seeing. I think we are all suckers for this: who wouldn’t want to just read over their notes on a Thursday evening for half an hour and call it a day because we feel we went over the required material? This is a trap! You feel as though you understand the topic because you are reading the exact information you are going to be tested on. So read actively and in short bursts: take some notes, try testing yourself on information, write questions and annotations for yourself, make cue cards, and try writing summaries after a reading. Even a few minutes of active reading is better than hours of passive reading!

  4. Summaries. Once you’ve been through a topic, write a short summary of major ideas and reflect on how you feel about the material. This will help you remember what you just learned and guide you: if you’re struggling to summarize, or have forgotten key ideas, the next time you review the same material you know exactly what you should focus on! 

As we head into the last stretch before exam season, make sure to give yourself a well-deserved break for finishing this grueling month of university! Mental exhaustion is very common at this time of the year so please do take care of yourselves and set some time each day to do something that you like. Hopefully, these tips will help you study a little more efficiently as final assignments and exams approach. See you next time!