Since my last blog post on Adam Grant’s Think Again, and since my fourth and last year is ending, I’ve been reflecting on how I got to where I am right now. It all started with deciding to major in psychology. However, making hitting on a major was no easy feat! You might already know what you want to major in. But others (and perhaps this is you) might feel clueless. It’s important to check in with Academic Advising to see how and whether you can enrol in a given major, but I thought it would be helpful to share my journey towards psychology. The main lesson? Choosing what’s interesting to you will help you study better and more effectively: if you’re stuck in a rut, knowing that your major is leading somewhere is a great boost to your studies!
Meeting a Struggle
I applied to Queen’s with med school in mind. Like many pre-meds in my cohort, I believed tht majoring in Life Sciences was the only way to go. I took PSYC 100 as an elective because it would help in completing a Life Sciences degree. At first, I struggled to accept that psychology was more interesting than calculus, biology, physics, and chemistry. Coming from an East Indian background, I had generally been encouraged to pursue the “hard sciences” and discouraged from “soft” sciences like psychology. Many from my community are encouraged to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Under the influence of these sociocultural norms and expectations, I figured that life sciences would be my only path towards becoming a doctor. On top of these sociocultural expectations, my first-year peers were set on majoring in “hard sciences”; none were looking to major in psychology. For a long time, I thought, “I’ll already have a community in Life Sciences, and that’s something I really like…so why be alone in Psychology?” Little did I know that I would find a fantastic community in psychology too!
Navigating the Struggle
I decided that sociocultural and peer influences were not going to hold sway over my decisions. I wanted to decide on my behalf, to be proactive rather than reactive. I attended a couple of events held by the Psychology Department Students’ Council on majoring in psychology and about different upper-year courses in the program. I attended parallel events held by the Department of Life Sciences. I reached out to the undergraduate program advisor in the psychology department, to students majoring in the discipline, and explored the different upper-year courses on offer. Finally, I looked through Career Services’ amazing Major Maps to discover the employment opportunities I’d have on graduation.
These sources provided me with lots of information, but I had to actively seek them out. If you find yourself in my position, you will likely have to take the same initiative. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to Academic Advising and the departments in question to see what advice they have.
I finally decided to major in Psychology. I didn’t declare a minor, as I only wanted to make one decision at a time. Even now, as I near the end of my fourth and final year of undergrad, I don’t have a minor. I’m happy with that! If you find yourself thinking about whether you should minor in something, just know that you can enroll in courses that lead to various certificates, that you can always declare your minor later on, and that there’s no rush to make a decision. Keep experimenting, trying new courses, learning new things, and you’ll be a healthier, happier, and smarter student!
Declaring a major is stressful. It’s one of the decisions you can’t really delay at the end of your first year. You will need to get as much information as you can to make an informed decision, so seek that information out and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know that if you don’t end up liking your major down the road, you are not alone—each of us has our own timelines. Whatever you do, though, try not to let others dictate your decision: if you’re enjoying your major, you’ll be more motivated and more likely to succeed. Whatever you do choose, I wish you the best of luck!
It is officially spring and that means we are one step closer to summer vacation. With only a few weeks left of the semester, you might start thinking about your next year at Queen’s. Extracurriculars can be a great way to find community, study buddies, and social contacts—all of which will probably boost your academic performance! Even if you weren’t too involved in clubs and societies this year, it’s not too late. It might surprise you, but now’s not too early, either! I’ve been in plenty of clubs and societies already, so here’s my experience.
At Queen’s, there are an amazing array of clubs that you can join, ranging from soccer intramurals to chess clubs to musical bands! The Queen’s AMS website has a comprehensive list of the clubs on offer. If you are unsure about what you want to do next year in terms of extracurriculars, this website is a really helpful starting point. If you want more information about certain clubs, most have social media pages: have a look for events they’re running or have run, and don’t be afraid to chat with the club executive through DMs or email to ask them how you can get involved or even if you can help organize activities this summer or next year.
During first year, many of my friends and I believed that clubs were mostly for older students who know the university much better. But I soon came to realize that was far from the truth. Many clubs are actively looking for first and second-year students to join. For example, I am currently the president of Queen’s One for the World, a club that educates people on the power of charitable donations. I always enjoy having first and second students join the team because they bring such a great presence to our team and to the events we hold throughout the year. I also chatted about this topic with John Le, the president of Queen’s University Minecraft Club. John explains that their club, like many others, is “always recruiting first year [students]” and that their involvement in the club is appreciated.
If you want to help run a club, many clubs hire executives—leaders—in spring, and many have specific positions available to first and second-year students only (in fact, two of the Minecraft’s Clubs leaders this year are actually first years). If you’re looking for a leadership opportunity, start looking now. The best places to find these opportunities are Facebook group chats and social media pages for specific clubs. The application process usually consists of an application form that contains a few questions which help the club executives see if you might be a good fit for the team. Most clubs have interviews for executive positions.
Remember, though, that most clubs have unlimited spots for general members—if you try for an exec position but don’t make it (yet!), don’t be disappointed if you don’t get selected initially, as you’ll still be able to participate in all the activities offered by the club. I was a general member during my first year at Queens’s Chapter of MSF, which helped me earn a position on the executive team the following year. Keep a look-out on social media to see if a club you are interested in is hiring positions for next year.
Throughout this blog, I’ve drawn your attention to how important it is to make connections and find communities that welcome you. School isn’t just about studying and grades; you need a great support network to study with, urge you on, and help you when you hit a bump in the academic road. I urge you all to be proactive and take advantage of all the amazing clubs and teams Queen’s university has to offer. No matter what year you might be in, don’t hesitate to be a part of the Queen’s community. Clubs are more than just organizing events or conferences. They’re also about the new friendships you create and the knowledge you gain from the experience.
Everyone experiences anxiety. It signals that something important is at stake and motivates us to make necessary changes to manage that task. We all experience a certain amount of anxiety or nervousness before a test. Try these strategies to keep anxiety at a manageable level.
1. Take care of yourself2. Start studying early3. Use effective study strategies4. Control what you can5. Use relaxation techniques
Take care of yourself
Overcoming anxiety is a process. It’s important to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis—not just when you have a test coming up. Build in strategies for regular stress management and self-care:
eat well and drink plenty of water, including on the day of the exam.
exercise as a regular part of your routine.
get plenty of sleep on a regular basis. Sleep is directly related to your ability to think clearly, remember what you’ve learned, and deal with your anxiety.
Organize the information meaningfully (e.g., use the course learning objectives; make summary sheets and mind maps). Elaborate on the material (e.g., ask how and why; look for connections and relationships between concepts; apply to new contexts). In math, spend 20% of your time reviewing concepts and 80% of your time working on problems.
But the BEST thing you can do?Self-test every time you sit down to study. Self-testing helps you learn better, identifies what you don’t know as well, improves memory through active recall, and lets you practice test anxiety management.
A “forward-only”online exam starts at the first question and progresses one question at a time, in order, to the end. It doesn’t allow you to preview the questions, start with the answers you know, or go back to check your answers—strategies that usually work well in “normal” multiple choice exams. So what can you do?
PreparationStrategies for the test
When you prepare, do plenty of practicequestions in exam conditions—without books, and with a timer.
Plan out the maximum amount of time you’ll give to each question. If you have an hour to tackle sixty multiple choice questions, for example, then you should aim to spend 1 minuteon each question. Some you’ll know right away, but others will take a bit of thinking time; be prepared to stay on track.
Set up a good workspace for yourself during your exam—somewhere you can be comfortable and concentrate, and that meets the requirements of the online exam.Gather all permitted resources (e.g., calculators, books, notes—ask your professor what’s allowed!). Let housemates/family members know when your exam is, so you won’t be disturbed.
Strategies for the test
Start the exam with a “brain dump.” Take 2-3 minutes to write down key information, equations, statistics, etc., that you believe will be important on a sheet of paper. This will help you remember them later and get your brain thinking about the topics.
When you read each question, cover up the answer choices with a card or your hand. (Even if it’s a question that relies on the answers to complete the question, this strategy is still helpful.) Doing this gives you some thinking space to understand the question before you see the answers.
Before you look at the answers, write down what you think the answer is. If it helps, write down important concepts or ideas that you need to use in your answer.
Then, check the answer choices: which one is closest to your answer? This process reduces your reliance on working memory: there’s no need to hold the answer in your head because it’s written down.
If you have no idea what the answer is, take a minute to write down anything you do know about the topic,or look again at your brain dump sheet. Re-read and analyze the question:
What parts do you know; what parts don’t you know?
Does what you know give you any clues about how to answer what you don’t know?
Are there any absolute terms (“never,” “always”)?
Use this information to make decisions about the answer choices: which options can you eliminate? Which seem plausible, based on what you wrote down and your general knowledge of the course?
If you’re really stuck, take a moment to stop.Try the breathing exercises from our resource on test anxiety, and try to clear your mind. Don’t just hit next and move on: if you’ve planned to take 1minute for every question, spend the whole minute. Even if you don’t get the answer, you’ll feel calmer for the next question.
Before you move on, try to eliminate any incorrect—or likely—incorrect answers, then guess. Even eliminating one answer from a possible four will boost your chances of guessing from 25% to 33%.
Once you’ve moved on to the next question, do your best to leave the previous one behind; don’t worry about whether you got it right, when what you need to do is focus on the question in front of you.
Good luck! For more help with preparing for and writing tests and exams, visit our website.
Student Academic Success Services (SASS) offers academic support to students who wish to develop their skills in critical thinking, reading, learning, studying, writing, and self-management. We welcome Queen’s undergraduate and graduate students at all stages of program completion and all levels of ability.
Our upper-year volunteers, the SASS Peers (PLAs and PWAs), also post weekly blogs during the fall and winter terms. Check out our archives for candid, helpful (and often funny!) posts on surviving and thriving as a Queen’s student.
By Jessica MacNaught, 3rd year ConEd Linguistics/French student
Take time to take care of the most important person – yourself.
As all students know, it can be hard when you need to balance school, extracurriculars, and a social life. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself physically – to eat, sleep, and exercise enough to be healthy and feel your best. But what about your mental health?
Mental health is something we all have, and something that it is important for all of us to remain conscious of, even during stressful times such as midterm or exam season. It is very easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule and feel overwhelmed. However, it is always important to remember that your health is more important than anything else, and your mental health is just as valid as your physical health (and sometimes they can be interconnected)!
One way that you can take care of your mental well-being is to ensure that you practice effective self-care. Self-care is the act of doing something that makes you feel rejuvenated and at peace in order to maintain a healthy mind and soul. Self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy – whether it’s going for a jog, watching some Netflix, spending time with your pet, calling a friend, colouring, or more! Try to schedule in some time just for yourself each week, where you can check in with yourself and take care of YOU, the most important person.
There is a great resource from Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) that can help to reflect on how much you are taking care of yourself. You can find it here. This sheet showcases a number of ways you can care for yourself, and look out for yourself (for example, asking for help from others or saying “no” to requests when you know you don’t have time) and allows you to evaluate your use of these methods. Using this resource made me aware that I wasn’t really taking the time to make sure that I was caring for myself as much as I needed to. When I took the time to reflect and take care of myself, I felt more peaceful and more productive. Another way to improve your mental health is to avoid stressors as much as you can. If you know that a situation makes you feel negatively, work towards avoiding or at least preparing for that situation. For example, If speaking publicly makes you nervous, you can minimize that anxiety by preparing in advance for a presentation – there are some really great public speaking resources here. You can write a script, practice the presentation with friends, or ask your professor if you can present to them one-on-one.
As for myself, I get anxious about forgetting what I am doing next, so I use a schedule on Google Calendar to plan my day so I know I won’t miss anything important! Another way to make self-care a priority is to add it into your schedule. I use cooking and baking as a form of self-care, and it makes me feel relaxed and productive, but you might like to do something else – and that’s okay, because there is no one way to practice self-care! Choose a few hours each week to dedicate to yourself, and make it a date! When you get back to studying, working, and living life, you’ll feel so much more refreshed and ready to face the day.
If you find that you need to talk to someone about your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. The Peer Support Centre at Queen’s, which is located in Room 034 of the JDUC, is a confidential, non-judgemental, positive space where you can go to talk to a volunteer about any topic, and they are so supportive! Good2Talk, a hotline for post-secondary students, is also open 24 hours and can be reached at 1-866-925-5454.
Here are some ways to use self-care!
Photo courtesy of Sacha Chua under flickr Creative Commons License 2.0.
By Micah Norris, 3rd Year History/Art History student
It may sometimes feel that the strictures of university essay writing limit our ability to develop our own personal writing style, but this belief cannot be further from the truth. A professor of mine once said that by the end of the school year, he could tell whose essay he was reading without even looking at our names. How? We all have a distinct way of writing that is just as unique as our talking voice. Writing style is the manner in which we express our ideas; this manner includes word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and tone. An effective style will keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Let’s look at three ways to further advance your writing style!
The best way to develop your writing style is also the easiest (bonus!). The more you write, the more you are able to understand who you are as a writer and be able to improve. Consider carrying a journal around with you and write about your daily activities. The subject doesn’t have to be complicated. Write about that cute dog you pet, what you ate for dinner, or anything that you think is worth writing down! You will begin to notice recurring patterns in your writing (such as certain phrases or words you tend to use) and can then decide what aspects of your writing work well and what needs to be developed more. Frequent writing will also help you develop skills in conveying ideas concisely and efficiently, which is a major asset for essay writing. I also encourage you to go back and re-read your past writing. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown as a writer!
Just as when we speak, there is often more meaning in how we say something than what we’re saying in our writing—this is called tone. When you write an essay, think about the attitude with which you want to approach a given topic. Two important writing tools that help express your desired tone are adjectives and punctuation. Consider the example below:
Due to the Union Army’s tremendous military success, they valiantly defeated the Confederates on May 9, 1865 and ended the U.S Civil War!
Despite the efforts of the Confederates, they were defeated by the Union Army on May 9, 1865, thus ending the U.S Civil War.
Using value-laden words such as “tremendous” and “valiantly,” and emphatic punctuation such as an exclamation mark, changes my tone. The second example’s more moderate tone is more appropriate to academic writing. Always remember to make sure that your essay’s language and punctuation match your intended tone.
Explore Different Writing Styles
Academic writing is meant to be formal and professional, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to write essays. To figure out a writing style that best suits you, it may be helpful to explore different ways of writing. Perhaps you are used to persuasive writing, where you try to convince your reader of a certain idea or opinion by taking a strong one-sided stance in your essay. If you are looking for a new way to convey ideas, you can approach your writing with an expository style. This style focuses more on revealing facts to your reader in sequential points, almost like walking them step-by-step through your ideas. Keep in mind that different styles work best for different assignments, so being able to write in more than one writing style is very advantageous.
Tip: A good way to explore different writing styles is to pay critical attention to the style of other writers. Next time you’re reading a book or newspaper article, think about how the author is trying to talk to you, the reader. Explore a variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. There is no limit when it comes to reading!
Photo courtesy ofLucas under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
For many years of my life, I was against editing my papers. I thought I did enough editing as I wrote, and that what I had done was “good enough.” Well, let me tell you what a difference editing can make and how “good enough” is no longer good enough for me. Looking at your paper with fresh eyes, and reading it all the way through, can make all the difference, but it can also be intimidating. Here are my top 3 tips on where to start editing your paper.
The Lonely “This”
Let’s start out with one that a lot of people miss, but is easy to fix. Look for any time you have written the word “this” without anything after it. For example: “The environment is negatively affected by this.” This what? Being specific will help make your argument clearer and get to what you are trying to say faster. “This” needs to be followed by a noun which is clearly connected to a previous idea. The corrected example could be something like, “The environment is negatively affected by this cataclysmic event.”
A general rule of thumb is that your sentence should not be more than 4 lines long. Sometimes including a long sentence is fitting, but it still has to be properly punctuated. Even if you use the right punctuation, it still might be confusing for the reader if there are too many ideas in one sentence. Check your writing: how many ideas are you trying to include in a sentence? If there are more than one, try to break it up. If you can’t see the divide in the sentence, maybe ask a friend to read it and look for where the divide could go.
Most of the time while talking to my friends about editing our papers, we talk about commas, and I think it is safe to say that commas are one of the most common forms of punctuation with which writers struggle. One hard and fast rule to look out for is to never put a comma between a subject and a verb. However, good writers need to know comma rules – for more details check out the Writing Centre’s simple explanation here (PDF).
Even though this list is short, I hope that these three tips will help you get started with editing your paper, or maybe convince you that editing is worth it.
By Michelle Bates, 4th-year English/Sociology student
Figuring out how to transition between all of your strong ideas in a paper can be challenging. For some, it is the biggest road block in effectively communicating an argument! However, topic and concluding sentences in paragraphs are not to be feared. They can help focus your ideas and make all the difference in a paper’s coherence. I have three suggestions worth considering if you want to improve these key sentences in your work.
What is first basic to understand about topic and concluding statements is that they must begin and conclude only one complete thought. So, it is up to the topic sentence (the first sentence of a paragraph) to introduce this point, while the concluding sentence will explain why the information you have provided in the body of the paragraph is important. The next paragraph you write, and any after that, should not try to prove the same point. Once you understand their roles, you can try improving these sentences to be as effective and argumentative as possible through other techniques.
When considering how to make your opening sentences flow, you may try acknowledging the previous paragraph’s conclusions. There is a difference between making the same point and relating a previous point to the current one to make it even stronger. These types of transition sentences are most common in compare and contrast papers. However, in any type of paper they can effectively display an accumulation of valid points, reminding the reader of how these points relate to and support the main argument.
In addition to these two very useful pointers, the most important part of writing these sentences is that they always refer back to your thesis. Specifically, the topic sentence is there to introduce the paragraph’s point and how it supports your thesis, while the concluding sentence states exactly how this is accomplished with your evidence. This explanation is necessary for a great paper, and is most effectively accomplished by being as specific as possible.
Constructing these sentences is a little extra work. However, I can’t stress enough how much it can make the difference between locking down a strong argument, and having a sporadic, weak one. Hopefully these tips help; good luck with your future writing!