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How to Survive Midterm Season!

Hey Gaels!

The semester is well underway and I hope it has gone successfully for you thus far. How are you feeling at this point of the year? I always try to take some time at the end of each week or two to analyze what I did well and what I can try to improve on. As we head into the midterm season and final assignments and exams beyond, it is important to learn from our mistakes!   

October, the dreaded midterm season, can be a very stressful month for students of all years and programs. I’ve had my fair share of cramming sessions and late-night coffee runs to help me stay awake over the past two years during this time of the semester. That means I would consider myself well versed in knowing how not to handle midterm season!

For me, imposter syndrome kicks in during midterms because I suddenly feel as though I am not prepared to be in a third-year epidemiology course or an advanced biochemistry course. Of course, at the same time, I assume all my peers must be doing way better than me! But spending time in study groups over the past few weeks has helped me understand that so many other students are in a very similar situation. It reminded me that university is not always a walk in the park and that our mindset plays a large role in our ability to succeed. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, Shahnawaz just wrote a great blog on the topic—make sure to check it out.

Another habit of mine during midterms is to watch Netflix. Netflix has become my coping mechanism to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to complete. I easily get anxious about workload. When I do, I quickly put away my books and watch an episode of my favourite shows (Brooklyn 99 usually does the trick). But then I get trapped: one 30-minute episode turns into me binge watching 5-6 episodes in one sitting. I learned the hard way that doing this makes me even more stressed. A few things that have helped me to overcome this spiral have been:

  1. I don’t auto-save my Netflix password on my laptop. When I open the website, I’ll be taken to the log-in page rather than automatically seeing my favourite shows. That extra barrier sometimes helps me reconsider what I’m doing! I have also removed Netflix from my bookmark tab, providing yet one more barrier between me and escape.
  2. Studying with peers gives me a sense of community that helps me feel motivated to put forth my best effort. Pro tip: from my experience, studying in groups of 4-6 people is an ideal study group size. If you’re still not sure of where to find peers to study with, head to SASS’ study hall sessions on Friday afternoons, 2-3pm, in Stauffer 121: you’ll be sure to find a supportive and friendly group to help you out!
  3. I give myself a real reward when I do complete planned work. I personally love to play a game of FIFA 21 after a hard-working day or study session. It sounds simple, but positive reinforcement works wonders. So stop studying more and more, and set some small goals, stop when you’re done, and enjoy the good feelings!
  4. I use the SASS Assignment Planner to break large assignments down into manageable chunks, which makes a seemingly impossible task very much possible. Sometimes you just need something to simplify something that seems overwhelming.

One of my goals this year is to manage my time better. I hope to make this midterm season my most effective one yet—without adding to my feelings of being overwhelmed. Attending in-person classes, spending time with friends, and collaborating with club members to create events has been such an amazing experience this year. However, this busier environment has made it harder for me to stay on track. To help me manage my time and stick to deadlines, I created an Excel sheet that has all my due dates for the year. Here’s a screenshot of the beginning of my “Due Date List”:

My Due Date List:

screenshot of excel sheet with course codes, task titles, due dates, and completion status

As you can see, I’ve listed the course, assignment, due date, and competition status for each assignment/test. Just taking a glance at this sheet each day helps me to understand what I need to work on for the day! If you are like me and easily forget due dates, this is an awesome and low-effort way to help you stay on track. You can also have a section on the sheet for any non-academic due dates (e.g. creating an Instagram post for your club, attending an event, etc.) to stay on top of everything!

Whether you are preparing for your midterms or are finishing up your last one already, I wish you all the very best! I cannot wait to see how the rest of the semester will unfold.

See you next time! – Santosh

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Starting off on the right foot

Hello Gaels!

I hope everyone has been enjoying the first few weeks of in-person classes. Whether this is your first time on campus or not, there is so much to explore in the city of Kingston! Over the past month, I enjoyed playing spike ball with my friends at the pier and exploring more of the downtown. As we are now well into the fall semester, now is the ideal time to look at the past few weeks and think about what has worked and what hasn’t worked for you thus far.

If you haven’t done so recently, I highly recommend you re-read the syllabus for each of your courses. The information’s piling up right now, so taking a look at the syllabus again could help you create a mental image of what you need to focus on in a course. Another great resource on OnQ is the timeline. It has the due dates of assignments, module completion dates, and any other important days in the semester. I recommend checking this every day or two and using it as a starting point to creating a to-do list.

Us upper-years are remembering that in-person education is vastly different from remote education. Even for someone like myself, who has already experienced in-person university classes before, it’s not all plain sailing. Firstly, in-person courses are so much more structured. There is a specific time for lectures, tutorials, and labs. You can use this structure to your advantage. Reading the professor’s presentation before class and looking over any pre-lecture content helps prime your brain for the upcoming lecture and helps you quickly understand where the gaps in your knowledge exist. Another amazing aspect of in-person classes is that we interact with our classmates on a daily basis. Creating study groups with peers is an amazing way to not only get help when needed but also to create that supportive community that you can rely on.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my goal for the semester is to improve my organization and efficiency. Last year, I spent a lot of my “study time” on my phone searching for the best song, looking at soccer updates, or engaging with anything that distracted me from the task at hand. While I have tried to improve, I still have some way to go to reach a distraction-free life. Something that has worked well is to keep my phone on my bed while I study at my desk so that it’s out of my view. Just being out of my mind and my reach means my phone isn’t such a distraction.

To improve my organization I create a to-do list right before I sleep every night because it helps me mentally prepare for the upcoming day, while also helping me know exactly what I need to accomplish. Ironically, now I find I need to improve on my ability to create a realistic to-do list because I often put down one too many tasks. This has caused me to rush my work and feel disappointed when there are multiple items still not checked off by the end of the day. I need to work on creating realistic and manageable lists—I’ll keep you updated about what I try and whether it works!

The semester’s getting busier. It’s important to take breaks. Whether it is getting coffee with a few friends or organizing a night out downtown, spending some time away from the books will help rejuvenate your mind! And improve your work too: tune into those SASS workshops, book a writing consultation with a pro or a peer to get some help on your papers, and take advantage of all the other help that is at your disposal.

Best of luck and see you next time! – Santosh

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Peer Blog: How to Get Involved: Clubs, Community, and Connections

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2023

Hello Gaels!

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.

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Peer Blog: Dwelling on the Positive

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2023           

Hello Gaels!

I hope all of you are continuing to have a productive, enjoyable, and amazing winter semester. With the end of the year in sight, my to-do list keeps on growing by the day. My friends in other programs are all in a similar situation. Now more than ever, you need to get a handle on the thousands of tasks: creating a comprehensive list of all the tests and assignments due over the next few weeks can help you avoid pulling an all-nighter for an assignment you forgot until the day before. Even better, crossing off an item on a to-do list just feels so good!

Online studying is changing the feel of my workload this year. I feel like I’m in a never-ending cycle of days in front of a monitor. Sometimes I don’t even leave my home for a couple of days. I not only find this lifestyle inefficient (as I constantly keep taking “breaks” to watch Netflix), but also draining. No one wants to sit in front of an online textbook for 8 hours a day for a week straight. If you can, try to take your work offline by listening to lectures while you take a socially distanced walk, printing papers to read outdoors, or just get outside for a quick break!

Cat wobbles on balance board
Balance might not be easy, but it’s vital!

Around this time of year we are also getting a lot of grades back. When you get a mark, yourself if this what you hoped to receive at the beginning of the semester. If it is, great job and continue what you are doing! If not, try not to dwell on the bad news. Take a glance at how you approached specific assessments and ask yourself why these methods didn’t work out so well. If you’re stuck, go to office hours: they are a fast and effective way to answer questions.

As I have mentioned many times before, my goal for the semester is to make my study sessions more effective. Last semester, I was easily distracted by my phone, Netflix, YouTube, and a million other things. I even remember being distracted by watching the first snowfall of the season. Since my last blog, one method above all has helped me to make the most of my study sessions: writing the tasks I would like to finish during my study period before I start. I write a list of things on a sticky note and I place it on the wall behind my desk. Whenever I feel distracted or feel like giving up, I see the goal I set for myself and feel motivated. I try to keep my goals attainable so that I have a realistic chance of finishing them. The last thing I would want is to write five long tasks to end up only finishing one of them, which would defeat the purpose. Check out Liyi’s new blog post for more ideas on dealing with distraction—she has a whole 5-step plan worked out!

As we embark on the second half of the semester, I feel as though I have finally found my groove and I am motivated to finish the semester off strong. I think finding that work/life balance has helped me stay positive. Remember you can always ask your professors, peers, or Queen’s staff if you need some support as the year draws to a close. If you need help with specific skills like writing a lab report or essay, follow the SASS Instagram page for reminders of new seminars about university tips and tricks!

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Crushing midterms in an unusual year

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Greetings Gaels!

As midterm season approaches us once again, we can expect assignments, labs, and of course, tests to take over the next few weeks. But not to worry: in this blog, I’ll give you a few strategies that have always helped me get through midterm season. Although this midterm season might not look like those in past years, the advantage we have this term is having last semester under our belt. We’ve all been through one round of online-only tests and exams, wrestled with proctoring software, had to deal with distractions at home while trying to write a test, and so on. Taking a few moments to look back on last semester can help us make better decisions this time around. Think about what you could change this midterm season, and pick one small habit or strategy to try. Not sure what’s right for you? Here are four quick tips I’m using right now:

  • Interleaving: As a science student, interleaving worked wonders for me. By mixing up the topics I studied, I naturally made connections from one concept to another. This helped me to understand the course material rather than just relying on rote memorization. Most of my midterms were created such that I needed to connect two or three topics to be able to answer the questions—relying on just crunching through revision week-by-week wouldn’t have worked. As my studying technique resembled the requirements of my tests, I was able to answer questions confidently, efficiently, and to the best of my ability. You should try it too. Question both what you study and the order you study it in. Avoid long days looking at one topic only, or working week-by-week through the material when you’re reviewing. Mix it up!
  • Study groups: It can get frustrating when you constantly get stuck on a question or topic—and when we’re all online, sometimes there’s nobody to ask for help. At times last semester, it felt as though I was the only one who was struggling. Now I know that is far from the truth. After creating a study group with a few of my peers, I came to understand that many of us were stuck on similar topics. We helped each other throughout the semester in preparation for our midterms. I urge you to create a small study group of your peers, where all of you help each other become experts on course concepts! With remote learning, these study groups have played a huge role in preventing me and my peers from feeling isolated. If you’re stuck on who to ask, try looking for course-specific Facebook groups and posting to see if somebody would like to study with you.
  • Cue cards: I could honestly write a hundred-page essay on the effectiveness of cue cards. This has been my go-to studying technique for the past 5-6 years, and I have never looked back! Even the process of creating cue cards helps you get familiar with course content, and forces you to prioritize what’s most and least important (if you’re stuck, see write out a list of what your professor would think are the most important ideas in your course without looking at your notes). Testing yourself with cue cards is a form of active learning, as they require you to actively recall information—and, even better, by shuffling your deck, you’ll force yourself to do interleaving. Win-win! Try using an app like Quizlet to make your cards, since it will let you share cue card content with other students—helping each other revise for an exam together is a great way to find ways to connect socially and to make studying more fun!
  • Going for walks: Going on walks during the day was such a rejuvenating experience for me during midterm and finals season. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or mentally exhausted, I went on a walk with a friend or family member (socially distanced, of course!) around my neighbourhood for anywhere up to an hour. I got to catch up with other people, take a break from university, and also get in my physical activity for the day. I always felt refreshed and motivated to continue my studies when I returned home—indeed, the research says that the best kind of brain breaks are those that get you moving! While it was much easier to just pop on a sweater and head outside in October, I hope mother nature gives us some good weather for walks this month. If you’re stuck inside, why not try some yoga (like my fellow blogger Rahul) or a simple home workout. If you’re not sure how to get started, try booking a healthy lifestyle appointment with the staff at Wellness. They’ll help you, whatever your current fitness level, find ways to get healthy.
  • Turn off notifications. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, my goal this semester is to make my study periods as productive as possible. Since writing my last blog, I have tried to improve on this goal, but it has proven to be a very challenging target to achieve for someone whose attention span wouldn’t even make fly jealous! One day I feel like I am a productivity guru, but other days I need all the help I can get. With my favourite soccer team taking part in a major tournament and with the Toronto Raptors well into the NBA season, I seem to be refreshing my Instagram every few minutes to make sure I am not missing out on any new updates. With this in mind, my short-term goal is to avoid being tempted to check my phone repeatedly for updates. So far, turning off notifications from my ESPN app and Instagram has helped me improve my focus. Try turning off notifications from your favourite apps for the duration of midterm season!

I hope I’ve given you some motivation to accomplish your academic goals this midterm season. And as I’ve said, it’s just as important to take those breaks from studying—burning yourself out won’t help you get better. Stay safe and stay healthy Gaels!

 

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A Hurdle in the Journey

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Hello Gaels!

I hope you have settled into the semester and are having some fun learning new concepts! As a science student, it’s been fun to learn some coding skills in my statistics course this semester. It’s very easy to forget to have fun learning during a hectic semester, but finding the fun always makes learning more enjoyable for me! As Aristotle once said, “the greatest of all pleasures is the pleasure of learning”.

Unfortunately, the first week of the semester was anything but fun for me. It was as though a whole (never-ending) pile of work was thrown at me in a matter of days. I felt drained and demotivated. I did have a lot to do: a quiz, two assignments, and a lab report. However, I think the thought of having to do so much work was more mentally draining than the actual work itself.

I tried to overcome this feeling as I trudged through my work from Monday to Wednesday. But on Thursday, mental burnout hit me hard. I had a few more assignments to finish, so Thursday and Friday was spent finishing those off—but this burnout really prevented me from maximizing my study periods. My overall mood was down, and I felt exhausted just thinking about university.

Yes… this had all happened in the first week of the semester! I knew that pushing this negative feeling aside and continuing my work would not be sustainable. After all, the goal I set for myself in my last blog was to make sure I utilize my study periods to the best of my ability.  Once I finished my last task for the week, I knew that I needed to take a break and rejuvenate myself. Therefore I took the entire first weekend of semester to enjoy some time off.

If you are also burnt out, here are some things that really helped me to relax and re-motivate myself:

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Watch my favorite show
  • I made some of my favourite foods (homemade panzerottis) and ate them as I watched Captain America: Civil War for the 10th time.
  • I finished off creating my to-do list for the following week to get me primed for week 2!

In a few quiet moments, I felt like I could be a little productive, so I took the chance to do some light work, creating flashcards or writing notes for about just a few minutes. By Sunday night I was motivated and rejuvenated to get back to my normal schedule, which set me up for success for week 2.

Throughout the week that followed, I decided to stop doing work after 10pm. Instead, I took an hour or two to relax before bed! While studying online it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of work, so it’s even more important to take those much needed breaks to help propel you through the semester.

I’ve also been trying to work on that goal I set for myself to make my study periods more productive. This was an addition to my general time management goal from last semester. I’ve tried to experiment with new methods to see what works for me—and what doesn’t—when it comes to making my study sessions productive. Here are my takeaways from my first two weeks:

Do:

  • Use the Pomodoro method (work through a 25-minute block, take a 5-minute break, then repeat)
  • Have a goal on what to finish for a certain study block
  • Have a home set-up that stops you needing to move much or continuously get up from your seat. Have that coffee and all your materials ready before you sit down!

Don’t:

  • Go into a study session without an idea of what you want to accomplish. Even a small, rough goal will help your focus.
  • Use the study time to decide what you want to accomplish. Do it in advance, either that morning or the evening before.
  • Keep any distractions within arm’s reach. Put that phone in a different room altogether.

I still have a way to go before I can reach my potential with this goal, but I feel as though I have made a few baby steps since the first day of the winter term!

I hope this blog has helped you understand that if you have a setback, making an effort to fix it can really help you make vital strides forward! In this unprecedented academic year, we have faced so many hurdles that we need to appreciate the work that has been done!

Have fun and stay safe!

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Starting the semester off right!

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Happy New Year Gaels!

I hope all of you had a much-deserved break over the past two weeks. I know I used this time to catch up on all the lost sleep over the past four months. On a more serious note, the winter break gave me the chance to relax, enjoy time with my family, and reflect on my first remote semester. Fall 2020 was an unprecedented semester for everyone, but we all learned a great deal on how to achieve success while studying online. Here are a few things I noted about this past semester:

Some of the things that worked for me:

  • Creating a daily list of tasks helped me to keep a good work/life balance and was a source of motivation.
  • Taking breaks throughout the day. Simple things like going on walks, playing video games, and chatting with my friends and family relaxed me when university got a bit stressful.
  • Using the Pomodoro method to make sure I was focused during my studying periods: 25 minutes of studying without distractions is better than 1 hour of studying with Netflix in the background.
  • Joining Facebook group chats. Group chats are a great way to communicate with peers about the course content. In addition, you can meet new people and build study groups over the semester. If you’re stuck, search for the Class of 2024 group as a start.
  • Being active on discussion boards and going to office hours to fill in content gaps. Don’t wait until the exam period to ask your questions; go get help today!
  • Stay on top of your coursework throughout the semester so you can have more time to do the things you love to do. Even a little work every day—5 or 10 minutes to get you started—adds up over 12 weeks.

Some things that did not work for me:

  • Studying on my bed: this is a trap! It feels comfy, but it took me several instances to learn my lesson that the bed is created for a person to sleep and not to study.
  • Having my phone near me while I am studying this is another trap! Keep it out of your sight so you even forget that it is there.
  • Having Netflix or YouTube open on a different tab: yes, another trap! It’s all too easy to switch to the fun stuff while you’re working on a tough problem for class.

Another really helpful thing that I did early last semester was to thoroughly look at the syllabus and timeline of each of my classes. The syllabus is an amazing resource that provides the course content, grade breakdown, and required materials needed for the course. Taking a look at it will help you understand how to best allocate your time to maximize your grade. The timeline, meanwhile, gives you an overview of due dates and a general understanding of the work that must be completed each week. Exploring the timeline from one class and comparing it those from other classes can prevent unnecessary stress from building up when you have three large assignments due in the same week for multiple classes (true story, unfortunately). Overall, just looking at these two resources helped me have an idea of how the fall semester will unfold and to stay on track by getting to work on big tasks during quiet periods, while having a careful (but not too burdensome!) plan for busy weeks. I recommend doing this for the winter semester if you haven’t already!

You might remember that my goal for last semester was to manage my time effectively. It was a tough goal to accomplish but thankfully I felt as though I was able to achieve a good work/life balance by the end of the semester! This semester, I want to step it up a level by not only managing my time but also making sure that the time I allocate to certain things is spent dedicated to doing that specific task—and not aimlessly browsing social or watching TV in the background. I noticed that even when I was able to allocate my time well, I just wasn’t able to concentrate for long periods of time. Therefore, quality work hours is something that I am going to strive to achieve this semester. What goals have you set for yourself this semester?

Overall, I think we all learned something about how to (and also how NOT to) succeed in online university over the past four months. It’s very important to take everything we learned and create an ideal schedule for ourselves. I hope all our blogs have gotten you excited and prepared to start this semester off strong.

Good luck Gaels. Let’s conquer this semester together!

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