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When you don’t know, just wing it? The truth about bird courses

Veronica, Class of 2021, Nursing

It’s January. You’re looking at your list of courses for this semester and wondering why on earth you selected those electives way back in July. You knew you had to choose something to fill up your schedule outside of your major, so you picked the first thing that came to mind. Or, like many Queen’s students, you looked for the easiest courses you could take to guarantee yourself a high grade. Many a canny first-year has logged on to the various websites and social media discussion groups that list “bird courses” that (supposedly) promise a high grade in return for little effort.

bird course (noun)

  1. a class that is supposed to be as easy as it would be for a bird to fly
  2. a class that you can “fly” through with ease

As someone who has taken one of these “easy” classes, I can tell you first hand that so-called “bird courses” are not your best option if you simply want an A+. The main reason for choosing these easier classes isn’t necessarily your desire for a good grade (after all, who doesn’t want to do well?). The real reason is that your desire for that good grade surpasses your desire to learn.

So many people take courses in university that do not interest them at all. When you ask them afterwards what they learned, they might answer something like “honestly not much”, or “I don’t know, I didn’t really pay attention.” It’s much more rewarding taking a class that might be a bit more challenging but has amazing course content. Taking a course outside of your major may be a great chance to learn and broaden our horizons. You might never get the opportunity to take that cool class ever again, and you might even learn valuable study skills and ways of thinking to bring back into your major courses.

Some things you may want to consider when choosing your electives are:

  • Is this a subject I am actually interested in?
  • Am I choosing this course because it is easy?
  • Will this course teach me something new?
  • Do I have the right academic and writing skills to do well already, or will I get to learn more during the course?

Challenge yourself, but don’t doom yourself to fail: think carefully about your study habits and the skills you’ll need to improve in the elective you’re about to take on. If you know your course load in a semester is going to be difficult, you might want to take it easy and find room for that super tough class another time. If you feel like you might have difficulty balancing your workload, the SASS website has some great time management strategies.

Most importantly, being in a class where you’re excited to learn is a great motivator. When you’re interested in what you’re learning, good grades might just come naturally! Even if your class is more difficult than you initially bargained for, content that you’re interested in will help you stay involved and be proactive. Instead of skipping classes you found boring and difficult—especially in those dark February days—you may find yourself motivated to guide your own learning and, therefore, decrease your chances of procrastinating.

Sometimes, though, you might still need some extra help to get you through. SASS offers one-on-one appointments with Peer Writing Assistants for help on assignments in any first or second-year course from any department. SASS also offers great tips on our website and drop-in sessions on Thursdays for help on time management, procrastination, and more. Whether you’re studying Chemistry, History, Psychology or beyond, excel in your courses, especially when things get challenging.

If you’ve taken one of these so-called “bird courses” before or are enrolled in one for the upcoming semester, you are not the only one. The promised ease of these courses is exactly how I ended up in my elective course this past summer. I went looking on social media groups to find an introductory, online summer course that I could enroll in. What I found is that halfway through the summer while I was writing one of my assignments, I was not really interested in the course material at all. My motivation to actually learn was completely shot and I ended up doing worse than the more challenging, but interesting elective I had taken the year prior. I remember walking out of my exam feeling pretty defeated. I did end up learning about how to study for a course that is not related to my program, however, I wish I had spent my money on a course that I was more interested in.

So, take the chance and enroll in a class that might be a bit more difficult; who knows what you may find! One thing is for sure, though—you’ll be truly flying in a course that you look forward to.

Image courtesy of Robyn Jay