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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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