2012 in Review

Scratches on the Notepad has seen tremendous growth this past year. This blog has been read almost 22,000 times in 2012, or over 60 times per day!

Month by Month Readership 2012

These are the top 5 most read articles this past year (number of views in brackets) – you might want to check them out:

  1. Constructing the Perfect Cheat Sheet: Part 1 (5272)
  2. Your First Day (Of University) (5209)
  3. What if you miss an exam? (1443)
  4. Constructing the Perfect Cheat Sheet: Part 2 (988)
  5. Reader Questions: What do I do if I failed an exam? (870)

So readers are concerned with cheating, missing, and failing exams… while being anxious about their first day of school.

Of course, trends are seasonal. In September, Your First Day and The good, the Bad, and the Ugly are popular. While in December and April, people are more concerned with cheating, missing, or failing exams. Of course, if you are concerned about these things, I suggest also checking out Making the Most of Review Sessions and Exam Viewings. For next time. And while you’re at it, you might want to know your enemy how people mark exams.

Readers by Country 2012

Most readers are from the United States, Canada, or the UK, but in total, readers from 133 countries read something on SotN. Oh, the day where my blog’s been to more places than I ever will…

Of course, we wouldn’t have nearly as many readers if not for people sharing my articles on twitter and Facebook (so please keep doing so!). Also people came here from math.ubc.ca and calnewport.com (both of which are wonderful resources, although the former is probably only useful if you’re in math at UBC).

So THANK YOU dear readers from the bottom of my heart. SotN would not be the same without you. I hope you have an amazing 2013 and please visit often!

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Feeling Overwhelmed…?

Flying Leaves

Image “Falling Leaves” courtesy of stock.xchng user Mattox.

It’s late September. The leaves are turning yellow, the days are getting shorter, and… you are lost in your classes. You start to slip behind in one. No big deal, you’ll catch up on the weekends. Of course, hanging out with friends, playing video games, or getting drunk at frat parties are much more interesting than studying. And so you don’t catch up. Then more assignments start popping up. You procrastinate more because you’re behind and slip even further behind. That affect another class, and then another, and then another. And before you realize it, your prof starts to speak Martian. And soon, too soon, your first round of midterms are here.

While you can always dream about making the perfect cheat sheet or trying to do damage control after failing a midterm, your time might be better spent studying now. But how? How do you catch up if you are way behind in your classes?

Step 1: Start somewhere.

Choose a class to start with. It might be your most important course. It could be the one you’re most behind in. It could be the one you’re least behind in so you can quickly catch up and move on to classes you’re more behind on.

Step 2: Figure out why you’re behind.

Have you fallen so far behind that lectures no longer seem to make any sense? Does the prof have an accent you can’t understand? Is there another reason the lectures aren’t making sense? Is there a huge disconnect between what’s covered and practice problems at home? Do you always have trouble completing the assignments because they are too hard? Is there so much material you don’t know what to focus on?

List the top few reasons you think you’re behind in a course, then:

Step 3: Fix it.

Need to go over the material? Use an effective study technique and get through it. If your prof has an accent or you just have trouble understanding him or her the first time around, ask your prof if you can record the lectures. If the assignments seem to have nothing to do with the lectures, talk to your prof – there may be a connection you’re missing. Need help with the assignments? Go to office hours or form study groups. Don’t know what to focus on? Look for learning outcomes detailing exactly what you have to know or make it yourself.

Whatever the problem is, find one or more solutions and try them. 

Step 4: Reiterate

If your solution in 3 doesn’t work, don’t give up! Try another way to solve the problem. All caught up in one course? Repeat steps 1 through 3 for another course.

Step 5: There is no way to get around actually studying.

No, there is no magic bullet. And if you’re looking for an instant fix… well, please tell me when you find it. Because I would love to know! For now, nothing beats taking the time to actively learn and understand the course material. However, you can learn to be more efficient at learning. Really work on figuring out what study techniques work the best for you and how to minimize the amount you need to spend on a topic to understand or master it. In other words, judge how well you’re doing based on your progress and accomplishments, not by how much time you spend! In other words, don’t pseudo-study!

Quickie: It’s not about going to class…

I’m sorry for not blogging for such a long time! I went on an amazing trip to Europe, and with the planning, going, and recovering (because of course I needed a vacation to recover from that vacation), I had some trouble getting back to the groove of things.

BUT… autumn is here again and with it comes school. If you’re in first year, you’re probably a little overwhelmed by everything right around… now.

I still vividly remember my first year. I was anxious about academics and asked students in upper years for advice. Of course, everybody told me to go to class. So I went to every single class.

And did the 24 Hours crossword.

And checked my email.

And did homework for the class after.

And doodled.

And distracted my neighbours by chatting with them.

And got quite a few evil eyes from a certain prof because I was in the second row.

Image “/doh” courtesy of flickr user striatic. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

You want to guess how I did in that class?

So “go to class” implies going class and learning actively. That means trying to follow the professor’s train of thought, attempting example questions posed, and asking questions when you don’t understand something. You may have to pre-read and will most certainly have to review the material after.

It’s not just about going to class, it’s about paying attention!

So next time you go to class, look around the lecture hall when the prof is talking and note how many people are not paying attention. You’ll be amazed. Or maybe you’ll just be one of them.

‘Nuff said.

Quickie: 5 Things to do this Summer

It is finally feeling like summer! I know most of the country has been experiencing heat waves and forest fires, but where I live has just begun to heat up – yay!

Sunflowers

If you’re heading to post secondary education in the fall, this is your last “huzzah” summer before you have to worry about jobs, tuition, and even summer school (unless you have lots of money and/or are really good at school and so don’t have to worry about these trivial things). So… what to do with your last few precious months of freedom? Consider these suggestions.

  1. Travel. I know it’s a terribly cliché suggestion, but most people don’t travel a lot during university. And that is probably because of the afore mentioned jobs, tuition, and summer school. So if there is somewhere you really want to go… go now, or hold your peace for another four years.
  2. Do something fun. Maybe travelling isn’t your thing, or you are stuck flipping burgers at McDonalds have to be in town for whatever reason. Don’t despair and take the time to fully relax. Don’t worry too much about university and don’t try to pre-study the material. Clear your head, do something different, and recharge for the school year.
  3. Try something new. ‘Nuff said.
  4. Crash a class. If you are near a university or college, even if it’s not the one you’ll be attending in the fall, consider attending a couple of classes. Look up their class schedule on-line and find an introductory class into something you’re interested in. I know I said above to not worry too much about school, but if you’re curious about what a university class is like, go check it out. Do not show up to every class and frantically take notes. Rather, observe. See how the prof teaches and how the students learn. Note how different the class is from a high school class and how easy it is to lose track of what is going on (yes, you’ll be lost because you probably don’t have enough background knowledge, but notice how many other students seem confused)! Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed – you’re already leagues ahead of your classmates who have no idea what’s coming (unless of course, they read this blog :P).
  5. Get your finances in order. This is the inner economics geek in me speaking, but how will you pay for university? Who’s paying for tuition? Living expenses? Travelling costs? Figure out the deadlines for student loans, scholarships, and bursary applications. If you are applying for loans, know the terms! If you get approved for a large amount of money, don’t feel pressured to spend it all. You will have to pay it back (you’d be surprised at how many students don’t figure this part out until they’ve already spent the money). If you don’t think debt will be a problem (and if your family/trust fund isn’t going to bankroll everything), check out this article in the Globe and Mail. The average Canadian student will come out of university with $15,000 (Quebec) to $35,000 (Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) in debt. That’s a lot of money and it is absolutely worth your time to figure out how you can minimize it. If there is interest, I will do an article on money management in the future (let me know in the comments).

If you still have time, check out some more things to do before classes start and read some of these other blog posts to prepare for your upcoming academic journey.

Happy belated Canada Day and Independence Day!

If your professor gives you the wrong grade…

After my last round of exams, I logged on to my school’s online portal to check my grades. There, buried among the other grades, was an F. I stared at the screen in stunned disbelief for a good 30 seconds. Sure, I’ve failed smaller quizzes/tests/exams and assignments before, but not a full course. AND this course was a pre-req, so failing it would have set me back at least a year. This was also surprising because although I wasn’t doing spectacularly before the exam, I wasn’t close to failing either.

As these thoughts went through my head, I started panicking. After a few minutes in which my mood did one of these:

Mood over Time

I calmed down a little and tried to calculate what I would have had to get on the final exam to get that F. That turned out to be 0%. The professor hadn’t counted my final exam grade at all.

At this point I had no idea what to do. Classes were over, so it wasn’t like I could just see prof after class. The mark was submitted to the university and posted on the online student portal, which meant it was official for the time being. After a few false starts, it got sorted out. This was, however, quite a stressful situation.

So if your professor messes up your grade (or something else), try these steps:

1. Take a deep breath. Trying to get a professor to listen to you while you’re panicking just doesn’t work that well.

2. Get in contact with the professor. Call if possible. Otherwise, e-mail. Always follow good e-mail etiquette (which is also good phone etiquette). Tell them who you are and what the problem is. Do not accuse them of anything or put them on the defensive. If this grade is for an assignment or a midterm, wait to hear back from them (do not proceed as that would be overkill). If this is a final exam grade or a final grade, wait at least a day before you do anything else.

3. If you haven’t heard back from your professor, call or e-mail them again. Don’t pester them repeatedly by calling every 10 minutes though!

4. If you still don’t hear back from your professor, get in touch with the department which administers the course. Call the department secretary (you can probably find this information online) and ask him or her for advice. Explain why it’s important that you get this sorted out quickly and ask them to advocate or follow up on your behalf. In my case, the department secretary was really helpful and probably gave the professor a nudge. He then got back to me and the new grade was up and online in about a week.

5. If the department secretary is not helpful or you still haven’t heard back from the prof after three days, try to get in touch with the department head. This is going over the professor’s head, so make sure you give the professor a reasonable amount of time (at least 3 days) to respond. Otherwise, the department head will likely tell you to wait.

6. If you still haven’t found a solution (which is unlikely), get in touch with your faculty’s advising office. Speak to an advisor. He or she will then likely then follow up on your behalf. This time is really busy for the advising office, so going to them first without consulting the department won’t get you anywhere.

7. After you receive confirmation that people are taking care of it, sit back and wait. Depending on the situation and the amount of paperwork, it could take a few weeks for the change to be reflected in your student portal online.

Remember to always be polite and patient or you risk alienating potential allies. Start with the prof and work your way up.

*Pssstttt* Don’t forget to subscribe to SotN in the sidebar!

 

Over 9000!!!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist celebrating over 9000 views on SotN with this meme 😀

Thank YOU so much for reading SotN, and for giving me helpful comments and suggestions! I really appreciate them, so please keep them coming.

If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe via e-mail or RSS to get latest posts in your e-mail or RSS reader (see the sidebar —>). And if you have a friend who is in grade 12, first year university, or just need some studying tips and advice, please do share posts with them via the little buttons at the bottom or better yet, get them to stop by.

On another note, I’m sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been trying to write an article on scaling and it’s just not working. I’m not sure yet if I’ll finish that or write something else first, but at any rate, please bear with me. First years, (belated) congratulations on finishing your exams and have a great summer!