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.

Advertisements

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!

Quickie: Making the Most of Extra Time on an Exam

One question I get a lot goes something like this:

I finish an exam with 5 or 10 minutes left. I’m really tired and don’t have the energy or time to check the entire thing over, so what could I do in these few minutes?

Before you get to this stage, on your first run through the questions, annotate your exam. Put these symbols besides each question.

: for questions you have no idea how to do.
+: for questions you aren’t sure about or that are tricky.
nothing: for questions you are fairly confident about.

When you only have a few minutes left, go back and try the “-” questions first. Always try to write something, even it’s just the questions rewritten as an equation, a equation that has something to do with that question, or a relevant key word, time period, or person. You might luck out and get some partial marks.

While you might get a few extra marks, “-” questions are pretty much hopeless at this point because you don’t actually know the answer (and there may not be enough time to come up with one). Spending a lot more time on these questions won’t raise your grades a whole lot. On the other hand, the questions you left unlabeled are thing’s you’re pretty comfortable with already and there isn’t a whole lot you can gain from revisiting these questions. Thus the “+” questions are the most important questions you can revisit. Really dissect these questions, try to figure out why they’re hard or tricky, and get as many marks as you can. The reason this might work well is because you might be very close to the right answer. Giving it some more thought may allow you to get the full (or most) marks.

If you still have time or energy left over, look through the unlabeled questions and see if you can get a few more points here or there.

Of course, this technique works better with certain question types and marking schemes. It works best with things like multiple choice (where taking those few extra minutes to really dissect a question may get you to the right answer) and tests with benevolent markers (who’ll gladly give you the few marks). It might not work so well for results-centric and nit-picky markers, but nonetheless, if you’ve only got a few minutes, give this technique a try.

Happy Easter!

Quickie: The Toilet List

Shit happens. Ever bombed or missed an exam? Failed a course? Left your assignment at home? Got dumped? Got rejected for a job? Missed course registration? Waited five hours in the rain for your favourite band, only to have them cancel at the last minute?

Yeah.

And it’s not just the big stuff either. If the weather is terrible, you have a tiny cold, and you meet a nasty person at volunteering or on the job, the day can feel pretty crappy.

I was having a string of bad days, and after wallowing for a bit (though thankfully not as dramatically as these Adele fans on Saturday Night Live), I decided to create a Toilet List (TL).

What is the TL?

It’s like a bucket list, but instead of putting down things you want to do before you die, you put down all the shit that has happened in your life lately. The TL can be super simple, with just one column listing everything crappy in your life lately. However, if you’re a bit more optimistic, add an additional column and write down one thing that is going well for one thing that isn’t. If you’re a go-getter, add a column for things you could do to make things a little less shitty or to brainstorm alternatives.

If you’re a bit literal, you could always write your list on a paper towel or toilet paper and actually flush your TL down the toilet. There is something very cathartic about that!

The TL is a way of getting things off your chest. To stop letting things from weigh you down. It’s a place to put the shit that happened so that you could move on. (Of course, talk to a friend or a professional if you haven’t been feeling good for a while or have a history of depression.)

Shit happens, but that’s not the end of the world. You could always flush it down the toilet.

Quickie: Use Different Alarm Sounds to Avoid Missing Important Events

Getting up in the morning is hard, especially if you make an effort to get up early every day. It’s so tempting to just disable the alarm and go back to sleep. On most days, the worst that can happen is you miss your bus, a class, or a meeting with friends. On other days, for example if you have a midterm, presentation, or interview, going back to bed can have disastrous results. Being somewhat paranoid about oversleeping, I developed a simple brain hack…

A few years ago, I set the intro to my favourite song as my ringtone. It was unique, so I never confused my phone anyone else’s. Unfortunately overtime, I developed an almost Pavlovian response to that song. If I have my iPod on shuffle and the song comes on, I will automatically reach for my phone. Even when I realize it’s my music player, I still double check my phone anyway. *Doh.*

While this… conditioning is ruining my enjoyment of that particular song, associating a stimulus with an idea is a powerful time management (or just “get out of bed”) tool. How?

1. Pick a song or sound that is unique.

2. Mentally categorize it as your “really important” alarm. Don’t use this as your regular alarm!

3. Every time you have to get up for something important, set that sound or song as the alarm. Do not use the alarm for anything else!

4. Make an effort to bounce out of bed every time you hear that sound. Work towards associating that sound with “really important”.

Overtime, you’ll realize you automatically roll out of bed when you hear that sound without thinking. And if you’re tempted to go back to sleep, the song is ingrained enough to give you pause. Those few extra seconds may remind you of WHY you need to be up early (or on time?).

Give it a try and hopefully you’ll miss fewer exams and important early morning events.

Quickie: Tick Tock Goes the Clock

“Quickies” is a new column on SotN for short or niche tips. These topics are interesting or important enough to warrant their own post, but are too short for a full length one. If you have a “quickie” you’d like to share, contact us! Enjoy! 

I get up at 7:30 am every morning. On Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, this is reasonable as I have class at eight. However, I get up at this time on Tuesday and Thursdays even though I don’t have class until 11 am.

This is not a post about my strange sleeping habits (and how to annoy a roommate). Rather, it’s about knowing oneself. I know two things about my productivity:

  1. I feel better when I get up at the same time every day as opposed to different times on different days (regular circadian rhythm).
  2. I am much more efficient in the mornings than in the evenings and I get more work done.

This means that I study for my toughest subjects first thing in the morning, when I am fairly awake, instead of late in the afternoon or evening after long and tiring days.

You have your own rhythm. I bet that you’ve told others that you’re a “morning person” or a “night person” (or a “noon person”). Use your own (natural or enforced) rhythm to your best advantage to study or tackle other tough projects. If you’re the most awake at 12 am, study then. If you cannot sleep past 4 am, study then!

Do what works for you.

 

Quickie: Skip that Step!

“Quickies” is a new column on SotN for short or niche tips. These topics are interesting or important enough to warrant their own post, but are too short for a full length one. If you have a “quickie” you’d like to share, contact us! Enjoy! 

Efficiency is the key to being academically successful. What is efficiency in this case? It is putting in the least number of hours to learn the most amount of stuff. However, it’s hard to be efficient. Aside from distractions, there are often five million ways or resources you could study for a class. You could read the textbook, go over the notes, do the problem set, watch online videos, go to office hours, post on the online discussion board… If you don’t have time for all of these steps, what do you do?

You skip steps! Yes, really. The key is to be selective in choosing which steps to skip.

Strong students know this. They know (either intuitively or through trial and error) what works and what doesn’t. One of my friends always need to recopy/condense her notes before she can start studying in earnest. Another friend never does because it’s a waste of his time. This is also why some of your friends seem to only need to read the textbook or class notes in order to ace exams.

Know which steps actually contribute to your understanding and focus on those.

If, for example, you have an overwhelming amount of resources or ways to study for a course. First, try as many of the ways as possible to study within the first 2 weeks of class. Then eliminate what obviously doesn’t work. Continue using the rest and see if you can eliminate ways that aren’t as successful as other until you have a small handful before the midterms (or even finals). Then study hard using these extra effective strategies in order to ace that exam.