End of Term Reminders

Ahhh! It’s almost April! It’s hard to believe with the crappy weather, but as year comes to a close, here are some things to keep in mind as you head into the (very stressful) exam period:

  • Quadruple check your exam schedule. Be paranoid. A couple of years ago, I had a biology exam on a Tuesday. But for some strange reason, I thought it was on Wednesday. Luckily, I was being paranoid and checked the schedule on Monday night. If I hadn’t, I would have missed my exam. So yeah… check the schedule (multiple times), just in case.
  • Don’t forget any last minute assignments. It’s easy to get caught up in the parties and the fun stuff right now, but don’t forget those last minute homework assignments, reports, or papers that are usually worth a good chunk of marks.
  • You can do it! You can ace that exam/course, even if you didn’t do some well on the midterm. Have confidence in yourself, figure out why you weren’t doing right, change your approach, and keep on trying. You’ll be surprised at how successful you can be.
  • De-stress or take a day off! It’s been a looooong year. So take some time off, relax, and de-stress. This is especially crucial if you feel ready to burn out!
  • Save the major partying for later. Although you should take some time off, now is not the time to get drunk everyday for a week. Sure, go out for a drink or two if it helps you relax, but don’t kill all of your brain cells now, ‘k?
  • Get (somewhat) organized. 
  • Find some balance. Exams are stressful and it’s decidedly unhealthy to be solely focused on that one thing for the entire 1 – 2 weeks you’ll be studying for/writing exams. This doesn’t mean you have to keep doing everything or carry a full social calendar, but it does mean finding something that you can turn to to relax when you’re tired or stressed out. Whether it’s meditation or getting together with friends, find something that works.
  • Remove distractions. Yes, it’s important to maintain some balance during the exam season. But remove any major distractions that are huge time sinks. Yes, that means you have to stop playing WoW, LoL, and Pokemon (or whatever your vices are).
  • Get a life-line. During exams, your entire world revolves around whatever you’re studying. Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective and get really stressed out. Find a family member or a friend who could calm you down or present a new perspective. This will keep you sane.
  • Take care of yourself! You can’t ace an exam nearly as easily if you’re sick or if you’re desperately trying to stay awake. Eat well, get enough sleep (NOT at the library), and exercise a little. Your body and brain will thank you.
  • If you’re feeling lost about how to study, check out the exam prep series. Also check out some things you should not be doing this exam season.

New posts on SotN will probably be far and few in between in April. Hey, I’ve exams to not fail ace too! Good luck!


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?


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.


“[Preparation] is Half the Victory”* – Getting Ready for Next Term

Organic Chemistry Christmas Tree

Image "Organic Chemistry Christmas Tree" Copyright 2010 Brenda Park, used with permission

*“Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory” – Miguel De Cervantes


Ah… Winter Break. ’Tis the season for Santa Claus, late-night parties, and too much turkey (or cookies, pies, and other goodies). Exams are over, marks are trickling out, and it is finally time to kick back and relax! I hope your term one grades are exactly what you wanted. If they are not, don’t despair! You can and will do better next term (stay tuned for my article about how to improve your grades). Regardless of how you did last term, some preparation during winter break will make your life much easier next term. Without further ado, here are some things you should do before heading back to school.

1. Relax and Recharge.

This is the single most important thing to do during Christmas break. Consider this analogy: a student’s “academic energy” is like the electricity stored in a battery. At the beginning of the year, there is plenty. However, that energy gets depleted until there is nothing left by the end of final exams. Winter break is the perfect time to recharge. Sleep lots, spend time with family and friends, and forget school. Let your stress and tension go. I know that some families make a big deal out of Christmas (or out of other holidays during this time), but you must find some time to relax. Going back to school without properly unwinding can significantly impact your academic performance and lead to increased stress, less motivation, and burning out.

If you can only do one thing on this list, do this one. You can catch up on everything else quickly at the beginning of next term if you are well-rested. However, an exhausted you will struggle with your courses even if you have done everything else to prepare.

2. Prepare for the New Term

Once you feel better rested, there should still be some time to get ready for the new term. The following tasks make great starting points:

a. Finalize your schedule

The first thing you should do is to take a look at your second term schedule. Assess it critically and ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I still want to take all of these courses?

This is especially important if you failed a course that is a pre-requisite for another course, or if you’re thinking of switching majors or programs.

2. Is the scheduling arrangement still satisfactory?

Did you like morning classes or afternoon classes in first term? How about whether they are spread out or concentrated in blocks? Is your schedule arranged to suit your preferences?

3. Do you want to switch professors?

Ask your friends about perspective professors and assess critically the comments on www.ratemyprofessors.ca.

b. Sell your old books and buy new books.

Check out this article for specific tips.

c. Read over the syllabus and available material for your courses.

If the syllabus is released already, skim over it to get an idea of what the course is actually about. Syllabi can often be found online. As well, if your school has some sort of electronic platform for your courses, check there to see if your prof has posted any announcements.

If you have bought your textbooks already, skim over the headings and see if you’ve studied any of the topics already. A quick overview will increase your confidence for that class because the topic would not seem so foreign.

I think everyone should set some goals for the upcoming term (and I know that’s not always fun)! It’s so an an important that it warrants its own article, and so keep your eyes peeled for it in the next day or 2 :).


Happy Holidays!

What NOT to do This Exam Season

Final Exams

Image "FINAL EXAMS .. Xp (( Explore 12 ))" courtesy of Flickr User Abdullah .. al - jowair, licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza and New Years are approaching rapidly, and with them comes the dreaded December Finals. With the plethora of exam advice on the web, I thought I’d take a different spin and write about what people should NOT do during this exam season.

1. Do not grind

This isn’t the dancing type of grind. No, an exam grind is when you leave your house at an ungodly hour, park yourself in a library, study for 12 hours, go home and sleep, and repeat this process until all your exams are done. Not only is this physically and mentally draining, but is also inefficient and ineffective. If you’re pushing yourself like this, your motivation – arguably one of the most important things during an exam season – will be lost. More importantly, most people doing the grind end up being distracted by something or take much longer to get through material. Your grade on an exam has nothing to do with how long you studied for it – only how effectively you’ve studied it. Set aside specific time and goals for what you’re studying and leave a least an hour or two a day for fun activities. This is NOT an argument for not studying, but rather an argument for studying smartly. Don’t grind, it’s a waste of time.

2. Do not give up all social events

Holing yourself up or ignoring all of your friends and family is a quick way of going insane. No matter how freaked out your are by the amount of work you have to get done, leave some time to go out and have fun. Watching a movie with friends, playing some sports, or even just having a quick conversation with someone will reenergize you. However, not all activities are created equal…

3. Do not take drugs or alcohol (or smoke if possible)

Avoid binge drinking after feeling like you’ve bombed an exam and stay away from the illegal stuff! At the risk of making myself sound prudish, addling your brain is the worst thing you could do. Hangovers and the morning afters aside, the brain is an extremely sensitive organ that regenerates slowly. One especially brutal drinking session will affect you for days. That’s not taking into the long term effects of drinking, smoking, and drugs; your brain could take up to 40 YEARS to undo the damage you do onto it today.

4. Do not burn out

With the pressure of exams and the holiday season, it can be easy to overburden yourself and burnout. Follow steps 1 and 2, and if you feel really close to the edge, talk to someone you trust. I’ll leave the psychological stuff out of this discussion, but find some ways to unload. Don’t forget that there are 2 weeks of oblivion holiday after!

5. Do not freak

Around exam time, perfectly sane students start running around like headless chickens. People freak out because they are disorganized. people freak out because they are afraid of being disorganized. People freak out because they can’t get through all the material in time. People freak out because they have gotten through all of the material they can and are at a loss as to what else they can study. It’s a time for paradoxes and potentially high emotions. Take a breath. Chill. Organize and study the best you can. Don’t worry if you’ve left the laundry undone, the dishes in the sink, or forgot to do one of the critical readings for an exam. Focus on what’s important to you and sweat the small stuff later. If you feel terrible because your exams have been tough, take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone and that it will get better if you keep on trying!

6. Do not miss an exam!

This is obvious, but worth reiteration. Triple and quadruple check your exam schedule. Write it out or print it out and double check with friends. The day before a schedule exam, check your time and location again. This may be a bit over the top, but it’s better than showing up for an exam only to realize you’re not at the right place at the right time! Not writing the final can mean you literally fail in some courses, so it pays to be overzealous.

7. Do not let this list worry you

Some people – like myself – feel tense around exam time because of the pressure. If you are not one of those people, kudos! Keep on doing whatever you’ve been doing and you’ll sail through this exam season without issues. If you are feeling stressed out, do your best to relax (hopefully the above advice will help you somewhat) and you WILL get through it!

Good luck on your exams!