March 01, 2017

What You Can Do Now to Prepare for Finals

With final exams around the corner, Mebbie Bell, director of learning resources at the Student Success Centre, shares the best ways to plan your time now to make the exam season go smoothly.

Even though you may still be in the midst of term assignments and midterms, you can take productive steps to get prepared and focused for finals. The following tips will help make your final exam period as stress free — and academically successful — as possible.

Confirm your exam schedule. Double check the date, time, length, and location of each of your exams on the Office of the Registrar's 'final' version of the final exam scheduleIt’s unusual that an exam date would change, but sometimes the exam locations do. Then, check these against your course outline, eClass postings, and in-class information. If the information does not match, contact your instructor immediately. Double checking these details in advance will help you avoid unnecessary stress on exam day.

Know what to expect. For each exam, you should know what material will be tested, the type and number of questions, and what you need to bring. This checklist will help you fine-tune what you need to know. Then, review your course outlines, eClass postings, and class materials.  Even if the exam is still a week or two away, ask your instructor about anything that is unclear. And, be specific with these details so that you can be strategic about how you study. 

Make a plan. Set aside some time now to plan how you want to spend the rest of the term. Grab a monthly calendar and your course outlines to plan, one class at a time:
  • List all upcoming due dates for assignments and your final exam.
  • Make a list of the themes/topics you need to cover for the final.
  • Estimate how much time you need spend on each topic (e.g., 3 hours for unit 2 in Psyco 105). Focus on individual, smaller topics within course sections or units to make planning this time easier. While you may ideally want 50 hours to review that really tough class unit, remember that you may realistically have less time — especially when you need to balance your overall study time between courses while maintaining your well-being.
  • Then, schedule these blocks of time on your calendar between now and when you write your final exam. Break up larger topics into multiple study sessions, and aim to complete your review at least a day or two in advance, so you have time for extra review.
Make every day count! Even if your final exams seem far away or you feel you have so many things to do before you start studying for finals, aim do something each day to help you prepare. For instance:
  • Think about what you are already doing in your courses that is helping you prepare for your final examination. Whether you are working on a lab report, prepping for a quiz, or submitting a paper, ask yourself what you are learning that you can carry forward to the final exam.
  • Work strategically with your class notes. Review them each day after class, add information from the textbook, or identify questions that could show up on the exam.
  • Do practice questions from the textbook, exam registry, or instructor.
  • If the exam is cumulative, review old midterms or quizzes.
  • Note questions you have about course materials, then meet with your instructor or TA to discuss them.
It doesn’t have to be a lot, but each small step helps you get set for successful exams!

Interested in more strategies? Check out our exam strategies workshops or meet with a learning strategist.

January 17, 2017

The Benefits of Study Groups

Wondering whether study groups are for you? Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares the benefits of having a study group and strategies to make them more effective.

As you power through the second half of the semester, you may want to consider forming a study group for one of your classes. While some students prefer to study solo or have had unproductive experiences with study groups, research insists that study groups can benefit their members’ learning immensely. The very mechanisms that make study groups useful for deepening your understanding of course content — interaction and collaboration — provide benefits to the development of soft skills as well. These are the skills regularly touted as desirable by employers and include effective communication, group planning, group decision-making, problem-solving, adaptability, and leadership skills.

Additional benefits include the following:
  • Perfect your notes. By comparing notes with one another, study group members can fill in or clarify any important concepts they missed. 
  • Divide and conquer. More people can cover more material. A group can assign each member specific material to summarize and share.
  • Widen your perspective. With each member bringing their own knowledge, talents, and insights, your perspective is bound to be enhanced by the contributions of other members. This is especially useful when quizzing one another, as other members will think of questions that would never occur to you!  
  • Increase retention. Teaching and verbalizing concepts to your group members will reinforce your own learning. 
  • Feel connected. School can be stressful and studying alone can promote isolation. Studying with a group can provide motivation and support. 
Common pitfalls of study groups — the difficulty of scheduling mutually convenient meeting times, the built-in temptation to socialize rather than study, or the possibility of members slacking — often turn students off from study groups. But, keeping in mind these common problems and using the recommendations below, you can learn how to work effectively within a study group.

January 14, 2017

Making this your best term yet

Do you want to have a strong start to this semester? Mebbie Bell, associate director of learning resources at the U of A Student Success Centre shares her top tips. 

Starting a new academic term is exciting — new classes, new books, new opportunities. But, it can also be challenging to come back after the December break. Whether you want a different experience this term or are excited to build on your previous successes, consider taking some practical and proactive steps toward change.

Reflect on the fall term. 
Take some time to reflect on what worked in the previous term and what didn't. Maybe you took on too many work hours or extracurricular activities? Left studying until the last minute? Or, worked really hard but didn't see the academic results you wanted? While it’s tempting to focus exclusively on the negatives, remember to recognize the positives, as well. You can build on your strengths as you start addressing the challenges you encountered. As you reflect on your experiences, ask yourself:
  • What do I want to stop doing?
  • What do I want to keep doing?
  • What do I want to start doing?

How to profit from red ink: gain new insights from old feedback

Rob Desjardins, graduate writing advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares his tips on turning feedback from past writing assignments positive tools for revision. 

You’re back again — ready to take on another term, and keen to do better on your writing assignments than you did in the fall. What can you do strategically right now to write better essays, annotated bibliographies, or lab reports in March or April?

Here’s a suggestion: dig out your marked-up writing assignments from last term (that’s right, the ones you never wanted to see again). Now that the emotion and stress have dissipated, take a second look at your professors’ comments as they can provide a great starting point for improving your work this term. Start by analyzing them critically — what types of comments are the most common?

January 13, 2017

Making Your Computer Work for You: Colours, Voice, and Seeing

In the 'Making your computer work for you' series, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, shares the features of your computer that can make writing and studying easier.

The word “revise” literally means “to see again.” So part of the revising process is to reexamine your writing using a different approach to really “see” the issues you may be having with your writing. The computer can help you do this. How? Use colours. Why colours? Colours are visual and although they don’t communicate content, they can relay other aspects of your writing.

Here is how you can use colour to help you really “see” your writing.
  • Highlight all your quotations in one colour.
  • Choose a different colour and highlight all your paraphrases.
  • In some cases, you might use a third colour to highlight facts, plot, or summary.
  • Now shrink the screen size so you can’t read your writing, but you can “see” your writing in a new way.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself when using this approach:
  • How much of your writing is coloured?
    • Too much and you are probably lacking a voice and presence in your writing.
    • Too little, and perhaps you are lacking support and/or evidence.
  • Where is the coloured text primarily located?
    • If in the beginning, you might be setting up your paragraphs poorly.
    • If at the end of your paragraphs, you might not be “unpacking” things enough or closing the paragraph well.
    • In either case, you may be minimizing your own intellectual presence in the paper.