How to Survive Uottawa, or Any Other Canadian Universities - A Quick Guide for Those Who Are About to Enter, or Is Considering Undergraduate Educations in Canada Part II - on how to be successful in your classes and exams!
Table of Contents
Introduction p. 2
Notes, classes, and profs p. 2
Winter months and exams p. 5
Conclusion p. 6
Welcome back! Hopefully you have read Part I of my guide and is now pretty confidence with the beggining of the school term. The following is my advice on how to study more efficiently and take exams with peak preformance. Remember, it does not matter how much time you put into your studies, if nothing goes into your head all will be wasted. So study both smart and hard!
Notes, classes, and profs - the fates of “good” and “bad” students
In Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond identified that there is an “Anna Karenina principle” that affects the success and failures of civilizations. If you are unfamiliar with said principle, it goes like this- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. What it basically means is that there is a secret formula that affects all successes, while absent of said formula, every case will scientifically fail.
Claiming to know a “secret formula” that will scientifically result in success is a big deal, and Diamond certainly has his share of critics (myself included) on his thesis. However, from my empirical, inductive reasoning and observations, I do see a pattern among students who tend to score higher in classes, versus those who tend not to. Hence my following observation and advice are for you to consider. I am not going to say that if you follow my following advice you’ll 100% do well in class- we all learn and perform differently, but simply take it with a pinch of salt.
Do not simply copy everything from the slides is pretty basic advice. Why even take notes if you’re just going to copy it? If you think about it, taking notes does two things. First you must copy down the things that you yourself deem to be important and cannot be found anywhere else on the Internet. Second, the act of writing your notes down serves as a form of memorization process that will help you remember better. Hence I believe the best form of notes are ones that restructure your prof’s lecture and slides in a succinct way. Filtering out the rambling and overlooking facts that you simply can find, and adding on your own understanding into the topic. Notes can be taken both in point form or sentences, but a combination of both is usually the best.
You should always take notes with consideration for yourself in the future. This is where the aforementioned forward thinking mentality comes into place. Your notes are for yourself to read. Hence if they are so rough that it won’t be of much use in the future then it is probably useless. Try to structure it in a way that you could easily understand and help you remember that day’s lecture, and if it helps, take 20 minutes after class to restructure and quickly go through your notes.
Never take a picture or screenshot of your notes. You won’t study it later and even if you do, you are not going to understand it well. Some professors post the slides afterwards so it is helpful to ask beforehand whether your prof will post the lecture and if so, where.
While some profs take attendance, most profs simply don’t care about your absence. Especially during COVID, missing or zooming out a lecture is simply so tempting when you are at the comfort of your home. However, attending classes is crucial for your success especially as a freshman.
When you are in class, try to incorporate what is said by the prof into your preexisting understanding of the topic. Especially for folks who are in arts, you’re not simply studying to memorize everything they say. You have to convert the information and opinions of your professors into your own knowledge. There is no way you can memorize every bit of information in class and even if you do, you’ll probably forget it right after exams. Hence it is better to gain a good understanding of the subjects and use what is being taught in class as more or less “examples” to back up your understanding/claim.
Once you’ve paid good attention in class and taken good notes, the knowledge should stick in your head. This will come in handy when it comes to studying for an exam or writing an assignment as you’ve gained a grasp of what was taught and know where you need additional studying. In other words, gain control of your studies!
Most people tend to forget this, but the success and failure of a course are very largely dependent on the quality and relationship you share with your professors. Hence it is probably prudent to check out your profs as early as possible.
VIII Edition of Clio, published in 2020. © Michael Wang 2021
Take advantage of the chatting opportunity at the end of each class and allow these profs to get to know you. These are very learned people and I found every conversation with them to be a fruitful one. Come to profs’ office hours. Don’t be shy and ask them any questions you might have during lectures that you haven’t had the opportunity to ask, or problems you might encounter with assignments and exams. Profs are always very helpful. I have had many instances where profs literally went through my essays and gave me suggestions beforehand thus resulting in not only a higher mark but also a better grasp of my comprehension. I also had profs who gave me their copies of the textbooks simply because I told them I could not find one in the bookstore.
Furthermore, having a familiar and friendly relationship with your profs can also result in rare opportunities being presented to you. For instance, a prof in my third year approached me and asked if I would like to consider writing an essay fit for Clio, our school’s undergraduate journal. I was so excited for this opportunity and this professor whom I’ve had a good relationship with since my first year helped me tremendously in terms of inspiring my topic for my essay and helping me edit it once it was finished (in fact, the notes of suggestion he gave me was more than my essay!). In the end my essay was selected in 2020 to be published in Clio and I was incredibly thankful towards my professor, without whom I am unable to achieve this accomplishment.
But beyond publishing essays, profs might also consider you to become their research assistant or TAs. These opportunities will look great on your portfolio and will make you stand out when it comes to finding a job.
Winter months and exams
How to study for exams? Ones who sweat more in peacetime bleed less in war. If you’ve been following my advice and taking good notes, going to classes with your full attention, and going to office hours often, then there is little you need to do during exam season. I am a strong advocate of studying less but giving your full attention when you do study. Try studying a few hours a day ahead of time (it’s helpful sometimes to start reviewing before the end of your course) and never overwork yourself during exam season. Days before exams you should make sure that you are in good mental condition and well-rested. Again, learning shouldn’t be restricted to the two weeks at the end of your term. You should be learning throughout the semester.
I hope my advice offered can be of useful means to you in achieving your academic goals. If not, don’t worry! University is a long process and knowing your weaknesses is just as important as learning new knowledge. Take some time to assess what went wrong and what could be improved. On average you’ll have 8 semesters, each semester will offer new challenges and new opportunities for you to improve. University is a constant study process, so don’t worry if you aren’t where you want to be at the start. If you would like to learn more about learning resources, picking courses, and housing (i.e. stuff that you should be worried about in the winter semester), check out Part III of my guide!