Eat, Sleep, Study: Sage Advice from a First-Year Student

Where I come from, a little town called Ottawa, we have this novel concept called snow. It arrives with a few flurries in late November, followed by a massive downpour in early December which kindly provide your shivering street with a thick coat of snow. This snow, a common phenomenon throughout Canada, does not appear with such grandeur in Toronto. In fact, it is now December, and I have yet to have felt the need to break out my snow pants and go to class via my toboggan. Snow, in downtown Toronto, has thus far been little more than a mere spitting of snowflakes and a few piles of snow here and there.

In Ottawa, the first sign of snow sent a clear message that first semester was almost complete and exams were just around the corner. In Toronto, the indication that exams are coming is not seen in a change in the physical environment but rather in a noticeable shift in the collective mentality of the student body. Slowly but surely, as November crawled to an end, I noticed more and more students with a glazed look in their eyes. Everybody seemed to be walking a bit slower, wearing sweatpants a few more times a week, letting their hair be a little more dishevelled than usual. Even the hipsters seemed to put less care into their usually calculated looks, many opting to replace their styled coifs with slouchy chapeaus, and their skinny jeans with, well, slightly less skinny jeans.

Exams at University of Toronto are, indeed, not merely an event: they are a lifestyle change. Students who party frequently skip out on thirsty Thursdays at bars to study at libraries, and students who are mildly stressed year-round literally go insane before your eyes. I myself am mentally deteriorating in the midst of exam stress, but nonetheless, I hope this blog serves to provide some first-year students with a picture of exam time, and how to make it as least painful as it can possibly be.

With this goal in mind, here are some tips:

  • If your exams are spaced tightly together, it’s not the end of the world. This doesn’t mean that you are at a horribly unfair disadvantage; it just means that you need to start studying earlier so that you aren’t cramming too much. If you, for example, have three exams on three separate days in a week, set the goal of being prepared for the first two exams when you walk into the first exam, and prepared for the second and third exam when you walk into the third exam. You may never actually feel entirely prepared, but this might help you to put more effort into studying so that you are in a better position to avoid desperate cramming.
  • There is a rare breed of student at U of T who parties during exam time. Even rarer, there is a breed of student who parties during exam time and then does well on their exams. Most common, however, are students who take December off from partying and study really, really hard. Try to put yourself in that third category, because it’s not only safest, but it also affords you the extremely comforting sentiment that you literally did everything you could to do well.
  • The above point stated, don’t lock yourself in a library for days on end with no break. After studying for so many hours, your productivity starts to plummet. You do need breaks and you especially need human interaction. Don’t be afraid to commit yourself to at least an hour or two a day of time when you aren’t studying for the sake of your mental health.
  • Robarts will drive you crazy. For many reasons, it’s a really convenient library. It’s huge, it has a great cafeteria, and it has all the books you could ever need. That said, it is a cold cement box filled with stressed students and it has the effect of draining your mental energy quicker than a cozy library like Munk or a smaller library like E.J. Pratt. You will probably be more productive if you switch up the scenery more often, so try to take yourself on a tour of U of T libraries in your studying ventures rather than committing to just one.
  • A lot of people ask where to begin. How do you even study? There is no secret. If we could eat our notes to absorb the information, I would cook up a political science casserole and be done with it. I can tell you right now (not from experience, I’m not that crazy – yet), that won’t work. The cure for exams has yet to be discovered, so you’ll have to go with the old-fashioned rule that has thus far worked successfully for those who remain, for the most part, focused and sane: eat, sleep, study.

It’s only a matter of days before the storm clears, first-years! Before we all know it, life will return to our peers’ eyes, sweatpants will be once again replaced by jeans, and hair will be thoroughly styled. The hipsters will eagerly return to their measured wardrobes, oversized glasses firmly in place and leather jackets zipped over circle scarves to perfection. The snow will persist well into 2011, but at U of T, we are approaching the end of our worst season and the beginning of a new semester, with which comes the rebirth of an exhausted student body. Keep your chin up – round 2 is just around the bend.

5 comments for “Eat, Sleep, Study: Sage Advice from a First-Year Student

  1. hb
    December 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    some brilliant observations in there

  2. Jess | Featured Blogger
    December 8, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    There isn’t that much snow this year because it’s been a warm year in Toronto in general. (The last two winters have been snow-filled… insanely so, so don’t complain. I can tell you now that we can all live without having Queen’s Park being all iced up.)

    As for studying early… ha… haha… try doing that in 4th year when you have a gazillion papers due in November. You’d be defying the law of physics if you could study early.

    I think that rather than studying early or hard, the trick at university is to study intelligently. That just means studying what you need and not more than that. Go over past exams, don’t stress if you don’t know or understand one or two chunks in your notes, especially since a lot of exams have questions where you have a choice of questions.

  3. Zainab
    December 11, 2010 at 4:11 am

    I agree with Jess; sometimes studying early isn’t possible if you have a bunch of assignments to do before finals. The last thing you’d want to be doing is studying for an exam that’s a few weeks away when you have a paper due in the next few days.

    Personally, the earlier I study material, the more I forget as the exam date approaches. I learnt that the hard way for a few of my exams. What is key is to not just leave studying to the weeks before exam time, but to be consistent with it throughout the year. Attend your lectures; follow up with the notes soon after, to not fall behind; tackle any problems ahead of time with your profs, TAs, etc. before things spiral out of control. That way, come exam time, you’ll basically be dedicating your time to revision and practicing past tests, rather than cramming in material that seems new to you, even though it had been covered in lectures. Though this advise may seem late, what with exams already under way, I definitely think it’s a good point to keep in mind for round two!

    Otherwise, lovely article! Though I’m not in first year, I did take note of a few things, e.g. mixing it up a bit when it comes to libraries (I’ve stayed true to Robarts, especially since it’s open 24/7 this time of year, but I’ve noticed that its drab interior slowly starts to suck away my happiness like a Dementor’s Kiss).
    And YES, stay healthy! Your butt will hate you if you are sitting on it for 4 hours straight. So get up and MOVE. Walk around, stretch, do whatever it takes to get blood circulating through your body. Plus, you can’t study more than an hour in a stretch, your brain can only absorb so much before it takes a U-Turn and erases the information you’ve learnt from your memory; so take breaks! Chat with your friends, loosen up, watch a hilarious Youtube video (just don’t laugh out loud in the library; people give you death stares, I would know). And I cannot emphasize on food…Don’t OD on junk! But then again, this is a rant in itself.

    GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE! & especially to first-years, don’t pull your hair out! This is an experience in itself, you will learn from it; just breathe, you’ll be fine :)

  4. samira
    December 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Great article , I’am in first year and Im realy lost but thanks to Zainab , she encourage me so much . Thank you so much Guys !!!

    indeed i will Learn 😀

  5. SteveR
    December 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Great article, with great tips from Jess and Zainab.

    My studying technique is to start as early as I can and learn small chunks often, then review early. I spread the study time over a longer period and slip in some reviews early to keep from forgetting the early stuff. Of course, this means my breaks are short, but they’re not too infrequent.

    Of course, things can pile up, but even taking a half-hour to look at material early can help.

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