5 tips to study for your online exams

Unlike usual, this post isn’t about books – or rather, not about novels or recreational books. It does include textbooks, though.

Since we’re in self-quarantine here, all non-essential services are closed, which includes universities and schools all over the country. Many schools are now turning to the internet to maintain their classes online as much as possible, either having their classes live on platforms like zoom, or using panopto and other video conference software to record videos and power point presentations and make them available to their students whenever possible.

If you’re a full-time university student, like me, you’ve probably had to rethink your entire study methods over the past few weeks : online learning is, after all, very different from in-person classes. And with online classes, come… online finals !

So I thought I’d share some of the tips I found useful while preparing for my exams after switching all my classes to online learning.

1. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the exam

Many professors will assume that, since you’re doing the exam online, it makes it an open book exam – meaning, they’ll prepare their exam keeping in mind that you’ll have access to all of the course material when you take the test, and will be able to look for the answer to their questions relatively quickly.

Underestimating the difficulty of the exam is one of the most dangerous mistakes you could make : if you rely too much on having the material at hand when you take the test, and don’t put enough effort into understanding it and making sure you have a good enough comprehension of the class, you’re setting yourself up for failure. However, having the ability to look through your notes and textbooks while you’re writing your answers is an advantage that you should take advantage of !

2. Study guides are, in fact, useful

Making a study guide to keep track of all the course material you need to know to achieve the grade you’re aiming for is a lifesaver. You can use the syllabus your professor gives you at the beginning of the semester (sometimes put online so you can access it at any point during the semester) to give you an idea of the amount of work you’ll have to put in, and when you’ll need to start studying.

If you have textbooks or required reading, printing the documents and putting tabs on the side to note where the important concepts or chapters are will save you a lot of time !

3. Take advantage of your professor’s student hours

A lot of university professors still have their student hours, even while the university campuses are closed. They might answer your questions via email, or a video conference with other students, but this is an important resource you would do well not to neglect : studying on your own, at home, is difficult enough in itself.

Photo by @nickmorrison on Unsplash

If you have any questions about the material that your teacher could clarify for you, using the means at your disposition to contact them and ask for explanation could help you save your grade, and make sure you don’t lose precious knowledge that will be useful during the actual exam.

4. Pay attention to the parameters of the test !

Online exams may be available for up to 24 hours, depending on your teacher’s wishes, but that doesn’t mean you have all this time to think about your answers ! Those hours are here so that all the students can start the test at a time that fits their schedule the most. Once you start the exam, the real countdown begins : that’s the amount of time you’re allotted to actually answer the questions.

If you’re in quarantine in an apartment with one or more other people, you might want to make sure to let them know that they are not to disturb you for the entirety of the time it will take you to pass the test – concerns for plagiarism aside, there is nothing more disheartening than realizing you won’t be able to finish in tie because someone interrupted you with something that could definitely have waited one more half-hour for your attention.

You also want to make sure there’s no ambiguity over how, exactly, you’re going to be evaluated. Is it a multiple choice questions type of test, or will you have to make developed, long thought-out answers ? Does it cover all of the material, or only half the semester ?

5. Make sure your material is working properly

This one may seem pretty self-explanatory, but it’s so frustrating to hit the “send” button, only to discover you didn’t have a properly working internet connection and all your answers have disappeared when you tried to transmit them…

Side-note : this isn’t a made-up scenario : it happened to me last semester, in a multiple choice question online exam with more than a hundred questions. Luckily, I had backed up my answers by writing my choices on a paper while I went through the exam the first time, so I didn’t lose everything. Still, it took me an additional 15 minutes to re-fill the entire form, and that prevented me from being able to double-check my answers before the time limit was up. So, essentially : don’t be like me. Make sure everything works before you start the exam.

Some universities here in Canada are putting everything in place to ensure the success of their students, as best as possible. Mine, for example, offers the option to only have the mention “Success” or “Failure” in your academic file for classes in which you don’t get the grade you hoped for. My brother’s university goes one step further, making the “Failed” mention an automatic “Abandon” mention, thus making sure the results of this crisis don’t alter your GPA in any way.

What measures are other universities putting in place to best help their students ? How do you prepare for your online exams ?

Why I’m not focusing on productivity right now.

By now, if you go on the internet on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen one of those headlines. Or ten. You know, the ones about “how to avoid gaining 10 pounds while self-isolating“, or “how to stay on top of your cleaning when everyone works at home“. Or “how to avoid distractions and stay busy during self-isolation“. The articles that tell you it’s important to keep your morning habits and not give in to the siren of “working from home in sweatpants instead of dressing up for work every day”.

The perfect self-isolating woman those articles describe us wakes up at 5 in the morning, does her gym exercises every day, cleans her apartment, takes the dog on a walk but doesn’t see anyone, respects every confinement rule and spends the energy necessary to ensure everyone in her household does too. She feeds everyone, does the laundry, teaches the children so they don’t miss anything while school’s closed, and works from home at her 9 to 5 job.

Image by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I’m not going to lie – I wish I was as productive as all those articles want us to be. I wish I could wake up early in the morning, make hot chocolate, get dressed quickly, work all day and still have a clean apartment.

If I was a perfect person, I would use the quiet hours of the morning to work on a personal project, like writing a book about self-isolation and the terrible hardships of confinement (I’m not joking, there’s a ton of people out there doing that – rich people who left their house to go to their vacation home and who think their “self-isolation journals” are full of amazing insight on the daily struggles of the financially unchallenged. Seriously. And those journals aren’t even well-written.).

But I’m not, and I’m betting you aren’t too. And that’s okay.

I’ve read on social media that being creative is difficult for a lot of people right now. Finding inspiration to make art, write a blog post, film a video, etc. seems to be much harder than usual – and that’s normal. It’s hard to find creativity when you’re constantly worrying about the next disaster coming around, or if you’re going to put yourself and your parents / children in danger by going out to buy groceries. You’re spending all your energy on staying alive and staying safe – it’s not surprising that there’s not a lot left for anything else.

We’re living in a terrifying time, where fears of death, illness and financial hardships are even more present than usual, and it’s unrealistic (and borderline dangerous) to expect people to keep the appearance of normalcy when everything around them isn’t. Millions of people have lost their jobs in the last few weeks, are struggling to make ends meet while trying to protect themselves as much as possible. Our health care workers are doing everything they can with insufficient PPE and equipment, and the supply chain is struggling to produce enough masks and gloves for each and every one of them. There is nothing normal about our situation.

Sure, it’d be nice if you could learn something new during a holiday, “quench your thirst for knowledge”, write a research paper or make a full dinner set with your own hands. During a holiday, you’d have all the time you want, and no worries or obligations other than resting and having a good time.

But this isn’t a holiday. It’s a pandemic, and if the only thing you can do today after making sure you’ve eaten and slept is watch the Dragon Prince on Netflix for three hours ? That’s okay too. Your coping strategies don’t need to be the same as everybody else’s.

You don’t need to force yourself into a burnout just to make sure you’re doing everything you’re “supposed to” during theses trying times.

So if wearing sweatpants at home and playing Animal Crossing New Horizons keeps your spirits up and helps you cope with the increased anxiety and stress of these last few weeks ? Go ahead. If you want to bake sourdough bread and post pictures of your dog on social media ? We’d love to see them !

And if you’re struggling, please don’t hesitate to ask for help. Mental health professionals are here for you.

Source : Infographic by the government of Australia.

If you’re in Canada, here’s some information on mental health resources that can provide help during the pandemic :

  • Mental Health First Aid Canada has produced a Self-care and resilience guide to help people deal with mental health challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. Find more information here.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada has created a free PDF sheet on Taking care of your mental health during the pandemic. You can download the document here. (The text part of this document isn’t specific to Canadians, only the resources part, with the contact numbers of mental health associations that continue to offer their services).

Stay safe,

2020 discussion challenge announcement

This is going to be an extra short post – one that will, hopefully, lead to some much longer posts in the future : I’m going to try to participate in the 2020 discussion post challenge, hosted by Nicole @ feed your fiction addiction and Shannon @ It starts at midnight !

There are 5 levels to the challenge, but I’ll be aiming for the first one, “discussion dabbler” : the goal will be to post between 1 and 10 discussion posts during the year !

This type of post isn’t my specialty, to say the least, so I’m aiming pretty low, but I’m positive this will be a nice experience for me and that pushing myself a little bit outside of my blogging comfort zone will be beneficial in the long run. I really want to create original content, and a challenge like this one might be just what I need to get the inspiration to do so !

You can see the challenge rules here, and there’s still time to sign up – registration is open until December 2020. The posts will be linked up in monthly posts on the organizer’s blogs, so go check the January link-up if you haven’t seen it yet ! I love reading discussion posts, so I’m looking forward to what other people will post this year !

My reading habits

I’m always pretty curious of how other people read, and where/when they do so : do they read in their bed ? In the bus when they go to work in the morning ? I know my father’s been keeping a book in the pocket of his coat for some time now, just in case he gets stuck waiting in line for something, or has some free time and no additional work to do – but how do others read, and how does it compare to how I read ?

When I thought about making this post, my first idea was that I don’t read that much in my day, and to be honest, that thought didn’t make me feel good about myself. But I spent some more time thinking about it, and realized that wasn’t actually true. So here’s a short post about my own reading habits !

WHAT I read

First things first : in examining my daily habits, I actually realized that I read a lot of stuff throughout the day. Most of it, though, falls under one of four categories :

  • Books

I wish those made up most of my daily pages read, but they sadly don’t : books are expensive, and since I moved to a new city at the beginning of the semester, I haven’t found the time to make myself a new library account, so I can’t borrow any books for free yet. (It’s written as a task in my bullet journal, but I haven’t been able to do it yet – I’m hoping to find some time for that this week though !)

  • Fanfiction

Maybe one third of my daily pages read. It’s easy to read, I can access it on my phone whenever I want, and it doesn’t take as much effort as a brand new book since I already know the characters and the world they evolve in. I usually select fanfictions only over 15k words, so I’m sure to have enough to read for the whole ride home after my last class of the day.

  • Blog posts

I love blog posts. I usually open a bunch of those on my laptop whenever I open WordPress, and bookmark tweets and posts that sound interesting in order to come back to it later during the day.

  • Class reading material

I have so much class reading material in a week, it’s terrible. I’m currently taking 5 psychology classes, and each of those gives me at least two documents every week, of between 10 and 20 pages each – that’s at least 100 pages of academic reading material every week ! And that doesn’t include chapters from the class book, and optional readings (which I sometimes try to do, when by some miracle I get to have some extra time to do so).

I had some extra time on my hands while writing this, so I made a pie chart to illustrate this post :

meta-chart(1)
This is way too simple for me to be this proud of it, but I like it, so. Here it is.

WHERE I read

With physical books, it’s usually at home, in my bed before going to sleep or in a comfy chair when I’m taking a day off and having some time for myself. I read eBooks and fanfictions on the move (since I live in a big city now, I usually spend at least an hour a day in commute, sometimes up to two and a half hours) and blogs on my laptop after dinner or in the afternoon when I have some time to relax between classes.

HOW I read

I actually own an e-reader, but I haven’t used it in a couple f years – I bought it in France in 2012, so it’s a bit old and probably needs a ton of updates before I can get it to work well again, but I haven’t had the heart to get rid of it. I mostly read eBooks on my phone now, as well as fanfiction.

I mainly use my laptop for blog articles, but I prefer to print my class reading material before reading and annotating it : it’s so difficult to annotate a PDF on my laptop, it’s not worth the effort. And, of course, I love having access to actual physical copies of books, especially hardcovers !

What about you – how do you read, and when ? Do you have any unexpected reading habits ? Feel free to comment about it !

What is, actually, YA ?

Recently, I was talking to someone about the latest books I read, and I mentioned Descendant of the crane (which I finally found the time to review here !) by Joan He, which is categorized on Goodreads as “Fantasy”, “Fiction”, and “Young Adult”. When I mentioned that last category, the person I was talking to had a surprising reaction : they couldn’t believe that I was reading YA. “YA is for kids”, they told me, “it’s full of bad literature like Twilight and all those sappy romance novels !”.

I disagree. So I turned to the internet, to see what, exactly, is the YA category supposed to be, and what kind of books it includes. Turns out, I had to look at a lot of different blog posts and articles to try and figure this out, so I made a compilation of the answers I found here !

What are the principal categories ?

There’s YA, teen fiction, and new adult. YA is usually separated from teen fiction and new adult by the age ranges and the themes it covers – teen fiction targets mostly from ages 10-14, and New Adult aims to be read by people in the 18-30 age range.

What’s the target population for YA books, then ?

Well, that’s where it gets complicated. See, there’s a lot of disagreement over which age range YA books are intended for – and whether or not that’s the public that’s actually reading YA books. Most publishers and bloggers put the target age range at 13-18 years-old, but a 2012 study on the readers of YA novels stated that more than half of those readers were over 18, with 28% of the total of readers being between 30 and 44 years-old. Not really the intended target, then.

Some people argue that the age range isn’t about who the books are for, but rather who the books are about – that YA books feature mostly Young Adults, from 15 to 25, and talk about the specific issues they live through at this time in their lives. I’m honestly not sure who’s right in this one, so please don’t hesitate to give me your opinion !

What makes YA so different from the other categories ?

YA covers a lot of themes you don’t usually get to see in Teen fiction – including, but not limited to : first love, sex, adult friendships / relationships, the search for your identity…

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But the specificity of YA, for me, is the liberty it brings to the table – you can have absolutely anything you want in YA, have an audacity you can’t find as easily in “real” adult books or in teen fiction. You can have bisexual space pirates, historical fiction with magical realism, high fantasy… more and more diverse books are being published in the YA category, and I, for one, LOVE IT.

Conclusion

YA is a category, not a genre, and that’s what makes it so difficult to describe precisely – but the fact that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what its limits are is what makes it so full of creativity and interesting new ideas !

When I started reading about YA, I wanted to be extra sure of what I would say in this post. After doing all my research online, I went to my local library to talk to the librarian about Young Adult books, who they’re intended for, and who reads them. And so, in the words of my local librarian :

There’s no need to feel ashamed for reading YA, especially because of how good it’s been getting over the last decade or so. There’s no age limit on who’s allowed to read good books – whether it’s in the YA section or the adult fiction section, a good novel is a good novel, and you’ll enjoy it all the same.

What’s your opinion on YA books ? Do you read mostly adult books, new adult, young adult, or a mix of all ?

Until next time,

Maude

My days are too short.

Do you have these days when you feel like there’s just not enough hours in your day to do all the things you want to do ?

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 7, feeling tired and drowsy from lack of sleep. I went to bed at 10pm the night before, thinking a solid 8 hours of sleep would help me get back on my feet the next day and perform better at work… but my flatmates had decided otherwise, and invited their friends for a dinner party in our apartment, that rendered me unable to sleep until 1:30am. Instead of the good 8 hours of sleep I had wished for, I barely managed to get 5:30.

I couldn’t stay in bed any longer, so I took a couple more minutes of rest and then went to take a shower, get dressed and start my day – make my lunch, take a shower, go to work, work for 7 hours with a 30 min lunch break, get out of work, go to a meeting for my volunteering activities, go to the community garden to water my crops, realize that I need to go to the grocery store get some gardening supplies, move my schedule around so I can take an hour for that and leave immediately for the store, go home covered in dirt and mud, take another shower, answer my professional and personal email, wash the dishes and make dinner, check my social media and play a small video game for 20 min to relax a bit. And then it was 11pm and I fell asleep.

My day went by extremely quickly, and I didn’t do half the things I wanted to – or was supposed to.

  • Cleaning my apartment ? Taking out the trash ? That was put aside in the morning, in exchange for those few extra minutes of rest.
  • Going out to meet a friend, maybe get some bubble tea ? I went to buy gardening supplies instead, and told the friend we’d catch up another day.
  • Calling the tennis club to ask if they had any adult beginner’s classes that I could attend ? Sadly, the club was already closed by the time I got home and started sorting through my professional and personal communications.

And then there’s the things I would like to give a little more of my time – taking photos with my camera, for example, would be a nice addition to any day, really, but I can’t carry the camera to work, and would have to go home and then get out again to take pictures. It would take an extra amount of time that I just can’t figure out where to take.

“But Maude”, you’ll tell me, “why don’t you just get rid of superfluous activities in your day ?” That would give you more time ! And yeah, sure, I could cut on those 20 min of video games (or reading, depending on the day) – but would it really do me any good ? Cutting back on your leisure activities often means cutting back on the things that help your mental health and well-being, and I have a feeling that that’s not the right way to go for this.

I don’t have a miracle solution – but I do have some tips that I use to try to make it work :

  • I plan my day in advance, the day before, and go over what I have to do in the morning, to make sure I don’t have to make more than two different trips during the day. I know myself and my strength, and I also know that past 6pm, if I get home, I’m not going out again if I can avoid it in any way.
  • I consider my weekends to be vacation days – and by this, I mean : no work, at all. No thinking about work either. I’m lucky enough to have a job that I can be completely disconnected of during my days off, and I use that fully.

If you don’t have to answer emails this coming Friday, don’t do it. Give your brain the time to power down. Vacation is seen as a luxury, instead of a right, and it’s made it so that few full time working Americans are taking time-off. In 2014 42% of working Americans didn’t take a single vacation day.

(from the blog create and cultivate)

  • I always take the time to do at least 1 leisure activity in my day, usually after dinner – whether it’s video games, reading, editing photos or browsing the web for cool blog articles to read, I know that these briefs moments help me maintain my mental health, and that’s a thing I do NOT want to neglect in any way.
  • I eat good food. And by good food, I don’t mean “healthy” food, just food that makes me happy when I eat it. If ramen makes me happy, I’ll eat ramen. If breakfast food makes me happy, I’ll eat breakfast food, whatever the time may be.

Even though I try my best to stay positive and not let myself be influenced too much by that feeling of not being fast enough, not doing things the way I should, I still have those days when I feel like I’m running out of time and don’t have enough hours to finish everything I have to do. Like I’m not productive enough, and am a bad person because of it. And that’s okay – as long as I know what those emotions are, where they come from, and how I can manage them for the time being, until I feel better about what I do and remember that extreme productivity at the detriment of my mental health isn’t the path I want to follow.

Do you have any tips on how to deal with that ? Any blog posts on that topic that I should read ? Feel free to link them in the comments !