5 Unproductive Things Students Do During Exams (That Don’t Involve Netflix)

Student using ruler to plan out their productive study schedule.

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Ah exam season. That time of year when students everywhere teach themselves a semester’s worth of material in two weeks. It’s a testament to laziness and resourcefulness all at the same time. But there are a few especially unproductive activities students participate in while studying for exams that don’t get them anywhere. This exam season, take a good look at some of the behaviours listed below, consider the solutions, and then cut them out!

1. Obsessively Calculating What Mark You Need To Pass

It makes sense to do this – once! If you had a less than admirable semester, and you are relying on the final to turn things around it makes sense to crunch the numbers quickly to figure out if it’s even worth showing up to the exam. But once you’ve received that confirmation, ditch the calculator. (Unless you’re studying for calculus or something.)

Solution: Why do students spend so much of their study time calculating their possible marks? It’s because when they do it the first time, they calculate the best possible scenario. For example a student may think, If I get 100% on the exam, I can get an 80% in the course. While it’s great to set your sights high, it can be counter-productive this late in the game. Once the sheer magnitude of the work you have to catch up on sinks in you will keep minimizing your expectations by intervals and turning to your calculator to see how low you can go.

Cut to the chase. If you’re in a tight marks situation like this, calculate the MINIMUM mark you need in order to pass the course and then forget the number crunching entirely. Dedicate the rest of your energy to studying. You’ve already got an idea of how much work you need to put in to pass and hopefully will study enough that you earn a higher grade than that.

2. Doing Something Else While a Textbook is Open and Convincing Yourself That That’s Studying

Since we’re on the topic of exams, here’s a quick test for you.

Which of the following is an effective way to study?

a) Texting your friends that you can’t come out to study and then texting them throughout the evening about how much you have to study (with a textbook nearby)

b) Refreshing Facebook every fifteen minutes to check how many people liked your status about how you’re just gonna drop out and open a dog petting shop (with your lecture slides minimized)

c) Meeting up with a classmate at Starbucks to make study notes, post a picture on Instagram, and then decide it’s too noisy in there and postpone

d) None of the above

Answer: d) None of the above

Ditch the picture-perfect notions of studying and do not fall into the trap of thinking you’re studying just because you didn’t go out.

Solution: If you know that you will spend twelve hours at home to study on Saturday only to focus for ten minutes each hour, then be realistic. Work rewards into your study routine, and enjoy ten minutes of scrolling through Instagram guilt-free. Even if it’s mindless, it’s scheduled in and is not eating into your study time.

3. Studying With Friends Before Obtaining a Basic Understanding of the Material

Students forming a study group.
Study groups can be useful, but be careful that they don’t become an excuse to socialize with open textbooks. (Image via Pexels)

Studying with classmates is a fantastic way to discuss the material so that it is learned instead of memorized. But studying in a group can be a disaster, especially with friends. It won’t feel like a disaster at first, because you’re having so much fun. But once it’s 9pm, and you’re all tired the panic will start to set in when you think of how little you’ve absorbed for your 8am exam.

Solution: Do not assign a disproportionate amount of your study prep to a meet-up. Familiarize yourself with readings and concepts beforehand. That way, you won’t feel the temptation to get distracted during the group study session. You’ll be eager to discuss what you’ve learned and have an intelligent conversation about the material.

Bonus solution: If you really want a study session where you actually learn the material as a group – for bio or history majors that are memorizing a lot of dates or Latin names – assign chapters and come up with an activity. It could be as simple as each person coming up with 20 questions for a specific topic. As a result, each individual becomes familiar with one area and the rest can quickly learn through a quiz bowl style study session.

4. Waiting Until You Feel Like Studying

Here’s the thing: you’re never gonna feel like studying. Studying sucks. Reading’s fantastic; absorbing materials on a deadline is a pain in the ass. If you don’t feel like studying, buying nicer supplies or toting your laptop to Starbucks won’t make you feel any more disciplined. Simply recognize that it’s gonna be hard work and remember the goals that put you on this path of academia in the first place.

Solution: Commit to making notes for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen. Tell yourself you can do whatever you want after fifteen minutes – go shopping, get drunk, watch a movie – and put your phone in a drawer. Guarantee you that after the first fifteen minutes are up you won’t care to get up. And if after an hour of work you start feeling restless again, make the same “I can do whatever I want in fifteen minutes” deal. This has helped me with cleaning, exercise, dull freelance assignments, and everything in between.

5. Missing Out On Sleep

Student sleeping after studying for exam.
Get some rest. Your brain and your body will thank you. (Image via Pexels)

We live in a society that admires exhaustion. How tired you are is an indication of how hard working you are and the number of coffees you throw back is a sign that you’re busy and have shit to do. But sleep is unbelievably valuable, and like many simple solutions people just don’t want to hear, it solves A LOT of problems.

Mild anxiety about all the studying you have to do? An earsplitting headache? Hell, feeling nauseous? These are all possibly exam-related symptoms that can be addressed by getting eight hours of sleep or fitting in a quick cat nap.

Solution: If you do not usually get eight hours of sleep, you’re likely the kind of person who will go all the way down to no hours of sleep during exam season. So implement a habit of getting those full eight hours at the beginning of the exam season, instead of staying up to watch TV or go out. That way it’s a habit when things really start to pick up towards the middle and the end of exam season.

Tip: If you have trouble falling asleep, try avoiding all screens (yes, that includes your phone) a half hour to an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Make some chamomile tea to get calm and drowsy, and read a book, preferably one not related to your studies.

Here’s to a healthy and productive exam season!

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Featured image via Pexels

 

Students Can Create a Budget In Less Than 10 Minutes

Student sits on bed and makes a budget on her laptop.

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

Budgeting is the simplest proactive measure we can take to guarantee our financial security, but we don’t take it as seriously as we should.

A big reason for this is the lack of personal financial education in schools. Many of us simply aren’t taught how to handle our money by our parents. Unfortunately, our parents may not know what they’re doing either – the average Canadian has $21,348 in consumer debt, according to TransUnion. And about 56 percent of Canadians say they have less than $10,000 stored away in an emergency fund. Forty-four percent have less than $5,000 and 21 percent have less than a grand. Financial experts recommend having at least three months of expenses (the ideal is six months) tucked away to touch only in an emergency.

Making a budget doesn’t just allow you to save up for a trip; it allows you to save up for the unexpected as well. So why are a lot of us hesitant to create one?

It’s Not As Complicated As You Think

For people I’ve spoken to, the biggest reason they don’t make a budget is because they simply don’t know where to start. They don’t know whether they should be aggressively paying down their debt, stockpiling money to paying off their student loans, or living on only bread and water. So they abandon the process before they’ve even started. If you’re just starting out, here are two key pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t be extreme.
  2. Just get started.

Your budget is a flexible tool that you can adjust periodically to meet your financial changes. Create a budget that gives you room to buy the things you like and do what you enjoy. Your budget shouldn’t be a financial straitjacket. Prioritize so that you are giving up things you care less about in order to spend on the things that you enjoy.

On that note, just get started! Your first budget will not be perfect, and it will likely be a reflection of how idealistic and ambitious you are about saving money. Following a budget takes practice, so just start off simple.

Implement the 50/30/20 Rule to Quickly Make Your Budget

Uncertain about:

  • What to start saving for?
  • Whether you should tackle your debt first?
  • How much you should put towards discretionary expenses or “fun money”?

Start off with the 50/30/20 rule. It’s the budgeting rule of thumb. Only 50 percent of your income should be spent on needs (this includes rent, hydro, metropass), 30 percent on your wants, and 20 percent should go towards savings and debt repayment.

If you do not have to worry about rent because you live at home, then throw a couple of fixed “wants” in there like your phone bill. If you have the extra money, maybe start contributing a couple hundred dollars a month to your parents just to get into the habit of paying “rent”. But try not to consider your fortunate situation a free for all to allocate 80% towards wants instead of just 30%. You can even put some of that leftover money towards your savings.

It’s as simple as striking two lines across your paper and making three categories: Wants, Needs, Future. And then fill in the sectons accordingly. It’s a quick and simple process.

If you are spending too much on your needs, moving may not be an immediate option, so see where else you can shift your budget. The 50/30/20 rule serves as a no-brainer starting point that you can organically adjust to fit your personal situation.

Should I Pay Down My Debt or Build Up An Emergency Savings?

This depends on your current situation.

If you can only depend on yourself in case of an emergency (you can’t pay rent one month, you need a repair) work on building your emergency fund up first and once you have about three months, start chipping away at your debt.

If your basic needs are met and you don’t have to worry about your food or shelter, prioritize paying off your credit card debt. Interest rates on credit cards are very high and whatever interest you earn in a savings account will never outpace the money you lose paying interest on your credit card. Beat that down as soon as you can, and allocate a smaller portion towards savings.

Whichever option you choose make sure you ALWAYS MAKE YOUR CREDIT CARD MINIMUM PAYMENTS ON TIME!!! You can live with carrying a balance, but missing your minimum payments can very negatively impact your credit score.

Respect the Effort It Took To Make Your Money – You Earned It!

Setting aside a specific amount of money for eating out or shopping quickly teaches you the value of a dollar. You’ll quickly learn the price of that pre-made salad you casually buy and wonder whether it’s worth it when you can put a bit towards that dress you wanted to buy. And you’ll become much more aware of the hard work that went into earning that cash and be less willing to give it away.

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Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

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How to Organize Your Shit Before You Lose Your Shit

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

When I was in high school there were times I’d look at the disaster I called my room and think, “I would rather set everything on fire and be forced to start from scratch than organize this mess”.

As a procrastinating student and bookworm there were loose papers, crumpled notes, and books everywhere. In the last few years, my collection of shit has been considerably reduced – I find throwing things out therapeutic – but I still struggle with keeping an organized space.

I know exactly where all my important day-to-day items are, like my keys and debit card and my non-everyday important items like my birth certificate and my passport. But challenge me to hang my clothes up when I get home, for five days in a row, and I’d fail even with my life on the line.

Keeping a somewhat neat space is something I’ve had to work extremely hard to do. But I’ve developed five key strategies that keep me (relatively) organized. You know…so that I don’t have to turn to arson.

1. Survey the Scene of the Crime and Make a Spot for Everything

As with most valuable life lessons such as “be nice to others” and “keep your hands to yourself”, the most important cleaning lesson I learned was in kindergarten.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

For instance, deeming your desk “the space for only school related items” is the simplest, but most helpful step you can take towards gaining some semblance of order in your bedroom or apartment. Do this for every spot and category of belongings. And by the way, the classification “school-related items” does not extend to your keys, hat, and wallet. Keep it tight.

In fact, if your living space has reached an almost tragic level of disarray, this can be a great way to start actively tackling your mess without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do.

Sit cross-legged in the middle of the room with chips, chocolate, or whatever semi-legal substance makes this activity easier for you and start surveying your space. Mentally decide where everything will go. This way, when you start physically cleaning, you will think less about where everything should go and put things away in a semi-automated manner.

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2. Clear All Your Surfaces and Start Sorting

If your entire space is a catastrophe and you simply don’t know where to start, clear every surface and put everything on the floor.

If everything is already on the floor, you can skip right to the next step which is to start making obsessive piles. Clothes, school supplies (textbooks, crumpled syllabi), clothes, toiletries. Make general piles. Don’t worry about throwing things out or hanging anything up just yet. Make sure you desk, dresser, and bed are clear.

(Especially your bed. If you decide you’d rather die than continue cleaning, your bed will be there to help you make the less tragic choice and take a nap in between making piles.)

After this is done, grab a garbage bag and start thinning out the piles one by one. Don’t think about the next one until you have removed the unnecessary crap from one. Tackle the entire collection of piles in circuits, starting with only removing obvious garbage before moving on to making more difficult decisions. Seeing your progress with each rotation will help you gain momentum and feel encouraged.

Once they are all in manageable groups, put them in the assigned places you decided on earlier.

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3. Put Up All Your Clothes with the Hangers Backwards

Most of us are unwilling to let things go: grudges, old souvenirs…clothes we’ll never wear again. When we try to purge our closets we convince ourselves that one day we’ll need that item and decide to keep it, and so on and so forth until the entire purging exercise becomes pointless.

Maybe what you need is a little verification that you will never ever return to that “Betty White Is My Homegirl” shirt you bought six years ago. Go to that pile of clothes you made earlier and hang them all up with the hangers backwards (whatever you consider “backwards” for a hanger). Each time you wear something, when you hang it back up, turn the hanger forwards. After six months, any clothes that are still on a backwards hanger go to people who really need them.

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4. Clean At Night – Especially At The Beginning

You’ve likely heard people refer to the “harsh, cold light of day”. It is a hella accurate expression. Once you leave the flattering light of your bathroom and head out into the street, you get real verification of whether you’re looking fabulous that day. Natural light can be the best light, but it’s also the most brutally honest light and it’s unforgiving of flaws. So when you’re in the first hour of tackling your mess, don’t throw open the curtains or blinds.

This may sound counterintuitive, but natural light will make your pigsty of an apartment look ten times more hopeless. Every speck of dirt, crumb, or ball of hair will be exposed. You want to be able to see those things so you can tackle them, but not until later when you’ve already cleared the larger debris. While you’re organizing everything clean at night with the lights on and then once it’s time to do a deep clean get to dusting and polishing in the day when you’ve made enough progress to stay motivated.

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5. Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed

This one’s a cliché, but only because it’s so so so so necessary.

Making your bed gives you an instant sense of accomplishment and as the focal point of your bedroom – even if it’s not in the middle – it will determine the direction of your cleaning efforts by setting a standard. And if you’re cleaning at night you get the (almost) immediate satisfaction of falling into a beautifully made bed after your day of cleaning.

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