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Regaining control during exams

Caleigh Minshall, Learning Strategies Outreach Coordinator, displays one of the most useful tools for Queen’s students at exam time – the exam study schedule – which helps organize and prioritize study time as well as breaks and personal time. (University Communications)

No matter how many exams you have taken during your academic career, without proper preparation and support the pressure and stress that comes with exam time can become overwhelming.

To deal with such situations, Queen’s University has a range of resources to help students get back on the right track for success. It’s a multifaceted approach that focuses on health and well-being as much as it does on study habits.

At the heart of this effort is Learning Strategies, which along with the Writing Centre, are the pillars that make up Student Academic Success Services (SASS). While both are busy throughout the academic year, Learning Strategies is at its busiest come exam time, explains Caleigh Minshall, Learning Strategies Outreach Coordinator.

At Learning Strategies there are four main services – workshops, individual advising, peer programs and online resources. All of these services are available to all students – whether undergraduate or graduate – and are free.

“At this time of the year people are coming to us for all kinds of reasons,” Ms. Minshall says. “Some students are coming for help with an exam study schedule, other people are coming because they realize maybe they haven’t done as well throughout the term and now they are in this position of trying to boost their mark with the final exam. Some students are already doing really well and just want that extra boost.”

One of the key tools is also the most simple – the exam study schedule.

This timetable has been a staple for Learning Strategies for years now and helps students gain control by organizing their study time while also scheduling in breaks and personal time. By the end, it’s all right there on paper in front of them.

“The students can see how much time they have before their first exam and what they’re going to study. Now they have a plan and are taking regular breaks,” she explains. “We are trying to remind them that it can seem really overwhelming but there is often a way to break down the problem and make decisions about how you want to spend your time so you get the most bang for your buck. The other thing we try to remind students is that it’s not just about academics. It’s really important to take care of yourself as well – we remind students to get enough sleep, eat healthily, get physical activity, contact your friends and family, just recognize that they aren’t their GPA.”

Learning Strategies also advises students on how to study effectively while others might need help with academic stress-coping strategies.

“Some students experience test anxiety or are just more anxious about their school work at this time of year,” she says. “This is one of the biggest crunch times for students so they come and see us for that.”

Having been in her position for three years, Ms. Minshall has an interesting perspective on what Learning Strategies offers as she was also a Peer Learning Assistant for three years during her undergraduate studies at Queen’s.

“I’ve seen it from both sides, as a student volunteer and as a professional,” she says. “Queen’s has the best retention rate in Canada. Most people who come here in first year will end up graduating, which is pretty amazing considering how difficult it is to be in university.” 

In a recent survey by Maclean’s, Queen’s also ranked first among all universities for the amount of time students dedicate per week to studying.

As for those students uncertain of whether or not they need support, Ms. Minshall says that’s an easy decision to make.

“There is no harm in asking, in seeing if we can help you out. Everyone here is friendly and knowledgeable,” she says. “We all have a background, in the learning strategies side, in education or counselling or psychology. At the Writing Centre side, many are professional editors. It’s also confidential – you come in and no one else ever needs to know that you came in and asked for help. And you might find it really helpful. Most students that I see who are in fourth year say ‘I wish I knew about this earlier,’ so there’s no harm. It only takes 15 minutes.” 

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Other resources are available throughout the exam period at Queen’s.

Student Wellness Services will be running the “Queen’s University Be Well 7 Day Health Care Challenge” with participants asked to complete daily physical, mental, emotional and personal challenges starting on Thursday, April 7. They can then post their efforts using #QSelfCareChallenge through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

If you are a student and want to improve your learning and studying strategies or academic stress coping skills, you can book a Learning Strategies advising appointment by visiting queensu.mywconline.com.

Students who wish to make an appointment with Counselling Services can do so by calling 613-533-6000, ext. 78264. Embedded counsellors are located in various faculty and university buildings across campus: Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science (613-533-3447), Faculty of Education (613-533-2334), School of Graduate Studies (613-533-2136), School of Business (via Commerce Portal), Residence Counsellors (613-533-6000, ext. 78330 or 78034), the School of Medicine (613-533-6000, ext. 78264), and the Outreach Counsellor/Student Advisor in the JDUC (613-533-6000, ext. 78441).

Another resource available for students is Good 2 Talk, a 24/7/365 post-secondary student helpline which offers free, professional and anonymous support. They can be reached at 1-866-925-5454 to talk about any stressful issues students might be experiencing.