Friday, November 30, 2012

In the midst of Finals Madness

Hello my fellow sleep-deprived, hardworking students!

Because we are at the stage of finishing up final assignments and preparing for those dreaded final examinations, it seems like it will be a busy time for everyone for the following weeks to come. So, I think it will be appropriate to write about relaxation for this week's blog.

While writing one of my papers, I came across an interesting article (by a Dialectical Behavior Therapist) that may help you relax during this very stressful time of the semester. Relaxing may be the last thing on your to-do list during examinations but this can be beneficiary to help you tackle and eventually, conquer your exams successfully!

When you are in a situation where there is little control you have in changing the circumstances that cause your stress, it can be helpful to have strategies to change how you react to the stressor. This can be helpful when studying for exams and you have anxiety that prevents you from doing your stuff. With those changes, then you can find calm in the midst of stress.

There are many techniques designed to help you calm the body, slow racing thoughts and quiet the mind.  The ability to use these strategies to change your stress levels often depends on trying a variety of strategies to find one that works for you and practicing on a regular basis.

According to Matta (2012), here are a couple of relaxation strategies that may be suited for you:

  •  If you're an auditory person, music can be an effective tool in reducing muscle tension and calming your mind. Not just the typical relaxation music (i.e. the calming sound of the waves of the ocean), nostalgic music can also assist in creating a calming effect. Nostalgic music calls to mind a sentimental experience that can give you the psychological comfort you may need to be able to relax. Listen to the music with your full attention; digesting the lyrics while letting the tone and tempo of the music capture you. You will become more relaxed as you continute to listen to your nostalgic music.

  • Physical techniques like progressive relaxation may be suited for you if you are having physical tension. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and releasing the muscles of your body until your body relaxes. An example can be: raise your shoulders to your ears. While straining the muscles of your neck and shoulds, you hold that pose for about 30 seconds. Then you relax, allowing your muscles to fall. Repeat. Also, I find physical techniques like going out for a walk/jog, yoga, and standing up and stretching your arms and legs can help.
  •   Lastly, I think the most helpful technique in the midst of finals madness is mindfulness. Mindfulness, or creating a focus for your attention, is a technique that can induce calm and provide focus. The central to the practice of mindfulness is breathing. TIP: Relax your body and try sitting quietly for several minutes. Breath slowly and pause at the top of an inhalation and at the bottom of an exhalation. These brief pauses can help you keep focused when your mind has a tendency to wander.

There is no one right way to relax.  Each person is different and different stressors might affect you differently.  However, relaxing during these stressful weeks can help you get your work done more efficiently. When you can solve problems and reduce external strain and pressure, it is helpful to do so, but when you can’t change the world around you, it’s essential to have strategies to get you through.


Matta, C. (2012).3 Ways to Relax in the Face of Stress. Pscyh Central: Learn Share Grow. Retrieved from

You can take a look at that article and some other strategies article found in this website.

Happy (mindful) studying!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Art of Interview Smarts

Hello everyone!

I don’t like exam season…I doubt you do either. I’m going to let Katrina work her magic and try to help us get through it.

Today, I’m talking about something completely unrelated…kind of. Magazines! Job Postings to be exact. It’s a magazine that the AA&CC subscribes to, and it’s linked to the website, which is pretty awesome.

At first glance, I wasn’t too keen on picking it up to read through it. Sure, the cover was interesting (a business woman with an epic mustache?!) but how could a magazine about job postings possibility interest me in the slightest? It turned out to be one of the most interesting things I’ve read all week (sorry profs, your textbooks aren’t as stimulating as you think).

In the November 2012 issue, various topics are discussed. Given that I’ll be seeking for a co-op job next semester, I was drawn towards the articles that discussed what to do during interviews. I touched on interviews in a previous blog post, but Job Postings has an added benefit: it includes interviews from industry professionals who are able to tell you exactly what is needed for success.

“Interview Smarts” on page 12 talks to Lisa-Marie Winning, an HR professional at Investors Group. Her biggest tip was about how to approach interview questions. She’s looking for “someone who approaches the answer with excitement, not someone who gives me the sense that it was a taxing experience, that they are glad is over.” Don’t talk about your experiences like they were a pain. Talk about them as learning experiences, as challenges that you enjoyed and thrived in. Lisa-Marie wants a candidate who enjoys working really hard and is inspired by the results of their efforts.

On a related note is the article “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…”. It talks about how to answer the classic interview question: “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” Personally, this is one of the questions I dread. It’s so simple, but a small slip-up can make you sound incompetent or like you’re lying your pants off (even though you’re not). The article is great in providing a system to create the perfect (truthful) answer.

Check out Job Postings at the AA&CC (AC213). Drop by anytime and grab a copy; you’ll find it’s an invaluable resource when you’re job hunting!

I hope your exams treat you nicely!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reading: The SQ3R Method

Happy Wednesday folks! Wednesday blues got you? That pile of readings you need to do for your classes still at the back of your head, bugging you... but you try to convince yourself you don't need to do it now, because you have been attending the lectures diligently. I have been talking about doing the readings and always emphasizing that you should do your readings BEFORE the lecture. But you are still not convince, then this post is all for you!

You often ask yourself why should I be spending hours reading when my professor will be talking about these topics in class... But an important concept to always take note is that university is not like highschool, where you can go to class and understand everything the instructor is saying without reading further about it. The volume of reading you have to do in university can attest to this.

Professors always assume (or expect!) that you can read the textbooks yourself.. on your own time, so usually they would not teach from the textbook. This is not to say that the readings assigned by the professors are irrelevant to the topics being discussed in the lecture.What the professor is doing in class is expanding on important ideas from the readings and providing new information, which is not covered in class readings.

So why is it important to read before your lectures:
  • It will help you to have a better understanding of what it is going to be discussed in the lecture
  • It will help you take notes more efficiently in class
  • It will help you prepare for the midterms and final examinations better, as this can help you avoid procrastinating a day or two before the exam.
 I know that it is difficult to initially sit down in front of a thick textbook, and start reading (refer to my 5-minute plan blog post). Setting daily goals and cutting your tasks in portions can definitely help make the amount of reading that you have to do manageable. Also, make sure you keep up with your readings weekly, to avoid procrastination for exams.

A couple of tips when covering class readings:

SQ3R Method:
Survey the chapter before you start reading. Make an outline of the chapter, using headings, if the author has not provided one at the beginning of the chapter. Always start by reading the chapter summary first, which will “prime your brain” by giving you a sense of the major themes of the chapter.

Question while you survey. Turn headings, subheadings and/or titles into questions as a way to test your knowledge of the material. Write down any questions that arise as a result of your readings that you would like answered at your next lecture.

Read for comprehension. If your professor has indicated that some chapters are less important than others, you will want to set your priorities accordingly.  Make connections between the sections that you are reading. It may be helpful for you to form visual images if this is a strategy that helps you to learn and remember. Choose a method of recording key information that works best for you. Some methods include underlining or highlighting, making brief notes in the margin or post-its, developing diagrams, making up test questions, and listing key words.

Recite after you’ve read a section. Ask yourself questions about the material you’ve just read. Rephrase the
material into your own words in written form (make notes) as this will help you to better remember what you
have read.

Review your textbook notes within 24 hours. Discuss the material with a classmate or try teaching it to someone else. Try aiming for another major review of your textbook notes once a month until the final exam.

If you need to know your strengths and those that you need further developing, there is a small assessment at the back of this tipsheet that can help you figure out what those are exactly.  Also, for further strategies in reading refer to the tipsheet.

Happy reading,

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Be your own boss!

Job searching can be kind of a bummer…and even when you get a job, it might not feel like the one. You know what I’m talking about. The perfect, idyllic, dream job that you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Sometimes I wonder to myself…why don’t I just start my own bakery? I mean, how hard could it be?

While it’s not the easiest path in the world, entrepreneurship is a growing field. Nearly 2.5 million Canadians are self-employed! I bet it feels awesome to see your business grow and prosper, and know that it was the result of your hard work.

If you have ever considered starting your own company, or you’re thinking about starting one now, there are a few steps you might want to consider:

Step 1: Entrepreneurial Self-Assessment
Realistically assess your potential as an entrepreneur. Figure out the qualities and skills you need to have to run a successful business, and whether you have those skills. Make sure you understand what kind of an impact this might have on yourself, your family, and your finances.

Step 2: Explore New Business Ideas
Here’s where my cynical side comes out: don’t take your first idea as the perfect idea. Not every idea translates into a realistic business. Consider the following questions:
- Does the idea solve a consumer want or need?
- Is there a demand for the good or service?
- Will this be profitable?

Step 3: Feasibility Study
Evaluate whether it’s possible to turn your idea into an actual product.

Step 4: Develop a Business Plan
You need to figure out an action plan for your business. This will answer the questions: where do you want to go, and what are you going to do to get there?

Step 5: Secure Financing/Funding
You’re going to need some source of funding to get your business going. Popular sources include:
- The Summer Company program from the government of Ontario may qualify you for a loan of up to $3,000. Check out for more information.
- The My Company program, also from the government of Ontario, may qualify you for a loan of up to $15,000 for a full-time business. Check out for more information.
- The Business Development Bank of Canada is Canada’s small business bank, and they offer financial and consulting services, amongst others.

Step 6: Education and Development
There’s no such thing as too much education, especially if you want to start your own company! A popular way to gain some more insight into the business world includes joining clubs. Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE) and the University of Toronto Entrepreneur Club (UTEC) are all clubs at UofT that you can check out.

No matter what you choose to do, I'm sure you'll meet success! 

- Farihah

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting focused: The "Zeigarnik Effect"

Hi folks, I hope everyone's midterms went great!

I know I have been talking in my previous posts about getting organized and having a to-do list will help you get through your lengthy list of readings and assignments, but there is a book that posited that making a plan can actually help you get focused.

 So why is it hard, especially for students to focus sometimes? There is this phenomenon that is known as "Zeigarnik Effect".

Bluma Zeigarnik, 1921
Russian Gestalt psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik suggested that we remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones. Furthermore, it has been theorized that the unconscious mind wants the conscious mind to complete a forgotten task, so it keeps sending little reminders. This has been demonstrated in several research studies.

In fact in a recent study, the researcher had university students think about their most important exam. Students in the control group were told to think about their most important social engagement on their calendar. Half of the students thinking about their exam were told to make a specific study plan: what, when and where they would study. No one did any actual studying during the experiment.

Then, all students were asked to complete word fragments that were specifically constructed. Depending on how the words were completed, they could refer to studying. For example, the word fragment re__ could be completed as the word “read,” but it could also be “real” or “rest.”

If thoughts of the unfulfilled studying were still on the student’s mind, the Zeigarnik effect should influence students to create more study-related words. This is exactly what happened, but only for those students who thought about the exam but didn’t come up with a plan. For the other students who developed a study plan, their minds were cleared of exam-related thoughts.

So how can you use the Zeigarnik effect to stay focused? If to-do items pop into your mind while studying, write them down and make a plan to complete them. As you become more proficient with your study plans, you should find yourself less distracted by pesky thoughts and more focused on the task at hand.

Baumeister, R. and Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower. New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

I hope this helps!

Till next time,