December 07, 2016

Studying Strategically for Final Exams

As we gear up for finals, Mebbie Bell of the Student Success Centre shares a few tips for preparing for exams.

Do You Know Your Exams? 

Exam time in the Butterdome
With finals just around the corner, what you do really need to know about each of your exams? Many students head into their finals with just a basic sense of what to expect. As a result, they don’t study strategically, and the stress starts to build as they wonder what to expect. Here’s a quick checklist to review as you prepare for each of your exams. 

The more information you have about your exams in advance, the better prepared you can be.

November 03, 2016

How To Make the Most of Your Reading Week

Looking forward to Fall Reading Week? The Student Success Centre team shares their ideas on how to make the most of it. 

Fall Reading Week is only one year old and could not be more popular among students. Reading weeks are typically a time for catching up, planning ahead, and taking a break. All of us at the Student Success Centre want to remind you of how far you have come and offer some advice to make the most of this short break.

Take a minute to reflect on your semester so far.
September 1 - November 4 is 65 days. That is 66% of the semester, or nine weeks and two days, or 1560 hours. Take away one-third of those 65 days for sleep, and the remainder has been occupied with academics, work, family, socializing, and anything else you value. You have attended, listened, noted, reviewed, prepared, read, reflected, persevered, failed, succeeded, rebounded, tested, experimented, and practiced. And, you have arrived at Reading Week: nine days without classes (or 9% of the term).

Over the last 65 days, you have created your most powerful tool for this week: your momentum. Let’s look at some ways to maintain and build on that momentum for the 216 hours ahead.

Meet the new Dean of Students

As thousands of new students adjust to life at the U of A, the recently appointed Dean of Students, Dr. André Costopoulos, is also settling into his new role and life in Alberta. Born and raised in Montreal, where he was most recently the Dean of Students at McGill University, Dr. Costopoulos holds a BA (Hons) in anthropology from McGill, an MSc in anthropology from the Université de Montréal and a PhD in archeology from the University of Oulu, Finland. 

In our quick Q & A, Dr. Costopoulos shares plans for his role, advice for students, and insight into some of his favourite things (spoiler alert: music is a big deal).

You’re originally from Montreal  what interested you in the U of A?
The sense of local as well as global mission of the institution. The chance to make a difference. The integration between research and teaching, which I have never seen as separate endeavours. Those would be the main things.

What are your visions and plans for your role as Dean of Students?
Right now, I am listening and learning. And there is still a lot of that to be done. I want to make sure that students, the University community as a whole, and society in general, are well served by U of A. The question is not the what, the question is the how.

Making Your Computer Work For You: The FIND Function

In the 'Making your computer work for you' series, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, shares the features of your computer that can make writing and studying easier.

The FIND function, put simply, finds things for you by highlighting them in your document and can be extremely useful during the final editing/revision of your document. Be aware of your weaknesses or problems in your writing, then let the FIND function point out possible problems.

For example, if you think you are using the same word too often, put that word in the FIND function search box and you will quickly see how many times and where you are using that word.  Then, change the word in some of those places, especially if you are using it close together. Below are more examples of how you might use the FIND function to improve your writing.

to Search for issues with  
‘ (apostrophe)
apostrophe / possessive problems
contractions (generally academic writing doesn’t use them)
quotation integration: have you integrated your quotations smoothly, grammatically, and logically
check for comma use and comma splices around this challenging word
“,  or  “.
placement of commas/periods in quotations/references
word confusion/typo
check clarity of pronoun reference
it  is / there are
expletives (wordy sentence structure)

How To Get Through All Your Reading

Struggling to get through your class readings? Mebbie Bell, Mebbie Bell, Director of the Student Success Centre, shares her strategies to help tackle any amount of reading.

Many students feel overwhelmed by the readings they have to finish for each class. They become easily frustrated — and bored — by aimless reading that seems to go on for hours without any clear purpose. And, in fact, we are less efficient and more distracted when we are not sure why we are reading. Thinking strategically about what, when, how, and why you read can help to maximize your efficiency.

WHAT & WHY: Define your reading goals.
Thinking about why you are reading and which components you need to learn helps you to make much better use of your time. To get focused, answer the following questions for each of your courses: What do I need to read? And, why am I reading?
  • Take your cue from your instructor. What exactly does the instructor want you to know? Sometimes your textbook is a reference source in which you look up missed information, while at other times you need detailed knowledge. So, do you need to know your text in detail, or just have an overall understanding? Or, should you focus solely on specific components, such as examples, sidebars, or definitions? Is the material "testable"? Do you need to contribute to a class discussion or incorporate the material into an assignment?
  • Itemize your tasks. Make a list of all readings that you need to complete for all of your courses. Without a clear sense of what you have to read, your reading sessions will be aimless — and seem endless. 
  • Ask for guidance. If you are not sure of your reading goal(s), talk to your instructor or TA for advice. 

September 12, 2016

Guide to goal achieving, not just goal setting

The beginning of a term is an excellent time to set goals, but how do you stay on track to achieving your goals in the months ahead? Tristan Donald, Student Learning Advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares his four step guide to achieve any goal.

Much like New Year resolutions in January, September is the month for students to set their academic resolutions. “I am going to keep up with my readings”, “I am going to attend every class”, or “I am going to get straight ‘A’s”. However, at the end of the semester, I almost always get students asking in some variation, “Why do I achieve some goals, but not others?”.

Take out a pen and a piece of paper. Draw three columns on your piece of paper. At the top of each column, I want you to write one academic goal you are setting this year.

Here are the 4 steps we are going to follow:
  1. Identify the values behind your goals
  2. Stop fantasizing about the goal
  3. Identify the approach or strategy you need
  4. Commit to this approach

September 08, 2016

Making your computer work for you: Citations and bibliographies

In the 'Making your computer work for you' series, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, shares the features of your computer that can make writing and studying easier.

Computers cannot write for you, but they can help make tasks in writing easier. Your word processing software can do a lot of work for you, and learning as much as you can about it helps to set you up for successful writing.

Did you know, for example, that WORD has a References feature that will do the following:
  1. Put your references in appropriate and correct citation format, be it APA, MLA, or Chicago (and others). No more guessing or trying to copy examples.
  2. Manage your sources. More careful managing of sources can prevent inadvertent plagiarism.
  3. Create a bibliography for you when you are done—yes, that’s right. You don’t have to spend time making a bibliography if you entered the information correctly.

September 07, 2016

How to ask for help with writing

Baffled by your writing assignment? Don’t be afraid to discuss it with your professor. Learn from Rob Desjardins, Graduate Writing Advisor with the Student Success Centre, the steps you can take to strategically approach your professor for help.

As the professor hands out the writing assignment, she launches into a detailed description of her expectations for the work. “Be sure to do this, take care not to do that. And by all means, avoid this other thing.” It’s hard to follow what she’s saying, though. As you scan the densely worded assignment sheet, it seems to call for intellectual feats you’ve never accomplished before.

Sound familiar? For many students, the experience of receiving a writing assignment is two parts bewildering and three parts terrifying. Too many respond by stuffing the instruction sheet into their backpack and planning to decipher it later. When “later” comes — often hours before the assignment is due — it’s usually too late to think clearly about the project.

We suggest that you do the opposite. Face your fears head-on by planning the project as soon as possible — and by asking for help when you need it. Your professors are happy to assist you, but be warned: they’re not in the business of holding your hand or solving your problems for you. Before approaching them, therefore, it’s often a good idea to do some critical thinking on your own.

Try following these steps before and during your meeting with your professor.

What's in a course outline?

You’ve received course outlines for all of your classes, but do you know how to use them to your advantage? Mebbie Bell, Director of the Student Success Centre, shares her insights on how to turn any course outline into your tool for success. 

Course outlines are many things. They are guides or maps for managing your course work and learning, calendars, reading lists, sets of rules, and answers to common student questions. In some universities and colleges, course outlines are actually treated as contracts between instructors and students, binding them together and setting out each of their responsibilities. Basically, your course outline — or syllabus — includes everything your instructor wants you to know about your course and thinks is important.

What should you look for in a course outline?
Course outlines can look very different — short or long, elaborate or concise, full of extra information, or just the basic “need to know” facts. However, at the University of Alberta, the Calendar outlines some basic information they should include, such as:

What you should know before you write

When you receive a writing assignment, the work you need to do before you put the first word down is just as important as the words themselves. To help you be successful in the writing process, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, identifies six things you should familiarize yourself with before you begin.

When tasked with a writing assignment, most of us sit down and begin writing before we ought to. There are some things we need to know before we begin writing to help make the process easier and more effective.

Know Your Discipline: Each subject area has its own vocabulary and phrases and, at times, sentence or essay structure and forms. You need to know these before you can truly begin to write in that discipline.
  • Pay attention to the course textbook or the articles you are given to read. Read the glossary of the text that contains key words and phrases.
  • Listen to the instructor: what words are repeated? What words are written on the board?
  • Know the citation format that is required - don’t guess. Look in the syllabus or ask.
Know the Assignment: The worth of the assignment should dictate how much time and effort you spend on it.
  • Know what written form is expected.  Although we tend to use the term “essay,” there are reports, abstracts, reviews, reflective pieces and many other forms of writing.
  • Read the prompt or question carefully. What is the focus and intent of the assignment?  Writing a great essay but not for that prompt can be frustrating and confusing.

August 27, 2016

Make it amazing - U of A Undergrad Orientation

If you are a new U of A undergrad, the Undergraduate Student Orientation can help make your first year outstanding. Nicole Kielkowicz, undergrad student and former communications coordinator for new student Orientation shares six reasons why you should register.
Welcome! You are finally here at the next phase of your life's journey — university. As you begin to daydream about what life will be like, let me share with you what I have learned during my time at the U of A. 

University is a place of growth, a place to challenge yourself and a place to learn about the world. It is also a big location with a lot of things to know about. Some things can be quickly learned on your own, like which buildings your classes are in or where the shortest morning coffee lines are. But for many, campus information is easier to learn when you have someone sharing their advice and wisdom. 

That’s why we recommend attending Orientation 
 so you can learn all the ins and outs of being a U of A undergrad student. After spending the day with us, you will be equipped with more knowledge, insights and information about the U of A than you thought possible. However, if you still aren’t convinced...

April 04, 2016

Taking care of you: essential tips for exam season

Exam season is a difficult time for many students. Health and Wellness Services shares their advice to help you prepare for this time of year.

Final exams are just around the corner, and we know it can be one of the most stressful times of the year. We've rounded up some tips to help to alleviate some of that stress and help you have a successful exam season.

February 26, 2016

The Art of Sleep

Getting the golden “8 hours of sleep” is often difficult for university students. Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares tips on how to get improve the sleep you get at night and, when you don’t get enough sleep, the best kind of nap for you.

At a certain point during the university term, excitement and best intentions begin to fade under mounting assignments and obligations. Eventually, fatigue becomes the default state, as students begin to sacrifice sleep in order to keep up.

And yet, practicing productive sleep hygiene, or the behaviors and conditions that support effective sleep, is essential for university students. All the learning done during the day can be undermined by not getting appropriate sleep at night. In fact, students’ brains are quite active during sleep doing the following:
  • rehearsing and consolidating material learned that day,
  • preparing the brain to learn on the following day, and
  • clearing out toxic waste accumulated during waking hours.  
Nonetheless, university students are notorious for maintaining erratic and inadequate sleep schedules. While sleep needs can vary by genetic and environmental influences, most experts agree that adults require an average of 8 hours of sleep a day for optimal physical and cognitive functioning. At the absolute minimum, students should strive for six hours to facilitate memory consolidation.

Taming your technology to deal with distractions

How much of your time in a day is spent using technology? Mebbie Bell, associate director of learning resources, shares some of the best strategies for reducing time wasted with technology and increasing time spent focused on your academics. 

Many of us feel beholden — even shackled — to our smartphones and other useful technologies. Though you may enjoy your friends’ messages or the apps and programs that make life a little easier, you may feel obligated to check your phone every ten minutes for notifications. It is also just as easy to get sucked into the long stream of links from one interesting article to another, stealing your time before you realize you have been clicking for two hours. In other words, your best intentions to study, research, read, or write may be all too often derailed by the ever-present technology around you.

As you need both mental space and time to learn effectively, try one or more of these strategies to make your technologies work for you instead of adding stress and distractions.

How not to drown in red ink: responding effectively to critiques of your writing

Rob Desjardins, graduate writing advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares his insights on criticisms in academic writing and how to turn them into positive tools for revision. 

One day not so many years ago, a lone figure was sitting in a grad student lounge, staring gloomily at a splotchy piece of paper. The student was me; the paper was a draft assignment I had submitted to an academic mentor, and the spots of red ink, which outnumbered the words I had typed, were his comments and suggestions.

So many comments…and so much criticism. As I gazed over the page, I felt mentally paralyzed. Where could I start to address his feedback? Should I even bother? Was my work salvageable, or should I just shuffle back to the drawing board? 

After about 15 minutes, the mentor himself passed by and, seeing me sitting there stunned and immobile, called out cheerfully: “Don’t be daunted by my criticisms!” I tried to smile, but all I could think was: “Easier said than done.”

That, as I said, was some years ago. There have been many mentors, many editors, and many red pens since then; and I have gotten used to seeing my work scribbled over and doodled-up, questioned and interrogated. I find it easier than ever before to accept and respond to editorial criticism — to shake off the sense of disorientation (and even the pangs of defensiveness) it sometimes brings. Doing so, as I tell my students, involves three steps: letting the emotions dissipate, analyzing the criticism dispassionately, and coming up with a plan to address them in consultation with the mentor. Nine times out of ten, these steps trace out a revision process that’s simpler than we might expect.

January 07, 2016

Communicating with your professors

Every student will have questions for their professor during the school year. Wendy Doughty, Director of the U of A Student Success Centre, shares how to best communicate with your professors within different scenarios. 

As you are in the midst of assignments and studying, you are likely to have questions about the material in front of you. While chatting with a classmate may be useful, your best option is to go directly to the source — your professors. Even a short conversation with an instructor can give you the advice you need to do well on an assignment or test. But, how do you communicate well with an instructor, or make the most of an office hours visit? Here are four scenarios you might find yourself in and advice on how to communicate effectively with your professor.

High Impact Study Strategies

We know that doing well academically involves time and effort, but students often ask “what’s the one thing I can do to improve my academic performance?” Though there is not one single thing, making high impact changes at the beginning of a new term can make a significant difference. Mebbie Bell, associate director of learning resources with the Student Success Centre, shares five high impact strategies for kick-starting your term.

Exercise for your academics

What are two new years resolutions many students make? To exercise more and do better in class. Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares advice for how to accomplish both goals this semester.

While the beginning of the term can be chaotic as you adjust to new classes, professors, and expectations, it is also the best time to plan your months ahead. A bit of time devoted to organization now will help you to stay on top of your academic goals and ensure that you make time for other life priorities like sleep, socializing, and exercise throughout the term. We all know that exercise is a healthy habit to keep, but it often is the first sacrifice we make as the semester gets busy — here are some reasons (and ways) to make sure it’s a commitment you keep!