The Cold Weather Countdown

I was reading “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” today—amid my mountain of course readings, I like to have at least one book of my own choosing on the go at all times—and I stumbled across a quote that really stuck:

Pictured: The book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" lying open. The quote, “Fall. Right outside here it was spring a while back, then it was summer, and now it’s fall—that’s sure a curious idea.” (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey, 155), is underlined.

“Fall. Right outside here it was spring a while back, then it was summer, and now it’s fall—that’s sure a curious idea.” (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey, 155).

Fall really does sneak up on you! It lulls you into a false sense of security with its pretty colours and its fancy themed beverages (#PSL), but don’t be fooled. All of a sudden, the trees will be bare, the weather will be too cold to bear, and we will all want to make like bears and hibernate.

Fall and winter are great, don’t get me wrong, but there are certain summery things I’ll miss doing when the cold takes over. That’s why I, your friendly neighbourhood weather girl/GoT reference, am here to inform you that winter is coming—but we still have time.

Instead of looking at the impending cold as a problem, I take it as a challenge. In the few coat-less days that we have left, the race is on. I challenge myself, and you, to do as many of our favourite warm weather activities as we can. Here are some of my ideas:

1. Join the sweet summer children in King’s College Circle

Round up some friends for a game of Frisbee, do some cloud gazing, or kick a ball around; we have to make the most of that gorgeous green grass before it becomes a muddy, swampy, icy no-go zone.

Pictured: a southward view of the field in King’s College Circle, where people are playing Frisbee and soccer.

There aren’t too many clouds to gaze at on this particular day

2. Study outside

I don’t know about you, but I find it a lot harder to flip pages with mittens on. Now is the time to take advantage of all the gorgeous outdoor study spots on and around campus. One of my favourite spots to do a reading or two in between classes is the outdoor market in front of Club Monaco, at the corner of Bloor and Queen’s Park. It has a salad vendor, coffee shop, and bakeshop—the Nutella cookies are amazing!

Pictured: The Boxcar Coffee and Bakeshoppe stands at the Club Monaco outdoor market.

This pop-up market will run until sometime mid-fall, depending on the weather

3. Take part in an outdoor event

Catch some outdoor theatre on campus—the Trinity College quad will play host to “The Winter’s Tale” October 1st-3rd, Nuit Blanche—the all-night contemporary art event featuring indoor and outdoor installations—will take over the city this Saturday, and the last Pedestrian Sunday at Kensington Market is yet to come!

4. Ice cream!

Do you hear that sound? That nostalgic, melodious tune is fading as the ice cream trucks migrate south for the winter. I think one last cone is in order, with extra sprinkles.

Pictured: An ice cream truck parked on Saint George Street, just north of College.

Why is it that ice cream tastes better out of a truck?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not going down without a fight; the cold weather can pry my iced coffee from my cold, caffeinated hands.

If you feel the same, let me know what you have on your countdown-to-cold to-do list in the comments below!

Avoiding Instant Noodles: Study Session Productivity

Emerging from your three-hour study session, you recall doing only three things: (i) writing your name on top of a blank paper that is currently your essay; (ii) eating; (iii) re-watching season 5 of Game of Thrones while repeating to yourself, “He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.”  If this happens to you as often as it happens to me, then consider implementing some study session tips to increase your productivity. Here are a few I’ve garnered over years of experimenting:

  1. Select an ideal spot for studying

For some people, the ideal spot includes background noise; hence, it’d probably be a seat at a cafeteria or a bench at Queen’s park. For others who require absolute silence, the ideal spot would be a high floor on Robarts or the third floor of Koffler’s Student Services Center. Regardless of whether or not you mind noise, choose a spot that works best for you.

  1. Get comfortable

Whether it be taking a hot shower first, drinking two cups of Oolong tea, or throwing on that super embarrassing but oh-so-comfy Winnie-the-Pooh onesie, getting comfortable is essential to starting a good study session. It’s best to get rid of the buzz from just finishing a class or a tutorial so you can settle into a state where you can dedicate one hundred percent of your focus to studying.

A can of Oolong tea on an empty shelf.

— Oolong tea from a considerate friend who knew I was craving for it  this week.

  1. Have a study plan

Write out your tasks in a ‘to-do list’ format, prioritize them, and estimate how much time each task is going to take. I use a whiteboard to write out my tasks, but if you’re more technologically-oriented, consider using the ‘Notes’ app on your phone, the ‘Reminders’ app on your laptop, or an app called Any.Do that syncs your to-do list across multiple devices. A study plan will not only help you think realistically in terms of what you can achieve during your study session, but it will also help you stay on track.

  1. Minimize distractions

It’s hard to focus when you hear that distinct ping of texts or the constantly growing number of notifications on your Facebook tab. Try minimizing distractions by turning your phone on silent and using the LeechBlock app to block those ever-tempting social media sites. If you don’t need the internet at all, consider turning off the wi-fi altogether and using a distraction-free word processor, such as JDarkRoom. Also, make sure to remove other non-technological distractions, such as clutter, off your table as well, or else you might lose your readings and utensils among the chaotic pile.

  1. Bring everything you need to the table

It’s like gearing up for marathoning all eight Harry Potter movies—getting the popcorn, bringing the blanket, and most of all, grabbing ten tissue boxes (especially for the last movie)—except for studying, you’re more likely to consider bringing small snacks and drinks, as well as required utensils. By placing everything near you, you won’t have to break your concentration midway to grab something you needed.

My wooden desk, covered with loose sheets and a laptop.

— State of my desk last week—what not to do if you actually want to be able to see where your readings are.

  1. Take breaks

Don’t plan on studying from 6:00 pm to 1:00 am because your brain won’t be able to soldier through seven hours straight of studying. Instead, take fifteen-minute breaks every hour or so—get up from your chair, stretch, walk around. Not only will this provide a mental break for you, but stretching will also loosen up your tense limbs from sitting in the same position for so long.


Try some of these out, and see if they work for you. Who knows, maybe you won’t have to eat so many late-night instant noodles while cramming three hundred pages of reading as a product of inefficient studying anymore; instead, you’ll be meandering through the streets of beautiful downtown Toronto with a delicious Frappuccino at hand!

Current emergency stash of instant noodles sitting atop my shelf.

— Emergency stash of instant noodles.



Is there anything you do to increase the productivity of your study sessions? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Hand Cramps Be Gone: The Art of Note-taking in Lectures

Maybe you got hand cramps from packing sand to make sandcastles all over a beach, maybe you got them from tapping lines of candy in the intense game that is Candy Crush, maybe you got them from whipping fluffy cream in your kitchen for delicious whoopie pies, or maybe, if you’re like me, you got them from clinging on to a kite string too tightly for fear of it whisking away; regardless, you’re so not ready for hand cramps caused by scribbling an infinite number of notes during lectures, especially when you feel like all you did was accomplish the art of transcribing.

My brother, taking over the kite-flying like a pro after I got a hand cramp.

— My brother, taking over the kite-flying like a pro after I got a hand cramp.

The solution to a happy hand and concise notes? Improve your note-taking skills. Here are a few strategies I’ve implemented that have helped me with this so far:

  1. Work with headers

Sometimes, the lecture slides might include headers on which the prof plans to elaborate—write them down. If headers aren’t provided, listen to what the prof is explaining and later jot down the concept or topic that best encompasses the material. This will not only help organize your notes, but it’ll also serve as a ready-made list of concepts for exam review.

Notes I took for Astronomy class. I use ‘☆ |’ to make headers easier to locate. "☆ |Our Cosmic Address: Earth - the planet in which we live; Solar system - one or more stars plus the bodies orbiting it/them; Milky Way galaxy - the galaxy containing our solar system; Local Group - a group of galaxies containing the Milky Way. ☆ |Units: 1 AU (astronomical unit) - average distance between the Earth and Sun; 1 LY (light year): distance light travels in one year."

— Notes I took for Astronomy class. I use ‘☆ |’ to make headers easier to locate.

  1. Jot down brief bullet points about what the prof is saying

Instead of transcribing the lecture slide featuring a twenty-line passage from Metamorphoses word-for-word, take brief notes about what the prof is saying. Lecture slides can’t substitute for a prof’s one- to three-hour talk, after all. Plus, some profs post their slides on Blackboard afterwards, so you can copy them later.

  1. Use abbreviations and symbols

Ever write as fast as if you were on a time-sensitive mission in a James Bond movie, and by the time you’ve written your sixth word, the teacher has switched topics, leaving you with a string of half-finished sentences? It might help to substitute words for symbols and abbreviate long words to ensure you get all your notes down. For example, try writing ‘&’ for ‘and’ or ‘political party’ as ‘pol pty.’

  1. Extra: Edit/revise your notes

If following the step above, you might very well end up with a page filled with something that looks partly Quenya. To avoid this, edit your notes after the lecture, when you still remember what those symbols and abbreviations stood for. Also, revise your notes until you’re sure they’re cohesive enough that you’ll understand them a few months from now, when you need them for exams.

A chart of Tolkien’s created language, Quenya, which vaguely resembles my high-school law notes . . . Source:

— A chart of Tolkien’s created language, Quenya, which vaguely resembles my high-school law notes . . .

If you’re interested in honing your note-taking skills even more, consider signing up for an upcoming workshop hosted by the Academic Success Centre called “Reading & Note-Taking.” Details on the ASC workshop are listed here under October 1.

Remember, it’s okay to find note-taking difficult and frustrating at first. However, like all other skills, it can be improved. Save yourself from that hand cramp and churn out those beautiful, envy-inducing notes!



Do you have any other tips on how to make great lecture notes? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

This is not the CAT that Meows

Photo of my subject review books for the MCAT along with e-books on my laptopThis August, I’ll be rewriting the MCAT – a necessary component for applying to many medical schools. It’s the only time that the word “cat” could make me feel any kind of negative emotion. Hopefully I’ll do better this second time given the infinite number of mistakes I made from the first sitting. And while my failed experience is through the lens of a medical school admission test, I’m hoping this advice will be applicable to anyone planning on writing other admission tests like the DAT, LSAT, PCAT, or GRE.

An impossibly cute kitten wrapped in a blanket

My preferred type of CAT (Source: Instagram @dailydoseofkittens)

How hard is the MCAT?
In hindsight, the material itself is basic (up to second year Life Sci, assuming you’ve taken the necessary prereqs at U of T). It’s possible to not be in a science program and learn the material elsewhere or by yourself, but learning it in your courses is certainly an advantage. 

The content just seems daunting when you’re trying to study everything at once. As well, many students feel intimidated by the format of the test. The long, wordy passages and obscure information throw people off. The key is to look past unnecessary factoids and concentrate on solving the questions using basic concepts you already know. The MCAT will not test anything beyond what the curriculum tells you to study. Plus it’s all multiple choice so process of elimination can be useful. 

The hardest thing is keeping a level head the entire time you’re sitting there. It is both mentally and physically exhausting to sit at a computer for hours… and exponentially harder if you’re ill-prepared and running on zero sleep (me). But if you’re calm and relatively confident (I say relatively because realistically everyone will be nervous no matter how much they study), then you will be okay!

A pixelated graphic of a bike rider and the words "How much further should I go? I'm tired, tired, tired, tired.

You might feel pressured for time and pull all-nighters to cram. But maintaining a steady sleep schedule will help you consolidate what you learned as well as ensure that you don’t burn out the morning of the exam! (me) (Source:

When should I write the test?
The AAMC will have select dates as to when you can sit for the MCAT. I chose to write in August again because I could spend my summer focusing on it and not have to deal with a full course load. When you choose to write will depend on your own schedule and priorities – I know students who write during the school year and still do well! 

I was in second year the first time I wrote it and the material was all review (again, because I took the necessary pre-reqs). I would say that a prime time to write it would be for students just finishing second year in Life Sci because all the concepts are still fresh.

How much time should I allocate for MCAT prep?
I studied in two weeks before the MCAT. The first weekend of the test month was spent frolicking on an island for Osheaga and the rest of time I was honestly just procrastinating. If you plan on writing late summer, an intensive 3-month study period is okay, assuming you haven’t forgotten everything from your courses the second you left the exam (a very real possibility). Obviously, the more time for prep, the better! This gives you a chance to pace yourself and not have to concentrate so intensely for 3 months straight.

Took a picture of the band and stage during the Arctic Monkeys' set at Osheaga.

If only I could memorize physics formulas as effectively as I can memorize Arctic Monkeys lyrics.

How should I prepare for the MCAT?
I’m currently using a combination of Exam Kracker and Kaplan review books, but there are also Princeton and Berkeley. If you’re going to self-study using just books, it is important to stay on schedule because it is very easy to get distracted or procrastinate when you’re at home. As well, there are Khan Academy videos dedicated to the new MCAT material.

I made a graphic on Photoshop with icons for different subjects (i.e. brain for Psych, beaker for chem) and created a daily study schedule.

Setting a schedule for yourself and sticking to it is super important. Another good technique is to do a little bit of each subject per day.

I found a neat website/app called Cram that lets me make electronic flash cards which I read while on the bus – pretty good for memorizing psych and soc terms! 

A screenshot of the Cram app on my phone.

You can participate in paid prep courses: Prep101 and Kaplan often sponsor student groups on campus that are always raffling off discounted courses during their group meetings. These are pricey but have a strict schedule so they force you to stay on track. 

You can find MCAT posters advertising free seminars posted all over campus. There will probably also be representatives from different student groups like the Pre-Med Society posting on Facebook or handing out flyers after your classes.

But above all, PRACTICE with tests or problem sets. AAMC practice tests are the most helpful; I found them the best indicator of difficulty, content, and question styles, especially for the verbal (now rechristened as CARS) section. Even though I was a little lacking in content knowledge, doing these was a lifesaver. It is also important to time yourself when doing them as to stimulate a real test environment, so you get a feel for how much time you should spend on questions.

Practice test

Any study tips for intense exams? Are you considering writing the MCAT yourself? Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment below! 

Finding Headspace in the Midst of Exams 

If you had told me in September that 8 months from now I would be an avid supporter of meditation – I would have told you that you were crazy! 

I grew up my whole life with a mother who was very into yoga, so I’m no stranger to meditative practices and how beneficial they can be for the mind and body. But I could just never manage to actually get the hang of it. I would always get distracted, or end up spending the entire time thinking and worrying – which is the opposite goal of meditation to begin with! 

That was until I heard an online blogger talk about the app Headspace.

The interface of the headspace app! I'm obsessed with how clean and simple the graphics are!

The interface of the headspace app! I’m obsessed with how clean and simple the graphics are!

Headspace is a mobile guided meditation app. Their beginners trial is a 10-day, 10-minute guided meditation series that is aimed to introduce you to the process of meditation – and help you get more headspace. 

I was really doubtful that this would actually work for my anxiety-ridden, million-miles-an-hour mind, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try! 

Well 2 weeks after my 10 day trial and I’m still obsessed! 

Image via.

Image via.

I started the trial around the end of classes, and although it was hard to make time at the beginning, I started to look forward to my 10 minutes of meditation a day. Instead of giving me 10 minutes a day where I don’t have to think about anything, the meditation encouraged me to let thoughts flow in and out of my mind naturally. It didn’t feel like I was trying to suppress anything, but I wasn’t trying to focus on anything specific either. 

I started out by doing it every morning. Before I ate breakfast and got ready for the day, I would sit on my bed with a cup of coffee and go through my 10 minute routine.

Now, I’m meditating for 10 minutes every morning – and during the day when I feel like I need some mental space or quiet time. 

Now that it's nice out I might even try some outdoor meditation at secret nooks like this one at Vic!

Now that it’s nice out I might even try some outdoor meditation at secret nooks like this one at Vic!

For me, meditation is about the combination of routine – and doing what feels natural. I want it to be integrated into my every day life, not something that feels unnatural and forced. 

You can get the app for free here, but if you’re looking for something a bit more hands-on, the U of T offers free meditation classes every day – all across campus

Try the bamboo garden in the Donnelly Centre

Try some meditation in the bamboo garden in the Donnelly Centre

There are also a variety of different meditation spaces on campus. I’m a big fan of the multi-faith and meditation room at Robarts for some mid-studying headspace, but I’ve also tried some of these quiet campus getaways recommended by Amie

Meditation has really helped me during exams; it gives me specific time to relax, which means I’m more focused when it’s time to study. 

image via.

image via.

Do you have any routines or tricks that help you get through exams? Or do you know of any awesome meditative spots on campus I need to check out? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @Rachael_UofT 


We made it! April has finally arrived! I just survived three essays and four exams all in the last two weeks and I don’t even want to know what percentage of my final grade all those tests and assignments were worth.

“Good thing I just had three final exams in the last three days, now my final exams can actually begin.” Unfortunately, this is not an April Fools joke.

Looking out my apartment window south down Bay Street. It's morning, but very dark and cloudy, with all the buildings lit up like night time. Weird.

At the first dawn of this week of exams, this is what my world looked like (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Seeing as how April has arrived, this will be the last First Nations House blog for the 2014-2015 school year! Can you believe it? This has been the fastest, craziest, most exciting and ridiculous year of my life and I’m honored to have been able to share my experiences with you.

Last week, I attended a Ulead workshop which focused on legacy and transition in leadership. I had a great time and I really enjoyed all the people who attended and who facilitated the workshop. The topic of legacy was very intriguing and makes me think of what legacy I hope to leave with the First Nations House blog this year.

First, I’ll take some time to reflect on where I was when I started last September, and where I am now. Or rather, who I am now.

In September 2014, I had never written a blog before. I was also still new to the WordPress program. In September, I had never been to 98% of the events I went to this year either. I had only barely started learning Cree, and had never spoken or written a word in Anishnaabemowin. I had never been a co-chair in an Indigenous student association before either.

In September 2014, I had never given an on-air interview at a radio station before, and I had never had an Indian Taco from the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. I never made a snow-Zach on campus before, and I had never shared my secret rye biscuit recipe.

A quaint little office with a big Hart House wooden door, a window looking into the Map Room, an old-school telephone, my coffee, and my laptop with what looks like Russian homework in progress.

A view of what it’s like to work in the CIUT 89.5 FM reception desk in Hart House (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A side view of the on-air booth for CIUT 89.5 FM in the Map Room, with all the microphones, gadgets, and even the big fancy fireplace

Another glimpse into the world of CIUT 89.5 FM (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I had never mentored a Toronto Catholic high school class from an Indigenous perspective, and I had never really publicly talked or written about much of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual journey. I had never made so many friends and spent so much time in one place like First Nations House. I had never felt so comfortable with who I am and I had never felt like I had a home away from home on this campus.

I also had never told the story of my cactus, Jose!

An awesome pointy weird green cactus in a square purple pot, with epic party sunglasses of course

Cactus Update: I have a new cactus, and this one is like my Dad’s cactus back home whom he calls Spike. So say hello to Spike Jr.! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Now, because of First Nations House, the people I met there and the balance I have found within, all of this has changed. I can honestly say I am a better student and a better man because of First Nations House and this blog. For that I am grateful.

The primary message I wished to send this year is the importance of balance in university life. Take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self and I guarantee you will find a pathway through U of T into your life beyond.

I have also learned from my time in First Nations House this year what community and leadership truly means. Community means inclusivity. People from all backgrounds and walks of life have important experiences and talents to share, and should always be welcomed into the circle.

The round building on the west end of University College, with it's fancy stonework lit up in marvellous deep blue

Circles are the best, even in architecture. Always keep your circle open, just like UC, which was lit up in blue on April 2nd for World Autism Awareness Day! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Leadership means respecting that circle and everyone in it. Leadership means taking all perspectives into account, and recognizing the effects of the group’s actions on others. Leadership means responsibility, accountability, transparency, and building balanced relationships which are mutually beneficial to all those who are involved.

Leaders cannot be followers and have the right and responsibility to protect their circle even from imbalances within the circle. When the circle is broken, true leaders stand up to defend the circle and the pursuit of balance. Sometimes, standing up for the sake of a balanced circle means leaving a broken circle behind and moving forward towards a better future.

Leadership means always striving to find and protect the circle though finding that circle can be a long journey. But once you find your circle and community, I can honestly say the long journey is worth every moment and every single step.

Looking up from the base of the big centre tower of University College, lit up in blue, looking spectacular

I remember way back in June 2012, when the first picture of me at U of T was taken right here in front of UC, in the middle of the night. I took this picture three years later, after my last lecture of the 2014-2015 school year. It took many steps to get here, and what a journey it’s been so far! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Finally, I can talk about legacy. It is my greatest hope that my blogging this year leaves a legacy which empowers you to engage with U of T and First Nations House and to balance your university life and a legacy which shines a light when there is only darkness on the path ahead. Be brave and be yourself. There is always hope and there is always a path worth exploring.

Looking at University College, with an incredibly bright blue street lamp in the foreground, in the middle of a dark night.

I know the future can look dark and clouded sometimes, so I hope I have been able to shine a light for you (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I’m not very good at goodbyes, I’ll admit. Writing this last sentence may or may not have made me a bit teary-eyed!

So for now I’ll just say niawen:gowa, mii-kwec, спасибо, and thanks!

Planning to Procrastinate

I have never felt so emotionally attached to an e-card as the one you see below. 


Not only do I feel like this victorian lady is my spirit animal, but I also feel as if I may have actually written this e-card subconsciously, and am now just re-discovering it for the first time. 

My name is Rachael, and I am a professional procrastinator. 

I’ve always been fully aware of my procrastination habits – even in high school I was a night-before essay writer. At university I’ve definitely met some procrastination pros who surpass even me, but I’ve also met hundreds of people who plan and perfect things weeks in advanced. 

I always use to compare myself to these people. They must be getting such better marks than me. Their lives are probably so stress-free. THEY MUST BE LITERALLY PERFECT AND I WANT TO BE THEM IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. 


My preferred form of procrastination is Netflix, coffee, and painting my nails

But over the last semester, I’ve learned that I’m not just a typical procrastinator. No, I actually plan to procrastinate. I know that may seem like an oxymoron, but it really is true. I am the most organized last-minute procrastinator you will probably ever meet. 

If I have an essay due on Monday, I will make sure I’ve done all my research by Friday, and I will spend all day Saturday and Sunday locked in ROBARTS creating in depth outlines and rough copies. By 8pm on Sunday night – I will have a perfect (at least to me at the time) essay ready to be handed in the next morning. 


More important than this realization however, was the realization that maybe this is okay. 

Procrastination has such an awful stigma attached to it. The entire internet is filled with procrastination memes and 2am Facebook posts by stressed out students. They contribute to this idea that procrastination is an inadequate and unacceptable form of studying.

I know that there are hundreds of research projects out there that tell you all the reasons why procrastination is bad for your mental health and your grades, there are actually quite a few out there who say that procrastination isn’t as bad as we make it out to be

Sure, if you’re skipping deadlines and missing assignments, your procrastination is getting a bit out of control. But if you find that you’re actually able to produce your best work when you procrastinate, and it’t not affecting your physical or mental health, then who am I (or the Internet) to tell you that you’re doing it wrong? 

When I eliminated the stigma around my procrastination – I found I was actually able to produce better results, and be less stressed in the process. I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, or like I had “planned to fail, by failing to plan.” 

Instead, I would sit down and set out a timeline of my procrastination. I would re-schedule my time, knowing that I was going to spend the entire weekend in the library. Overall, I think this has actually made be a better – and certainly happier – student. 

What’s your option on procrastination? Do you embrace it, or does it embarrass you? Or do you not do it at all!? Let me know in the comments below! 

Are You Ready for the Test???

Being prepared for tests is a complicated art. Exams are the most individual task you will do in university. It’s just you and the test, so don’t let your mind go rushing onto all your other responsibilities. Your soul must be centered. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance are key to preparing and working on all those areas in advance when you still have time and strength is the best failsafe.

Before and during tests, you have the opportunity to fight for every mark. One helpful trick I’ve found is to do practice tests, quizzes and review at the time of day when your exam will be. Exams can be held at strange times, so it’s good to get into the habit of working on the specific material on your test at those weird times.

Two battered erasers with paperclip guns and bottle cap helmets

These are my study soldiers: veterans of seven semesters of duty (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Eat a healthy, large meal before your test so you don’t go hungry or have an upset stomach. Bring everything you need for the test and bring spares if you can. Pens, pencils, sharpener, eraser and your T-card are must-haves, and depending on your course, you may need a non-programmable calculator so bring one with batteries! Also, bring a watch! Most test rooms at U of T don’t have clocks. The worst feeling in the world is when your exam invigilator says you only have 20 minutes left and you’ve only done the first tenth of the test because you couldn’t keep track of time!

a pencil sharpener, two pencils, two pens, an eraser, and a non-graphing calculator

Test-taking kit (Photo by Zachary Biech)

a watch on my arm

Not sure of the time? Better watch it! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Be 100% sure of your test location because you don’t want to show up to the wrong room. If you’re not familiar with the location, check it out a few days in advance so you know where to go and what the room will be like. Exam rooms here can be very large, strange and intimidating at first so do yourself a favor and get used to it beforehand.

Leave early when you are going to the test because you never know what can happen along the way. Traffic, construction, and many emergencies can stop you from getting there on time and can cost many marks.

There’s also an art to the moments before tests begin. First, make sure you use the bathroom before you go into the test room!!! I’ve written too many tests where I couldn’t think straight because I had to go so badly!

Second, you have to keep centered when you’re waiting to get into test room with all your classmates. I’ve found that students can hugely destabilize each other outside test rooms. Some people are so stressed that they’re shaking, unclean and sleep-deprived and their behavior can rattle others.

The other thing you have to watch out for students who try to rattle you and your classmates. I’ve played plenty of games with such people. They may try to shake your confidence by asking you if you reviewed obscure topics just to make you worry, and suggesting that weird questions you’ve never heard of will be on the test. They also act overly confident and may try getting you to lend them pencils or erasers just to bother you and to eliminate your spares.

Avoid those people as best you can and remember that you only need to trust yourself and your instinct. I remind myself to expect that behavior so I can shrug off their nonsense. They are laughable so you might even be able to get a good chuckle from them if you need it!

When you finally begin the test, you’re near the finish line! Listen to your exam invigilators and follow their instructions carefully so you don’t break any rules. Monitor your use of time and leave yourself with enough time at the end to check your work. Stay for the whole duration of the test. You may wonder, “why am I the first one done?” or, “why am I the last one done? Why is everybody leaving already?” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, only focus on your test. Use every minute, fight for every mark. If a question is about something you didn’t prepare for, you may feel a jolt of panic. Breathe, and keep centered if this happens. Skip to a different question if necessary and come back at the end.

Don’t give up on any questions! Finish all the questions you know the best and use the time you’ve left yourself at the end to squeeze as many marks from the difficult ones as possible! You will surprise yourself with how many marks you can earn yourself with this extra effort and you definitely deserve those marks! Leave all the energy you have in that test room, and your result will be the best reward you can give yourself.

Fighting for every mark is hard and takes lots of motivation. I attended a talk by Chantal Fiola–a Métis scholar of identity, politics, and spirituality–on March 16th. I was even given the honor of conducting the smudge for all attendees at the beginning of the presentation! Chantal shared many invaluable lessons and insights from her life’s journey and also shared key Anishinaabe teachings, including the Seven Fires prophecy.

Her new book:

Her explanation was an immensely helpful reminder for me of those teachings and of what our role is at U of T. We are the seventh generation. We are a new type of people with many precious gifts as well as an immensely difficult task. The path we must navigate is very hard but the hope and potential we can nourish by fighting for every single mark is worth every moment. What we do here every day at U of T, in every classroom and with every test, will cause change more positive and productive than anything that has yet been seen in the world.

I wish I could’ve thanked Chantal for reminding me to fight for every mark. The tests and assignments and endless workloads may drive us nuts, but we can always remember that we’re lucky to have the opportunity to be driven nuts by such important material and invaluable experience for the journey ahead.

The Road Ahead: Planning for Post-Exam Life

“I can’t believe this year’s already over!” we all say to ourselves in disbelief. In just over a month (even sooner for some people) we’ll be done with exams and will be free for four months. Now I know many of you have likely started figuring out your summers already, since jobs, travel plans etc. are often best planned in advance. But, if you’re like me and have procrastinated on post-exam Life: Have no fear – Api is here!

I have compiled a list of my summer options, which are my alternatives to the summer endeavours that I should have (probably) started a few months ago…(I’m only human.)

Hopefully this will help me decide on what to do this summer, and will offer some inspiration to a world of procrastinators and beyond:

1. Employment: Okay to be clear, with jobs, EARLIER IS ALWAYS BETTER. But don’t fret my friends, because it is not too late! Many places around the city are still hiring and continue to hire into the summer. Places with high traffic in the summer (such as tourist destinations) tend to hire progressively throughout the summer as well, based on need. Realistically, it might not be exactly what you wanted, but if money is the motivation, then you have plenty of hope!

Special Tip: Check out the U of T Career Centre (aka my life and soul), either in person on online for job postings, resume building and more! A few other personal favourites for job postings include TalentEgg or Indeed.Ca!

Api in a blazer in an office setting

I Wear Blazers So Please Hire Me: A Student Saga.

2. Travel: Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience planning large trips abroad, so I know that’s likely out of the question for me this year. BUT did you know Ontario is kind of an amazing province? A weekend up north at Georgian Bay or a Toronto Staycation is exactly what I need this summer (and it won’t disrupt school, work or anything else I want to do!

Api sitting on rock formation overlooking a lake at Georgian Bay

Ontario, yours to discover!

3. Study: The schedule for the summer term came out fairly recently, and as always, there’s a wide array of courses being offered.  Ah, summer school. It may help you finish your course requirements faster, or let you take a more intensive course without the distraction of other classes. And it probably has many other perks for some! But alas, it is school. In the summer.

Photo of empty chairs at Hart House Library

One of the many summer term perks: EMPTIER LIBRARIES

Special Tip: If you’re taking 1.0 credits continuously from May-August, then you’re eligible for the summer work-study program! Yay for more employment options!

Bonus Suggestion: Binge-watch things. I’ve barely kept up with my TV shows this year. I think that justifies watching ALL of 2014/2015’s TV gold AT ONCE, right?

So that’s a little peek into my summer, folks! What is your summer looking like, U of T? If you have any tips for what I can explore for the next third of my year, let me know down in the comments!

Hiroshima in One Day

Hiroshima holds a strong sentimental value for me. It was the first Japanese city that I spent a significant amount of time in, and my friends and homestay families there introduced me to Japan. Last week, for the first time I had the opportunity to show someone else around the city, when one of my friends from Tokyo swung by to visit.

We began our day at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. Located at ground zero, the park features a museum and several memorials dedicated to atomic bomb victims. The museum details the aftermath of the atomic bomb – how it affected people at the time and years after, how the city recovered from it, and how some of its side-effects persist today. The exhibits are silencing and sometimes harrowing, but absolutely worthwhile.

This image shows a concrete arch situated on a bed of pebbles. Flowers can be seen in the immediate foreground, in front of the bed of pebbles. Trees are visible in the background.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

This image shows a signboards submerged in shallow water. It is at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. Trees are visible in the background.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

After taking a lap of the park, we walked to a nearby restaurant specializing in Hiroshima’s signature dish: okonomiyaki. It primarily consists of noodles, cabbage, pork, and egg, with a number of optional ingredients. It’s cooked and served on a hot surface called a teppan. We sat at a bar attached to the teppan, and watched the chef cook our meal in front of us.

This image shows an okonomiyaki resting on a teppan.


A stroll through Hiroshima’s central street led us to a streetcar bound for Hiroshima’s port.

This image shows choppy waves. Mountainous islands ca be seen in the background, to the left of a large piece of machinery.

Port of Hiroshima

Our ride to Edajima.

A number of islands surround the greater Hiroshima area in the Seto Inland Sea. My friend and I had both been to the most famous island in the area, Miyajima, before, so we decided the check out the less well-known island of Edajima instead.

This image shows a paved path along a body of water. Forested mountains can be seen in the background.

Miyajima – One of Hiroshima’s major tourist destinations.

Edajima was sleepy – it offered a nice change of pace from what we were used to in Tokyo. Shops were open for a few hours a day, bus service ran once an hour, and many of the houses appeared to be vacant. We spent a some time wandering around the island and taking in its natural scenery, before getting a lift back to the ferry from one of the locals we met along the way.

This image shows a body of water. A forested landmass is visible in the background.


This image shows a body of water. Forested islands can be seen in the background.


Finally, we ended the day by meeting up with another friend at an izakaya before calling it a night.

This image shows a scene of Hiroshima at night. Tall buildings line a concrete street. Cars and a streetcar can be seen on the street.

Hiroshima at night. [source]

Anyway, that’s Hiroshima in a day. Next week I’ll be writing to you from Osaka, and the following week I’ll be writing from Okinawa.