Top 189 types of Instagram posts using the #UofT hashtag

Just kidding. I mean top ten. Can you imagine 189???

Happy birthday week to UofT! 189 is a ripe old age and our academic institution has seen lots of growth and development over the duration of its existence. Danielle’s recent posts on major historical moments at UofT give a great outline of what we’ve been through to arrive at this point. The present-day lifestyle of a UofT student is rather different than what it used to be, on account of there being significantly more glass buildings, less trees, a lot more online presence, and a lot more hashtags.

UofT logo with birthday hat edit.

In celebration of our university’s 189th birthday, I took the liberty of perusing through the ever-so-reliable information forum popular amongst us millennials (Instagram) to bring you the top ten types of Insta posts that use the #UofT hashtag, to see whether this is indicative of a current student’s UofT experience. One takeaway from this week’s blog: UofT students are AMAZING photographers. 

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Sick in the 6ix

My alarm goes off. I sit up and my head is spinning. I reach for my alarm and miss it the first two times. I finally get it to switch off, lie back down, and assess the situation. I’m drenched in sweat. My head is pounding. My throat is really sore; it hurts to swallow. I feel too cold and too hot at the same time. Memories of my dreams start to trickle back: flying donuts, green skies, canoeing on a chocolate river. I start to put the pieces together.

Pictured: The chocolate river from the good film version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

This fever dream is brought to you by Wonka’s Chocolate Factory™ and Pure Imagination™ Picture courtesy of  http://www.frenchtoastsunday.com

Yep. I’m sick. Now what?  Continue reading

Winter is leaching me of my creative juices

Foil lit under a blue light.

Winter got me seeing all shades of blue

If ever we had to designate a time of the year that made people feel the most “BLAH,” it would be around now. The dreary weather and post-holiday lull make for a very uninspiring landscape that certainly do not help to foster creativity. I too fall prey to the monotony that is the mid-winter blues. (Is it even mid-winter? Realistically, has it even been a true winter this year? Are we feeling the ramifications of global warming? All good questions). Feeling like a sad, deflated, grey-tinged marshmallow, I can get really unmotivated to deal with work and school – which can be quite problematic at the start of a new semester. However, I have a few tricks to try and inspire creativity and productivity: 

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New Year, New Me!

“Woke up this morning I was laid out flat on the dark side
With the moon and the room on the wrong side
I took a needle, sewed myself right back at the seams

I saw my universal gleam” – ‘Flick of the Finger, by Beady Eye

Liam Gallagher might not have the same vocals he did back in Oasis’ heyday, but his last effort to bring back the glory days with his (now disbanded) Beady Eye did bring back some of the open lyrical interpretation the band was known for instigating – but I digress. Nevertheless, it makes for a great quote that can relate to the idea of starting the new year with resolutions. It’s a time of year when – for whatever reason – you can see your errors more clearly, and when you decide to pick up the metaphorical needle and attempt to sew yourself back together again. I’m not typically one to fall into the societal norm of setting resolutions specifically to ring in the new year – but given that this will be my first full year as a university student, I decided to give it a shot.

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A Drake-themed guide to Robarts during exam season

Exams are upon us, U of T. Time to buckle down, catch up with readings, and hit up the nearest campus library for some serious studying. Robarts is the natural go-to choice for many students. Exams may make you miserable, but at least being around other people who are stressing out as much as you are is somewhat comforting. Also comforting is knowing that you’re making Drake proud by acing that calc exam. And always remember that if Aubrey Graham could go from a teeny-bopper D-list actor on Degrassi to a bonafide rap legend, then you can certainly power through these final weeks of the first semester.

Drake leaning against a large storage container and a stereo, using the stereo as a desk to write lyrics on a piece of paper.

Even Drake’s gotta constantly put in werk (Source: Instagram @champagnepapi)

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Winter is Coming: Gearing up for Exam Season

In the wise words of Ned Stark: “Winter is coming.”

A glass bowl of candy canes.

Nothing screams winter like a bowl of mini candy canes.

However, with winter comes . . . exams. Did you feel a sudden shudder ripple through your body, too? Recently, I conversed with an Academic Success Centre learning strategist, Dr. Graham, and learned some tips to keep in mind as we transition into this season. Here are a few of her tips, as well as mine:

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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: http://i.fonts2u.com/te/mp1_tengwar-quenya-1_1.png

— A chart of Tolkien’s created language, Quenya, which vaguely resembles my high-school law notes . . .
Source: http://i.fonts2u.com/te/mp1_tengwar-quenya-1_1.png

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: http://8-bitfiction.tumblr.com/)

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!