January 12, 2015


At the start of last semester, Navneet and I made a resolution to kick academic butt together. Now, when we say kick academic butt, we mean kicking butt and taking names, man. We were aiming for A+s. And guess what? We got 'em!!!!

We took Educational Psychology together and did exceptionally well on every component, especially the essay. Navneet wrote about how problematic literature about parenting styles perpetuates stereotypes and prejudice and I wrote about the future of antiracist pedagogy. The process was long and painful at times: we read journal articles, took notes on said journal articles, referenced said journal articles (the worst part by far), designed outlines, wrote rough drafts, edited drafts, edited each other's drafts, rewrote sections, completely changed the direction of the paper at 1am the night before (that was me), and made final adjustments. We worked so hard on that paper. And guess what? NINETY EIGHT PERCENT!!!!!! We wrote 98% papers! When we found out we screamed and jumped for joy in the middle of our school hallway. It was a moment I will sincerely treasure forever. The peak of my academic career so far, if you will.

Now that you know we are truly kick butt students, we thought we would compile how we became students who kick academic butt. This process was also long and painful at times. We are both close to finishing our undergrad degree (Navneet graduates after this semester!!!!!), so don't think that we went through our whole university lives as A+ students. There are some courses that our brains just aren't very good at: calculus for me and accounting for Navneet. Part of being a student who kicks academic butt is knowing which courses you excel at and which you suck at. This is mainly trial and error: reading course syllabuses and trusting your gut. When you get excited about a course description/syllabus, you know you're on the right track.

First things first, you gotta keep a somewhat organized study space. I like to take the first week of the semester to really organize everything: write the dates of assignments and exams in my planner and calendar, get my textbooks, buy some journals and post-it notes, and clean up my study area. Writing down important dates is really important for me so I can see when my busiest weeks are ahead of time. If I have three major projects/papers/exams in the same week in the middle of the semester (this will inevitably happen) and I know this at the beginning of the semester, I can plan ahead. Planning ahead is a major strategy I use so I don't get overwhelmed and completely freak out, which may end up happening no matter how much you plan ahead (this is from experience) - and that's ok!!! Take the day off and watch a heartwarming movie, may I suggest The Princess Diaries, and eat a ridiculous amount of ice cream. You deserve it.

Might I also suggest taking lecture notes in tiny notebooks. I used to use a massive three subject notebook but I saw Navneet using a small one for each subject and it looked so much better. It is. For one, it's way lighter in your backpack. And they come in such fun designs. That's it.

Now it's time to actually study! This is the hardest and most painful part of all. But we've figured out some tricks that make studying feel slightly less like dying. Note: I'm using the term study to encompass reading articles and textbooks and novels, writing papers and assignments, and studying for exams.
  • Keep all necessary materials within an arms reach. This includes: water, snacks, highlighters, pens, textbooks, notes, blank paper, etc. This way you won't distract yourself from studying by getting up to get a cup of tea or your favourite pen.
  • We both used the 30/30 app to study for Ed Psyc and found that it worked pretty well. It basically lets you schedule time for studying and breaks or anything else, it's pretty customizable. We usually stuck to 50:10 ratios of studying and breaks, but you can do what's best for you. If you're in a state of flow, fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and full involvement in the activity, then keep going! This usually happens for me when I'm writing papers rather than studying.
  • I love listening to music while I'm studying, but it has to be instrumental. I have 2 studying collections (one for softer music and one for more uptempo stuff) on 8tracks where I've compiled some of my favourite instrumental playlists. With Navneet's help, last semester I rediscovered the joy of my local library. Did you know libraries carry CDs? Did you know you can search the regional database and request any CD you want? I probably knew all that when I was 12 but I totally forgot. A CD that helped both Navneet and I through a couple of papers last semester was the Tron: Legacy Soundtrack. Daft Punk never disappoints. I also found a really good CD at my library called Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters: Instrumental Collection, Vol. 1. It's super chill and easy to listen to if you're reading complex material. Lately, due to Navneet's influence, I've been really into Harry Potter themed instrumental mixes.
  • You know when you've been studying for what feels like forever and you feel like if you so much as read another word you're going to slip into a coma? This is the time for encouraging post-it notes. I actually wrote the above one for my pen pal in London. She just started working as a teacher so I put together a little package for her and included some post-it notes with encouragements written on them, but I must have forgotten to pack the blue post-its into the box. I stuck it here absent-mindedly one day and forgot about it for a bit. Then, when I had to stay up late one day to study, I looked at it and was like, you know what? I can do this! I will do this! It gave me the energy to keep going, as cheesy at that sounds. Try it out, you never know how much will-power you'll find from a little note.
  • This is going to sound weird, but if you don't trust me, you don't have to since it's been proven by science. Verbalizing while studying has been found to increase the amount of stuff you retain in your head and the amount of time it stays in your head. I have actually found this to be true. Reviewing your notes over and over in your head is ok, but actually speaking the words out loud is way better for memory retention. This is one of the reasons why studying with someone else is great for learning. 
  • Find yourself a study buddy (or two!). Now, this is obviously easier said than done, solid study buddies are hard to come by. But, it doesn't hurt to ask the girl sitting next to you for her contact info in case one of you misses a class. One thing leads to another and boom, you've got yourself a study buddy, and maybe a friend!!! Yay #friendship! You could also take a different approach, which has been found to be less effective but much easier to enact. You could study with your friends, even if they're in different classes from you. Set up a time each week to get together, not to socialize, but to study. It makes you feel less like you're dying than studying by yourself, that's for sure.
  • Integrate studying into your normal routine. The picture above was taken one Friday when the three of us decided to go out by the Fraser River for lunch and a group study session. Integrating studying with things you enjoy doing helps ease the pain. Try studying outside with the sun hot on your back while you're eating a chocolate chip muffin. Personally, I like to save the courses I enjoy for this type of stuff.
  • I know it feels like you need to keep studying for the next 10 hours (at least), but it's important to know when to stop. Sometimes getting off your butt and making an avocado BLT with spicy mayo and a fried egg really is the best thing to do for your brain - trust me, I'm a Health Science major. Your brain needs carbs to work properly, you really do need brain food. This sandwich is the best form of carbs, in my opinion. Also, sometimes it's better just to go to bed. Neither Navneet or I condone all-nighters. Sleep makes your brain better able to retain information. Go to sleep.
  • Snacks!!!!! Which are obviously different from meals such as a sandwich, just to clarify. Lately I've been obsessed with roasted and lightly salted almonds, tortilla chips and guacamole, and Oreos. There's no shame in using snacks as positive reinforcement. Read a page or two, then eat an Oreo as a reward. It's a very effective strategy.
  • It's also really, really important to stay hydrated!! According to Navneet (who is not a Health Science major, just to remind you), I don't drink enough water. Of course, she's right. I'm usually horrible at drinking water actually. This is where herbal tea comes to the rescue! Forever nuts, birthday cake, and spearmint from David's Tea are some of my favourites at the moment.
  • Celebrate when you make progress! Buy yourself some gold lipstick and/or your favourite expensive chocolates. You earned it, you kick butt student! Self-reinforcement really works, it makes you feel good about your progress which means you're more likely to put in the effort to do it again later. 

  • I don't know about you guys, but for me and Navneet, having a solid support network is super important. Luckily for us, we managed to find a pretty awesome one. Telling people about your successes and being encouraged is such a good feeling. It might even be worth all the effort and pain in the end.
We'd love to hear your tips and tricks as well! Us kick butt students gotta stick together. Best of luck on the upcoming semester to all you students out there, we can do it!

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