Aaron Tan's Blog

20 Oct 2017

Midterms - done!

One hectic week, five midterms, and +5 to stress. 1A Computer Engineering for me had ECE105, ECE150, MATH115, MATH117, and CHE102 exams - physics, programming, linear algebra, calculus, and chemistry. Definitely not the lightest workload of the bunch, but also not as bad as those poor software engineering kids (RIP MATH135 - good luck with your proofs!).

Very important to making sure that you can be successful during hell week is having a good studying schedule and knowing when to stop and take a step back. I’ll go a little bit into my studying habits and how I prepare for exams here.

Taking notes and studying

If there’s one thing that IB has taught me, it’s that you shouldn’t leave studying until the last minute (I know it’s a cliché but it’s worth saying again!).

Studying means that you need to study something - and that usually means starting with notes! I take my notes on pen and paper—I considered buying an iPad/Apple Pencil combo, but I realized that I find writing notes by hand with pen and paper very physically relaxing. I love the thicker feel of the “premium” line paper and I’m also partial to the 0.5mm Muji pens. Research suggests that writing by hand is also better for memorization than typing or digital solutions too, so that’s a bonus, I guess. I’ve noticed that out of a class of maybe ~100 people, about four or five use a tablet to take notes, so it’s not too uncommon to see that. For my notes, I stick to a colour scheme too—it makes my notes both aesthetically pleasing and I can scan them easier when it comes time to review. It usually goes like this: black for examples/personal work, red for definitions and new theorems, green for graphs/pictures/doodles, orange as secondary colour for graphs/pictures/doodles, and blue for corrections when I inevitably mess something up.

alt What my scanned notes usually look like

After taking notes, I usually read over them after a lecture and make sure that I understand the material. If there’s stuff I don’t get, I’ll try 1) looking through the textbook, 2) asking a friend, and finally 3) asking a TA or a prof. I usually get to #2 before everything is cleared up. Once I’ve looked them over, I usually scan my notes with Scanner Pro and organize them all on Google Drive, so even if I lose my binders or our apartment burns down because of my cooking, I’ll still have access to all of my stuff.

At this point, if we’ve gone through all the material that I need for an assignment, I’ll do those. I find it very useful for solidifying the foundations by applying knowledge. The weekly assignments and quizzes help me keep on track in terms of what I should know very well and what I still need to work on. MATH115’s Maple TA is great, MATH 117’s assignments are very helpful, ECE150 might not have anything to do with the lectures but they are good programming exercises, and CHE102’s weekly assignments are very useful.

By doing this, I’ve been able to retain most of the knowledge that I need during a midterm. Usually a week before the midterm (or just a few days before), I try to do the previous midterms that have been posted on LEARN or the ones that are on the Engineering Society exam bank. Comparing with friends and also the given solutions really sets your expectations for how well you’ll do during an actual midterm.


ugh I just played chess all day instead of studying

Lily Yang, 2017

A lot of people that I talked to were very stressed during the entirety of exam week. Here’s how I dealt with it this time around:

  1. I hosted a board game night the weekend before the exams. I felt that letting myself forget for a few hours about the studying and numbers really helped with mental health and making sure that I wasn’t getting burnt out. Plus, I met new people, which is always cool!
  2. I made myself follow a consistent sleep schedule. Normally my sleep schedule is a mess - but during this entire week and the week before, I always fell asleep between 12:00AM and 1:00AM and woke up around 9:00AM. This helped my body establish its circadian rhythm and also guaranteed that I was rested.
  3. I made studying bearable for myself. Get a good Spotify playlist going, turn up the volume, ignore the world and focus on that paper. I printed out all of the midterms that I was practicing with, because I find it harder to do it on the computer than on paper. It also simulates an actual exam environment.
  4. I made sure to take breaks and do other things! Didn’t cook at all during stress week. Ate out and explored a bit more the Waterloo food options. Switched up where I was studying to get myself moving a bit and also not collect mould by staying in the same place all the time.

Other things

Job interviews! I had three during a day that I also had the physics exam. That was not a fun day. What’s also not fun is frantically emailing other people to see if they can switch because you’re mildly stupid and scheduled an interview during one of your midterms. 🤦

Stuff in the news:

  • RIP Gord Downie.
  • RIP Catalonia (I too have declared independence and reverted eight seconds later.).
  • RIP Puerto Rico.
  • 19th Party Congress… Interesting news from there. (My record for clapping is 1111 times! Try and beat me.)

Anyway, talk to you all soon! Ranking and matching day for interviews is November 1-3 so that’s probably when my next post is going to be.

aaron at 22:30