C/O Ainsley Thurgood

An examination of testimonies from freshmen across different first-year majors

By: Kirsten Espe, Contributor

Over the past few months, McMaster University students faced the daunting task of preparing and completing their midterms for their selected courses. For many first-year undergraduate students, this was the first high-stakes assessment they have had since the beginning of 2020 — almost two years ago. 

Ariana Petrazzini, a first-year health sciences student, said that like most other Ontarian high schools, her exams were cancelled. Petrazzini also noted that her quizzes were mostly open book. 

“The content itself wasn’t necessarily easier, but the teachers did go a little bit softer and gave us more time than usual,” said Petrazzini.  

On the other hand, Veronica Larrazabal Zea, a first-year integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences student, continued to have class exams in high school. 

Although Larrazabal Zea felt more prepared for the testing aspect of university midterm season, she highlighted that she found it difficult to adapt to the increase in class work due to the implemented ‘quadmester’ system last year. 

“It was really weird because it was one week, one class, all day for a week and then another class, all day, for a week,” said Larrazabal Zea. 

Now, Larrazabal Zea’s classes have increased to a simultaneous seven upon enrolment into her program. 

Sharanya Badalera, a first-year social sciences student, says that the lack of exams in high school was not the only factor that threw her for a loop coming to McMaster. 

“Online [learning] is just way less engaging and it’s really easy to get distracted . . . You’re missing the social interaction with your teachers and your classmates. It’s a really important part of learning that I didn’t realize,” said Badalera.  

Badalera points out, however, that many students have gotten used to online learning, especially when accessing teachers during online office hours and having recorded lectures, both of which could be considered positive and negative. 

“With the chat, I feel like you’re interacting more, but once you go back in-person [it won’t be the same],” explained Badalera. 

All three students expressed their concern for the winter semester, which was just recently announced to be fully in-person. 

“I don’t know if they’re going to just do a 180 degree entirely and try to do exactly what they used to do before COVID . . . That's just a little stressful. [People have] changed their studying habits to fit the kind of tests and assessments that we have,” said Larrazabal Zea.

Petrazzini had a similar experience. 

“I was probably a better student in grade 11 than grade 12, where it was easier to slack off,” said Petrazzini.  

Indeed, many students echo the sentiment that their education constantly evolves to changing expectations.

“Learning is a changing thing and your learning is not going to be constant. You have to adapt to it,” said Badalera. 

All three first-year students pointed out that they are all striving to adjust well to the university experience. This is not uncommon for most first-year students, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the online environment do entail unprecedented complications for current freshmen. 

Students shouldn’t feel the need to “hold on” until reading week in order to be okay

Fall reading week has come and gone this year and I don’t know about you, but it felt like a blur.

Many Canadian universities, including McMaster University, have introduced a fall reading week in response to increased stress and mental illnesses in post-secondary students. Although introducing a week-long break from classes seems ideal in alleviating school-related stress, a 2018 study conducted at McMaster found that supporting students’ mental health is a bit more complicated than that. The study, which was conducted in 2015 when the fall break was introduced, found that although students had fewer stressors after reading week, they felt higher levels of stress overall. 

Although introducing a week-long break from classes seems ideal in alleviating school-related stress, a 2018 study conducted at McMaster found that supporting students’ mental health is a bit more complicated than that.

Many students commented that because of the added break, a shortened semester resulted in them having an increased number of midterms and assignments that occurred right after the break. So even though there was a break from classes, reading week is often spent studying or worrying about upcoming assessments.

Although this study was conducted five years ago, much of the data is still relevant. Since first-year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a full reading week for the fall and winter semesters, but each year I’ve felt the need to catch up on work that was either overdue or prepare for a hectic week of assignments after the break. Reading week is simply not enough to support students’ wellbeing — and it is especially not enough if instructors just condense the work we have to do to “make up” for lost time during the break.

The university has a lot of work to do in order to give us an actual, restful break that helps improve our mental health. Second-year hit me hardest in terms of stress and as a result, I deferred two fall exams. As a result, I had to write two exams during the winter reading week. This meant that on top of taking my full course load, I had to prepare for two final exams right in the middle of the semester when many of my winter courses also had midterms or major assignments' deadlines coming up. While these week-long breaks are supposed to be for our mental health, the winter break exacerbated my stress that year. 

This past reading week seemed even less restful, which was likely due to online classes and the pandemic. As our whole semester has been spent at home, spending another week — well, at home — didn’t really offer me with that mental pause in work and assignments. Yes, I didn’t have any synchronous classes to attend, but due to part of my course load being asynchronous, I already had fewer classes that I needed to attend synchronously this semester.

What I did have this reading week was a lot of work to catch up on or prepare for next week. This tends to be the norm for students every year, but with the anxieties surrounding COVID-19, being isolated from your friends and family and not being able to go out many places, this week was a lot more exhausting for me. Since in-person social interaction was limited and I was at home for the entirety of the week, every day I felt like I needed to do work and be productive.

I had a paper that was due right before reading week and four assignments due the week after — so of course, right after I finished my paper, I wanted to start working on the assignments so that their deadlines didn’t loom on the horizon.

Student mental health is more than just having a mid-semester break from classes and assignments. Many students like myself find that we just need to hold on until reading week; to simply finish our work and that as long as we don’t burn out until then, we will be okay. But once it’s reading week, we are allowed a moment to breathe before we must pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off again and continue working until we finish our exams — the light at the end of the tunnel. Then this cycle continues for the winter semester until summer break — unless you have spring or summer courses or work a job, of course. In that case, there are even fewer breaks that allow you to take a breather and actually, truly relax.

Student mental health is more than just having a mid-semester break from classes and assignments.

Giving us a reading week is a band-aid solution to a much larger problem. Students shouldn’t feel the need to “push through” to reading week and then “push through” to the end of exams. 

If McMaster wanted to ensure students had a restful break, fall exams wouldn’t be deferred to a break meant for our mental health. If McMaster wanted to ensure students had a restful break, we shouldn’t be overloaded with midterms, assignments and papers right before or after reading week.

I don’t have all the answers or solutions on how to improve student mental health. But what I do know is that if we want to truly support students, we need to do more than just providing two reading weeks.

Proctoring seen as a pro for some, but a con for others

As students and instructors find new ways to adapt to an online educational environment, methods of online assessment are something that also face major changes. The MacPherson Institute, McMaster University’s centre for teaching and learning, has shared many resources and suggestions for instructors to develop a remote teaching plan. 

On the MacPherson website, there are also resources for assessment alternatives. A final exam can be a take-home exam and student presentations can be done online using Microsoft Teams or they can be recorded and posted on Avenue to Learn

For instructors that wish to conduct final exams online through Avenue to Learn, MacPherson suggested different features, including presenting questions one-by-one or putting in time constraints for the exam.

Although not mentioned on the MacPherson website, many course outlines also state that professors have the option of using proctoring softwares for assessments. As noted on the Undergraduate Examinations Policy, instructors have the responsibility to specify the required electronic equipment and software at the beginning of the course. 

Students have the responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary equipment and software required and any questions or considerations related to online examinations must be referred to an instructor no later than 10 days prior to an online examination.

For an online proctored exam, students must ensure they have equipment such as a webcam and additional software. Such software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, allow instructors to monitor and record the student's computer activities, as well as lock or restrict their web browser during assessments.

It has not been made clear to all students whether proctoring will be used for some of their courses. 

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Clean D’Souza, a third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, is one of the students who is unsure if his course examinations will be remotely proctored or not. D’Souza said that he doesn’t mind if it is proctored and that he believes proctoring has many benefits. He believes proctoring can help to separate those who are actually putting in the work to get their grades and those who decide to cheat. 

Another third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, Rimsha Laeeq, finished her first proctored examination on Oct. 5. Laeeq said that she did not mind having her examination proctored as it encouraged her to have greater focus during the test and to study harder beforehand. However, Laeeq expressed that proctoring was uncomfortable at times, including the fact that she had to show all of her surroundings to the camera and ensure she does not look away from the computer for too long. 

Kinesiology professor Trevor King has opted for online open-book assessments through Avenue to Learn.

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

King also added that although professors have to consider whether students are truly understanding the content, an open-book assessment doesn’t necessarily hinder students from learning.

“[M]y thought is that a test is not really applicable to the real world in most situations and if you go out and have a problem to solve, in the real world, you're going to be able to look things up. [The ability to] quickly and effectively look things up is a very important skill that I think that students should have when they come out of university. So I think that an open book test makes way more sense than just having to memorize things.”

Professor Jennifer Ostovich of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, has also taken a different approach to assessments this year. 

Ostovich has decided that rather than a traditional approach to grading, she will use specifications grading

Specifications grading is an approach in which course assessments and assignments are broken down into pass or fail tasks. To achieve a certain grade, students would have to pass certain tasks, and for different grade levels, there will be a different combination of tasks to ensure students reach the appropriate level of understanding. 

For example, weekly quizzes are divided into two different types and to achieve a higher grade, students would have to complete a higher ratio of one type of quiz versus another. In addition to weekly quizzes, there are also assignments students can complete and a greater number of completions is required for a higher grade. 

Ostovich expressed hope that with this new approach, students can feel that they retained more of the material and stress less about achieving certain grades on their assignments. 

When asked about potential student collaboration on assessments, Ostovich expressed that collaboration can be beneficial for student learning.

"Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is."

“With any of the online testing options, that’s been the concern: that no matter what we do, students will collaborate. . . We have to set up a system in which it doesn't matter if students are collaborating, because you can't stop it right?. . . Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is. But you have to set up your assessment strategy so that that's not a big deal if it happens and that's what I've tried to do.”

 

Photo by Kyle West

By: Steffi Arkilander

Content Warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault

McMaster University has a strong reputation among Ontario universities for offering a variety of diverse student-oriented resources and supports. However, McMaster has consistently failed in making support for sexual violence survivors accessible and effective.

On Aug. 19, I was sexually assaulted by someone I trusted, just a few weeks before I started my second year at McMaster. I decided to give university resources a chance and reached out to the sexual violence response coordinator, Meaghan Ross, in October.

I needed academic accommodations to support the extensive and difficult emotional turmoil I was experiencing. My grades were falling and I was not ready to write any tests. To receive academic accommodations, I had to use Ross in my letter for Student Accessibility Services, which meant disclosing my sexual assault to numerous administrative individuals.

Unfortunately, getting registered with SAS is a long process and often my deferred midterms fell on days where I had other assessments or midterms. As a result, instead of my work being manageably spread out, my work and emotional distress were compounded together.

In December, I decided to report my assault to the university. Not only was it unfair to me to have to constantly interact with my perpetrator, but it was also unfair to other students that had to interact with him. But when I contacted the McMaster Students Union and the Residence Life Office, I learned that undergoing the reporting processes is an extensive and exhausting endeavour.

The process forces you to disclose your story to multiple organizations, to staff and non-survivors and brings your sexual assault to the public forefront. Even if my perpetrator is removed from positions without contact from me, he will know I caused his removal and that I decided to take action. Moreover, people will be able to piece my story together. While I am personally okay with this, many others are not.

Thus, to receive accommodations,such as an apology or to remove him from a position, I took the informal route that is offered through the McMaster University sexual violence protocol. To my disappointment, this route requires survivors to detail the incident. This creates an incredibly re-traumatizing experience and gives your perpetrator access to your disclosure, allowing them to reject the requested accommodations.

This process has clearly become incredibly legal, despite pursuing the university route in order to avoid legal involvement. As this process is painfully slow, my perpetrator continues to hold positions of power and interact with the student body without consequence. My perpetrator is free to roam campus while I am forced to anxiously avoid him.

My story is not uncommon. In fact, in comparison to other survivors, the university has responded well. Students generally don’t report their sexual assaults because of the university’s response; the survivor often feels interrogated and is led to hope for an unsatisfactory compromise with their perpetrator.

Survivors need to be prioritized. MacLean’s nationwide survey found that 29 per cent of McMaster students were not educated on how to report a sexual assault and 24 per cent of students weren’t educated on McMaster’s services that support survivors. This needs to change.

The system should be more navigable and transparent, so that survivors are more likely to reach out for help. Reporting assaults needs to be standardized university-wide so that survivors do not need to recount their experience to multiple organizations.

Training does not teach perpetrators not to assault people. My perpetrator has attended over five trainings on anti-oppressive practices and sexual violence throughout university.

Instead, training needs to emphasize on supporting survivors, and tangible means by which we can all work to dismantle the barriers impeding support mechanisms. The fact that only three in 1000 assaults results in conviction only becomes horrifyingly real when you have to support a survivor or become one yourself.

Survivors have nothing to gain from reporting, only lots to lose. So please believe us.

 

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Photo by Grant Holt

By: Brent Urbanski

University testing is the Neapolitan ice cream of student evaluation. With its two midterm tests and single exam, this format has become known to students as an imperfect trifecta. As this format continues to be observed by students across classes, it becomes clear that university testing needs to change.

Within McMaster University, infrequent heavily-weighted tests have become the standard. Their proponents argue that they offer a pragmatic solution to the demands brought on by an increasing student population.

This seems reasonable considering approximately 26,780 undergraduate students attend McMaster.

Yet, despite a relatively large student body, as many as 62 per cent of undergraduate courses have less than 60 students registered. Of the remaining third, another nine per cent is accounted for by first-year, faculty-core courses, where non-standard assessment methods have already been adopted. Thus, only 29 per cent of McMaster courses have rationale on the grounds of large class sizes for the current evaluative structure.

While the limited time that our professors possess is valuable and should be allocated appropriately, students pay an underreported opportunity cost that is similar in consequence. As students, university is intended to be a time to quench curiosity and inspire potential. This opportunity is contingent on our instructors’ abilities to teach.  

With the recent push by the McMaster Students Union to eliminate evaluations weighted 50 per cent or greater, it seems that a new horizon is bound. However, while removing grade-defining exams will function to ease student anxiety and diversify grade distribution, it does little to correct an inherently flawed system of learning.

Cognitive psychologists have known for decades that proper learning involves the deep and repeated consideration of material. The more you practice retrieval of information, the better your long-term memory will become.

Distributed learning involves learning material over time while interleaved learning involves practicing several units of content in rotation. Science states that adoption of these two learning techniques leads to resilient memory when combined with levels of deep practice such as testing.

For a full-time student, with roughly 62 days of content from five courses compressed into three testing instances per course, the present assessment scheme hardly encourages distributed learning.

Given the current structure, it is not difficult to understand why students cram for major evaluations. It has been shown clearly that cramming behaviour produces improved short-term results when compared to the long-term strategies of distributed and interleaved learning.

While long-term strategies promote lasting memories, a majority of students are hesitant over using them. The current grading structure is unforgiving, and students frequently resort to suboptimal learning techniques given the cost of failure. But as the goal of classes is to foster long-term retention of material, the university should diminish the value of cramming and reward optimal strategies.

To craft an ideal course, one must first break the association between testing and evaluation. After decades of experimentation, testing has been established as the strongest way to induce resilient learning; the average person, however, views constant studying as preferable.

What we need is more testing in university courses. Not only does this greatly improve student performance on final examinations, but also a majority of students claim that they prefer frequent, low-stakes testing in comparison to infrequent, high-stakes testing.

And even better, testing does not only reference closed-book, sit-down evaluations. The evidence for open-book testing, textbook homework, and take-home assignments is overwhelming. Any content that provides students an opportunity to elaborate on their knowledge in a distributed manner will produce worthwhile results.

At this point, there is no question that frequent testing improves learning, as we have seen with the recent success of blended learning. The major challenge lies within the feasibility of adoption. Will instructors and teaching staff take on the extra effort to provide their students with a framework for success? Only future transcripts will tell.  

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With midterms either resuming or beginning for most students and final exams lingering around the corner, scheduling your time is becoming more of a challenge.

As reading week has now come to an end and the regret of not being as productive as your professors expected you to be when they assigned their due dates has set in, it would be nice to have a more convenient way to organize your workload.

An exam schedule for midterm exams, like the one that is currently available on Mosaic for finals, could help reduce the stress that already exists for students while they try to prioritize their to-do lists.

It would also help students plan ahead of time for the reading week and allocate their time according to the importance of assignment weights.

Presently, students rely on course syllabi on Avenue to Learn for midterm exam dates. However, this is not always productive, as sometimes instructors do not decide the midterm date in advance for certain courses and students are forced to readjust their schedules as a result.

This results in either lack of proper preparation for exams or student having to pull all-nighters to complete work from other courses with less effort than they would have if they had the time to finish assignments wholeheartedly.

With midterms either resuming or beginning for most students and final exams lingering around the corner, scheduling your time is becoming more of a challenge.

However, a posted exam schedule would not only help students, but also instructors to mentally prepare for their schedule and organize their time accordingly.

This means that students would not only be able to better organize their to-do lists, but also their leisure time.

As reading week proves every time it comes around, students need a breather whether we anticipate it or not. Though we plan to complete assignments, catch up on readings and study for upcoming exams every reading week, it is usually the case that we don’t get to doing so until the weekend before the break is over anyway.

With busy schedules, students are sometimes too busy to fit in time for relaxation and we may find ourselves procrastinating in times we really shouldn’t be.

This may be the product of lack of organization or merely poor coordination between professors in planning due dates, which is a conspiracy that students joke about often.

If there was a way to make planning easier and more productive between instructors and students, this might be a good start.

In addition to making orgaization and time management more manageable, having a midterm exam schedule available at the beginning of the semester on Mosaic would also allow for international student and commuters to better plan for trips to visit home without worrying about the possibility of missing something in their time away from school.

An exam schedule for midterms on Mosaic would help increase organization, productivity and time management for students, especially around times that are meant for a compromise between studying and relaxing such as reading week.

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By: Grace Huang

As midterm season continues, discussions about the McMaster Student Absence Form can be heard everywhere on campus. Since 2010, students have been using the MSAF to get out of tests and assignments. Depending on the course, the assignment or midterm would be pushed back to a later date or the equivalent weighting would get carried over to the final exam. Both of these ways generate temporary relief, but how much is the MSAF really benefitting students?

Being evaluated on knowledge and applications at the intended date is as beneficial to the student as being evaluated on the same thing a few days later. The only difference would be that they would have had a few more days to gather their thoughts and have more confidence before submitting their work or writing their test.

The MSAF becomes questionable when the weights of these assessments get pushed into the final exam. This can make exams worth well over 60 per cent of their final course grade and puts unnecessary stress on students at the final push of exams. The MSAF should only be used to extend deadlines and push back test days rather than be used to skip midterms.

The MSAF is special to McMaster. Most universities in Canada only excuse students from missing schoolwork if they provide a valid reason with proof. Prior to 2010, McMaster had the same policy, but students began forging doctor’s notes to get out of evaluations. In response to this problem, the school created the MSAF so students could excuse themselves once a term. This was a great idea to begin with, but students have gradually taken advantage of this with the “strategic MSAF.”

The strategic MSAF has been used as a saving grace to get out of perceptually challenging midterms, but this is not conveying the right message. Being able to opt out of something unfavourable is simply not something that happens in the real world. While it may feel relieving in the moment, it adds extra unnecessary pressure to the final exam.

Many professors have informed their classes that students who use their MSAF on the midterm do not do as well on the final exam as the rest of the students. Reasons for this include the stress factor stated previously as well as the fact that missing a midterm means missing a checkpoint that prepares students for the final.

In other words, if students do not prepare for a midterm because they plan to use MSAF, they would have to work twice as hard in preparation for the final. Again, pushing a midterm back a few days in a period of bunched up midterms is certainly beneficial for students, but temporarily getting rid of it and reweighing the mark distribution to the final exam is simply unwise and ludicrous.

In addition to the stress and forecasted low performance, using the MSAF to reweight marks to the final can also harm the content stored in a student’s long-term memory. Students often lose focus of how the point of studying is to be evaluated on their knowledge. Students who do not have these evaluations will have gaps in their understanding of content, especially if the final is cumulative, because of the lack of reinforcement studying. The consequences could carry over to the next year, as lots of material can be prerequisite to the next year’s courses. With negative outcomes outweighing the positive, it is undeniable that the MSAF should not be available to reweight midterms.

The use of the MSAF is beneficial when assignments and midterms are cluttered and the student just needs a few more days for one evaluation. The McMaster administrative team and course coordinators should seriously consider eliminating the trap of shifting the weight of a midterm to the final because it causes unnecessary stress and reduces overall learning for the student.

By: Francesca McFadden

New research indicates that being active has a strong impact on health, specifically targeting brainpower, coping with stress and improving mental health.

Dr. Jennifer Heisz, McMaster assistant professor and director of the Neurofit Lab, is engaged in research on the cognitive neuroscience behind exercise. Her research examines the effects of physical activity on brain function to promote health and cognition in young and older adults.

“A single bout of exercise focuses your attention so that you can learn better in class. Regular physical activity can help you to cope with stressors for overall better mental health,” Heisz explained.

“Mental illness is on the rise, and students are more at-risk than most. One in three university students will experience symptoms of depression at one point during their time at school. With expectations for high grades come high-stakes pressures for exams leading many students to experience chronic stress and anxiety.”

Examinations act as physiological stressors, which release cortisol into the body. In small doses, cortisol is beneficial as it allows us to effectively deal with stressors. However, Heisz explains, “Prolonged increases in cortisol can damage the hippocampus — a key brain region involved in learning, memory and regulation of the stress response. Ironically, the intense pressure to achieve top grades can compromise a student’s ability to effectively learn and retain the knowledge they need to perform well academically.”

During exam season, time is of the essence, thus many students don’t see physical activity as a priority. Heisz debunks this misconception through research by concluding that exercise can be beneficial to students by creating resiliency to physiological stressors.

There are many opportunities on and off campus for students to get active. McMaster Recreation offers intramural sports, yoga, a climbing wall and fitness classes. The Arrive and Thrive project offers a gentle approach to blending physical activity with engagement in the student community. Another possibility for students is to explore Hamilton’s nature trails or visit a nearby waterfall.

Getting physical activity does not need to be a long and tedious endeavour. “The benefits can be achieved with just thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, three times a week. This may sound like a costly time investment during a hectic period when other activities demand your attention. However, prioritizing exercise can increase the quality of the time spent on these demanding activities,” Heisz explained.

Heisz uses social media to interact with the community and bring awareness to her research. Recently, Heisz posted the hashtag #FeedYourHippo on Twitter.

“In the context of #FeedYourHippo, your ‘hippo’ refers to your hippocampus — a key brain region involved in learning and memory and regulation of the stress response. Exercise helps to #FeedYourHippo by promoting neurogenesis (i.e., the birth of newborn neurons) in the hippocampus to improve memory function.”

With the Pulse recently having undergone renovations, it is a perfect opportunity for students to get active and feed their hippos. Students can greatly benefit from making exercise an essential part of their week, positively impacting performance academically and mentally.

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By: Sohana Farhin

During midterm season, it can be difficult to juggle assignments, midterms, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, and other things life throws your way. Taking care of yourself can often fall to the bottom of the priority list. However, considering the prevalence of mental health concerns on Canadian campuses, the concept of self-care and checking in with yourself is becoming increasingly important. The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services found that 89 percent of surveyed students responded feeling overwhelmed with all the things that they had to do for school. With Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week, just behind us, here are some activities you can try to relax your mind and soul to keep your mental health in check, courtesy of the Student Health Education Center.

Nature

A study by Selhub and Logan (2012) showed that spending 20 minutes in nature can help improve your vitality. Our brain responds calmly to the sounds of the nature and outdoors. In the fall, set some time to step outside the McMaster bubble and enjoy the trails Hamilton has to offer. Listen to the drizzling of the waterfalls while enjoying a breathtaking view of the trees’ colourful palettes. McMaster has some nearby trails; specifically, the Cootes Paradise trail and the Princess Point trail that leads to Bayfront Park. If you are willing to go further, take the HSR to Albion Falls or go to Dundas, and explore the many waterfalls.

Reflection

There are many mediums of reflection: prayer, journaling, lyrical writing, meditation, exercising. Pick a location in which you feel comfortable and set some time for yourself to reflect on your experiences, your goals, how you are feeling and what you have learned. Genuine and honest reflection increases your awareness of yourself and your surroundings, increases appreciation of the things you have experienced and allows you to learn from your mistakes. Take a look at Gibbs' Reflective Cycle for a foundation upon which you can start your reflection.

Hobbies

Annals of Behavioural Medicine reported that adults who engaged in leisure activities were 34 percent less stressed and 18 percent happier than those who did not. Challenging yourself and trying something new is a perfect way to spend time away from stressful obligations and help clear your mind. Whether it is learning a new instrument, picking up knitting, hitting the gym, learning a new language, playing a video game or anything else you want to do, having a hobby is therapeutic for your busy lifestyle.

To reduce stress levels and increase productivity, it can be beneficial to take a breather and spend some time alone. Breaks can help you refocus, reflect and keep you healthy and motivated. This article provided a few examples of what you can do to take a break, but the choice is yours. After all, the time is yours. Spend it in the way that makes you happy and ready to take on your next challenge.

By: Mitali Chaudhary

Sometimes you just know a bad midterm mark is coming when you’re in the exam room, mind blank, slowly getting that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you listen to everyone else’s pencils scribbling furiously. Even worse is when you’re blindsided and left stunned at the hands of a subject you studied your heart out for. Either way, getting a bad mark on a midterm is a painful experience that not everyone can simply brush off.

In time, however, it’s entirely possible to bounce back. The best way to start this process is by determining exactly how you prepared for the test and what actions you can take in the future to fill the gaps in your knowledge or steps you can take to ready yourself better for future experiences. If this is done realistically, the reason behind your shortcoming can be picked out and smoothed over, which leads to greater chances of success in the course. Maybe your social hours or casual Internet usage need to be limited or maybe you’re lacking in the organizational department. Whatever the problem may be, once it’s identified, it’s much easier to seek help and set goals to correct it. Fortunately, McMaster University offers everything from counselling to extra help for virtually every course, as well as soft skill workshops for free that can provide support.

It’s also helpful to stay positive and to put the mark into perspective. Although it seems like a big deal at the moment, half a semester still remains and the finals are the real deciding factor of the course grade. It’s therefore much more productive to focus your energy on using the experience as an accurate depiction of what you still need to learn or work on, instead of wallowing over it for a month. Make sure you look at the class average too, it may be that you got a 65 percent and are disappointed by it, but if the class average was a fifty, then I’d say that’s a pretty good mark.

Essentially, to properly bounce back from a botched midterm, a lot of introspection is required, followed by some goal-setting and smart action. This lets the unpleasant event turn into a smudge in your distant memory instead of becoming a large mental stain that constantly intrudes on other thoughts.

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