It’s October and you know what that means: the MIDTERMS are upon us. What could be worse than the start of October? Walking around stressing about the exams you are about to be delivered with the feeling of dread in your stomach is the worst. Well get that gloomy cloud away from your head because I’m here to tell you that October is the best month of the whole damn year and I’m not going to mention apple picking or pumpkin spice whatevers once! Apart from just now, that was an exception (I hope).
For better or worse, October is the month of midterms, but that doesn’t have to define it. They’re necessary and if you’re lucky your final mark will eclipse this one by a long shot. If you’re a first year freaking out about physics, chillax. I know enough people who failed the midterm – yes that dreaded F word – and they’re still in the same program doing fine years later to tell you all about it.
October is also the quintessential autumn month, I fell in love with fall at an early age because growing up in Ontario I was incredibly lucky to get to experience the colours we have in the province that other provinces don’t get! My parents were avid outdoors people and took me and my sister for hikes out of the city to get colour in our cheeks, wind in our hair, and to collect the paraphernalia of the season.
To this day I find it hard to walk past fallen chestnuts or acorns without collecting a few. And pretty leaves? Don’t get me started, I probably have a pile sitting on my desk right now. Another of my favourites? Milkweed. If you don’t know about this *cough* superior weed then you’re missing out, nothing is more cheerful than a milkweed pod splitting open and sending fluffy seeds into the world!
The most psyched I get about anything these days is at the thought of spending time outside in the fall. Even when I’m enjoying a sunny summer day I’ll feel a little pang of longing at the thought of how exquisite the view would be if the trees were shedding their multi-hued foliage and the air was just 20 degrees cooler.
And I know as students it’s difficult for us to spend any time at all outside. It can seem like all day from 8:30am-11:00pm you’re toiling away to LEARN, but that doesn’t cut it as an excuse! Have your group project meeting on the POETS patio, eat your lunch on the red chairs outside the Tatham Centre, walk across campus to get your study-break coffee, sit in a lab that has windows so you can at least stare at what you’re missing! Probably there’s a study somewhere about how sunlight helps productivity and I am a firm believer in this unproven fact!
When I was on co-op last fall, I got to really experience the changing of seasons for the first time in my life. Instead of being focused on school, I was able to see how my walk home from work changed day by day without things like assignments, reports, and goodness knows what else clogging up my headspace. It’s true that as a student we can’t necessarily get out and enjoy the seasons, but we are Waterloo Engineers which means we have four months every other term to completely uproot and focus on new things. Maybe this fall you’re in school and living under a pile of books, but next fall you’ll be out in the real world, experiencing it!
What else does fall have to offer other than crisp air and beautiful colours? Thanksgiving! The best holiday of the year, don’t argue with me on this one folks, I’m right! It is the holiday everyone can celebrate, no matter who you are or what you believe; everyone has SOMETHING to be thankful for. It doesn’t have to be about family or food, it can be about friends and taking a break from your hectic life to look at it from a distance and say, “This is one thing I am lucky to have”. It’s the best mental health holiday because there are no expectations of you; no one gives Thanksgiving presents, just hugs. Plus, it helps that this holiday incorporates two amazing pies, apple and pumpkin! When there is a legitimate excuse to consume unholy amounts of pie one should never complain.
If you need one more reason to love October because pie doesn’t cut it for you, there’s Halloween. I have been a drama queen at heart from birth and the idea of dressing up for a day without being looked at like a weirdo is fantastic. It’s not just about dressing up, there’s pumpkins and all the exciting possibilities they entail. Carving contests, pumpkin seeds, experimenting with cooking them? Maybe you have a benevolent streak and you want to give out candy to children, or maybe you’re like me and you’re gonna hit up Rocky Horror at the Princess! This is my favourite Halloween tradition by far, I used to just watch the movie at home but being part of the audience at a screening is much better!
So I’ve gushed about fall, when do I talk about midterms? I suppose it’s my duty as EIC to share my nuggets of worldly wisdom on the topic, though I can’t truly condone following my methods. I take what I like to call the Harry Potter Approach to my exams, which has had mixed success rates, read on at your own peril.
About two weeks before midterms I turn into Hermione. I get way too stressed out, plan my studying hour-by-hour in an intricate study schedule that no human could ever follow. Then I pour myself a cup of tea while admiring the thing of beauty that is my study calendar, which I promptly hang on my wall and totally ignore.
This is when I become Ron. There’s no point in getting too worked up over something that’s weeks away, I’ll worry about it when my study schedule comes into effect… but there’s other things going on in my life. Group projects, assignments, a new season of Riverdale comes out on Netflix, and before I know it Reading “Week” has come and gone. Not only have I not started studying, I haven’t done the practice problems and my looming exams are staring me straight in the face.
Now I do the Harry. I get scared into action and bite off way more than I can chew in the amount of time I have left. I focus my time on summarizing notes instead of practice questions, I waste hours in the library eating muffins and laughing with my friends, complaining about how hard my coursework is instead of doing the work, and come home late feeling like I’ve achieved nothing. This usually leads to staying up late the night before, frantically Skyping friends who have prepared and worrying about small details that will almost certainly not be on the test while ignoring important concepts that most certainly will make their way onto my exam paper the next day because I find them hard. Of course something will be too hard to learn the night before; that’s what a study schedule was meant to prevent!
Sometimes, when I haul my butt into the exam and sit down to write my midterms, my sporadic preparation pays off. It also helps that I bring my surfing shorts and can ride the curve to pretty decent mark – just gotta do better than 50% of your class and you’re golden!
The gist is to start preparing early but don’t stress too much. I think we’re all mostly Harry, we care but we just don’t quite have our shit together enough to be Hermione. We try hard and our work pays off but no matter how hard we try, life can get in the way. Maybe we have to select which courses truly require our attention and which ones it is ok for us to study less, or maybe despite our best efforts the prof has included material on the exam that it never occurred to you to study. In my opinion, these are the most valuable life lessons university teaches us that we will carry over to post-uni life. Oh, and never print something the day of. Ever.