Exams Are Coming: Are You Ready?

My official exam week starts in eight days, but I actually have exams this week. In the Algonquin College public relations program, exam week is notoriously known as “Hell Week,” where students are assigned to teams and have a week to complete a campaign. I’ve had graduates tell me stories of people crying and fighting, and others tell me not to worry and manage your time well.

I’m not going to worry and manage my time well. I am pretty calm and level-headed, but if you aren’t, you may be feeling a lot of anxiety this time of year. Here are some tips to stay cool as a cucumber:

1. Stay organized. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t bother to write due dates or exams in a calendar. You need to have a plan! I use a Macbook, so I schedule everything (exams, major assignments, group meetings, work, networking events, bill due dates, etc.) in iCal, and also have a list of homework and exams in my reminders section to the right. This way, I can see everything by date and can plan when to work on things accordingly.

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2. Relax and focus. This is a lot easier to do if you are organized, but you really need to relax. Take a deep breath and have a cup of tea, take a quick nap, or hit the gym. People who are always stressing and panicking stay in an endless cycle: they stress out about how much work they have to do, complain to other people about how stressed they are, stress these other people out, and stress themselves out even more.

Try to relax, focus, and just sit down and get the work done. If you’re organized and have lists of what’s due, start with the most important things first. You won’t get anywhere if you’re running in circles like a chicken with its head cut off.

3. Don’t procrastinate. So you’ve made a calendar and schedule, have relaxed, and are sitting down to focus on your work – but it’s due at 8 a.m. the next morning. Don’t leave things until the last minute! This will only stress you out (as discussed above). Some people say they work better under pressure, but if you’re rushing to get things done you will make careless errors, not have time to properly proofread your work (or have someone else look at it for you), and not have time to ask for help. I like to finish assignments early so I can come back with fresh eyes the next day.

When it comes to exams, it’s easier to study for 30 minutes a night than for seven hours the day before. You will also remember the material better this way. When you’re out of time and stressing out, you’re not going to retain information or perform as well for the exam. The best exam tip I can give comes months before the exam – pay attention and be active in class. I don’t speak out a lot in class, but I pay attention, listen, and think. If you’re engaged in what you’re learning, you will retain it and not have to study as hard later.

These are things that help me be successful during exam time, but I would love to hear your tips and tricks. Personally, my method comes down to self discipline and good time management skills. I make a plan, start things early, and force myself to sit down and get things done. These are skills that will also benefit you in your career once exams are behind you.


Beyond the Classroom

School is an important foundation to start your career, but you may realize after graduation it isn’t always enough and you need more experience. I learned this lesson after graduating from the University of Ottawa last year, and since the new school year has begun I thought I would share my experiences and thoughts about the importance of taking your education beyond the classroom. Ontario’s youth employment rate is 16.8 per cent (July 2012), so students need to find a way to get as much experience as they can before they start job hunting.

There are four main ways to do this:

1. Co-op or work placement

2. Volunteering

3. Part-time or summer jobs

4. Networking

I now attend Algonquin College for public relations, where experiential learning is a large component of the curriculum. We practice writing news releases, media advisories, run our own charity events, go on a work placement, and the list goes on. Algonquin College president Kent MacDonald recently announced that by 2017, every full-time student will have the opportunity to participate in a work placement. This is a fantastic announcement for students and I hope more institutions follow suit.

Co op or work placement

Not all programs focus on hands-on learning, so work and co-op placements are great ways to prepare yourself for the workplace, expand your network, learn about yourself, and possibly find your first job. They give you the opportunity to apply the skills you have spent the past few years learning and practicing in class. If you are considering a post secondary program, I recommend that you do your research, talk to other people who have taken the program(s) you’re interested in, and consider the value a placement or co-op option can add.


But what if your program doesn’t have a placement or co-op? Volunteering and finding a part-time or summer job are also excellent ways to take your education beyond the classroom. Volunteering is the easiest because there are many organizations looking for volunteers. Some resources to start with are Charity Village (@CharityVillage) and Volunteer Ottawa (@VolunteerOttawa). Also take advantage of opportunities that may come to class or through your connections; my class was able to volunteer for the Juno awards this past winter! Volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about and it will be rewarding. Besides the experience, it is important to be involved in your community and give back. You will also make great connections!

Part-time or summer jobs

Finding a part-time or summer job in your field is tougher do to, but not impossible. Many students (including myself) need to work to fund their education, and this allows you to get the experience you need and have an income at the same time. Make sure you check out job opportunities on campus for your students’ association and orientation departments, summer work programs in your city, and register for FSWEP (Federal Student Work Experience Program). Apply early – lots of places that recruit students for the summer start taking applications in the winter, so dont miss the deadlines.


I did not network or even realize the value of networking before I started the public relations program at Algonquin. Make sure you join a professional association such as the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Membership is inexpensive ($50/year) and you will meet a wide variety of professionals who will be happy to let you pick their brains. This is the time to ask them about their field, their position, how they got started, and see what advice they have for students. Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do and you need to be good at it.

These tips may all sound like common sense, but many students don’t take advantage of these opportunities. I know it’s busy being a student, juggling class, homework, work, and a social life, but taking your education beyond the classroom is essential if you want a running start after graduation. Your chances of being hired are much greater if you already have experience, and you will also get to learn and experience new things and meet new people along the way.

I hope this post was helpful, and if you have any questions feel free to comment below.