Monthly Archives: May 2008

Am I a Psyc, a Soci, or an Anth? A Few Tips For Picking a Major

Quick, what do you prefer to think about: whether polygamy or bigamy is more prevalent in world cultures, or what connection there is between socioeconomic status and cancer?

Which hazards of meth abuse are more prominent – structural damage to the striatum or verbal learning deficits? Should Canadian film be funded better? What happened to Rome after the Punic Wars?

If you only feel a 40 – 70% chance of falling asleep just thinking about these subjects, rather than a decisive 95%, you may just be destined to become a Bachelor of Arts student.

Fair enough. Plenty of people do it. Good decision.

Now what?

You have to pick a major.

An area of concentration, in other words. Something you will focus in on, learn about in-depth, become a bit of an expert in over your years of study.

But how do you know, before you start learning about a subject in-depth, whether you will like it or not?

Here are a few tips:

1. Think about what you want to do with your life. Like, “I really want to be a counsellor.” Great – psychology. “I want to work in the corrections system.” Fantastic – sociology for you. “I want to be a book publisher/editor”. English. Off you go!

Of course, it very well may not be that simple. Maybe you just have a vague urge to someday make money at a good job that interests you. Good choice. But not necessarily that helpful for narrowing down your university career. So in that case . . .

2. Pick something that truly interests you. A lot of people feel like they should pick one major because it’s more “practical” than another. Well, that may be true. But you can look at it from a different slant: A lot of jobs ask for you to have a Bachelor of Arts degree in a related field (to the job, that is). Well, a Bachelor of Arts degree in almost any field can be talked up to sound “related” to a pretty wide variety of jobs. So you’re not really limiting yourself, unless the career you decide you want is REALLY specific to a particular degree. Then you should be reading Tip 1.

Also, a lot of B.A. students go on to further schooling before they start their “real” career. Getting into the competitive world of graduate studies doesn’t necessarily require a specific degree. For example, you want to go into law? Just need a four-year degree, my friend. But a great GPA? Yes, that will help. If you’re interested in history, then take history. Get great marks. Then get into grad school, for whatever it is you want. You may need a few specific courses from a different field for the program you’re looking at – so pick those up along the way if you start to realize what graduate program you’re interested in during the course of your degree.

3. What did you take in highschool that really resonated with you? Social studies? Maybe you’ll go for economics, history, political science. English? Maybe English or Communications Studies. Loved your French class? A second-language major might be the right choice for you. Fascinated when you learned about the brain in Biology? Psychology might be the way to go. Debate club aficianado? Political science or Philosphy, perhaps.

4. Totally unsure? Declare “General” for your first year and take some introductory courses from different disciplines. It should help you narrow down what fascinated you, what made you fall asleep, what your mind just did not want to grasp, or what came pretty naturally to you.

5. KEEP READING THE B.A. BLOG – over the summer, I’ll post some more in-depth info on different majors – what they are, what types of classes you might take, what types of careers they could lead to.

Maybe I’ll even come up with a helpful quiz. Because who doesn’t love a helpful quiz?



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Exam Anxiety – How To Deal

It’s not weird to get nervous about an exam. It’s normal to feel some stress in the days leading up to the exam, and having butterflies in your stomach on the morning of the exam is pretty much to be expected.

It’s not like the atmosphere of the exam room helps you calm down either – the desks spaced far apart to discourage cheating, the anxious faces of your classmates, strange requirements like signing in or having to leave your stuff at the entrance to the room – it all makes you feel a little sweaty.

Then, when you open the exam, there can be a moment where you look at the first question and think to yourself, “Huh?” You have to read it over a couple of times to get it, or move on until you find one you can answer. But once you put pencil to paper, you start to roll along.

That’s normal.

What’s not normal is Exam Anxiety – when the anxiety about writing an exam interferes to the point where it impacts your peformance on the exam. A little anxiety is good – it motivates you to perform your best. But if it gets to the point where you freak out even when you hear the word “quiz” or feel like you can’t even get out of your car in the parking lot because you are too panicked about entering the exam room, you might be dealing with Exam Anxiety.

What causes exam anxiety?

  • Not being prepared for the exam (cramming, poor time management, poor study habits)
  • Worrying about your past performance on exams
  • Worrying about how other students are doing on the exam
  • Thinking about the consequences of failing/doing poorly
  • Making your self-worth dependent on your grades

Do I have exam anxiety?

Here are some clues to how you might feel during the exam if you have Exam Anxiety:

  • nervous
  • palms sweating
  • sense of panic
  • difficulty breathing
  • completely blanking out during the exam, and then remembering everything as soon as you leave the exam room

You might find your thinking during the exam being impacted – you have trouble concentrating, you can’t understand the questions or organize your thoughts, your mind goes completely blank, you can’t stop worrying about failing or keeping thoughts like “I’m never going to pass this!” out of your head.

You might feel upset, irritable, overwhelmed, helpless and frustrated when you think about the exam.

You might experience headaches and stomachaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and sweating when you think about the exam and during the exam.

You might find yourself crying about it, procrastinating from studying, using caffeine to keep yourself awake, having difficulty sleeping, and either eating too much or not having much of an appetite at all.

All of these thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and behaviours are symptoms of exam anxiety. The good news is, there are strategies to help you reduce these things.

Dealing With Exam Anxiety

1. Thoughts and Feelings

If you feel anxious, you often think negatively.
If you can get rid of negative thoughts, you can feel less anxious.
You need to replace negative messages with positive, and realistic, thoughts:
Eg, “I have no clue what this exam is talking about, I’m going to completely fail and flunk out of college and never end up with a degree or a good job!”
Replace this with:
“There might be some questions that I don’t know, but I will move on until I find questions I can answer, then go back to the harder ones and do the best I can.”

2. Physical Reactions

Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization/imagery and yoga are all relaxation methods that can help you reduce the phsyical symptoms of anxiety.

3. Behavior

If you can change your behaviours before the exam, you have a better chance of reducing anxiety by being physically and mentally prepared. Remember to eat well, get lots of sleep, and exercise to keep your body physically ready. Also remember that using alcohol or drugs, even caffeine, can impact your performance negatively.

Practice will help you familiarize yourself with the content of the exam and feel ready for the format of the exam. Practicing can include asking yourself questions, taking part in study groups, or doing practice tests/quizzes to identify weak areas. Give yourself lots of time to practice – that way, you have time to work on weaker areas. The more you practice, the better you get.

Prepare for the exam to the best of your ability. Study the material to the point where you can recall it even if you are under stress – don’t cram it all into your brain the night before if exam anxiety is an issue for you. If you need tutoring or help managing your time, arrange to get it.

Where can I get help?

If you want help studying or learning to manage time, most schools have some kind of tutoring system or student service centre where you can learn some tips on studying for and taking exams. Here at Red Deer College, Student Success Services is the place to go (Room 1402).

If you are more worried about how to deal with the excessive anxiety you feel regarding exams, check out your school’s counselling services. Again, Student Success Services at Red Deer College is the place to start – you’ll be able to talk to a counsellor about your problems.

Thanks to Kylie, a counsellor and provisional psychologist at Student Success Services, for providing this information on exam anxiety.

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