New Skills

Back to Academics 101

1. Managing your time and your self2. Effective reading3. Tests and exams

1.  Managing your time and your self

University presents a wonderful opportunity to grow, explore, create and meet new people. Balancing new opportunities, school work and healthy living is often challenging and missing out on one of these elements can lead to a dissatisfying year.

Maintaining your physical health and a positive outlook by eating well, sleeping enough (7-9 hours a night is the average requirement for an adult), and exercising will help keep you motivated for school. Queen’s Peer Health Educators can help you with health habits.

How much homework time might you need to keep up?

A common issue is estimating how much time to spend on homework. A rule of thumb is this:

School is a full time job!

The number of homework hours needed will depend on how your courses are taught (traditional lecture, blended on-line + in-class, or fully on-line). The total course learning hours will be about 120 hours, i.e. 10 hours per course, per week.

Keep track—are you close? For all course types, homework consists of these activities:

Studying for mid-terms and finals will require more time in addition to the regular homework.

Mid-term exams are challenging when regular course work continues (like in Arts & Science courses), and studying is added on. Try assigning your time, to do regular course work in the day, and study on evenings and weekends. It is usual to get a bit behind during mid-terms; aim to be caught up in all readings and assignments by the last day of classes each term.

Balancing the workload across all your courses

Many students find getting the work done in all their courses is the biggest challenge, and especially in courses with lots of reading or many small assignments. Each course may have multiple weekly quizzes and assignments, in addition to the regular readings, problem-sets and homework. Sometimes you may fall behind, but knowing what is due when and how many marks the assignment is worth are important so you can make good choices about how you use your time.

You will need to find a way to keep track of commitments, including homework time, that works for you.

In our Time Management section, our Weekly Time Use hand-out can be used as a check of whether your actual activities (classes, homework, sleeping, socializing, etc.) reflects what you are hoping to experience or achieve at university. Other convenient hand-outs include the term calendar to help you organize and the Assignment Calculator to help you complete papers.

Managing your attention

Learning on-line leads to constant temptation: check me, check me! Efficient learning depends on focused attention. Make a wise choice!

Ask yourself: Do I need my phone or computer right now for this work?

2.  Effective reading

First year students often need to improve their reading skills in order to keep up with the pace and volume of readings, and figure out the key aspects of those readings.

Why are readings important? Reading at university is a fundamental way of obtaining information on a topic. An Arts and Science student may be asked to read a 30 page chapter or more for each course each week, and an English literature student could have a book a week assigned in a course. Engineering students have fewer and shorter readings, but preparing for the labs may require reading with close attention to detail.

In blended in-class + on-line courses, students learn content independently through reading. Keeping up with readings is essential, because the professor may use the 1 hour of class time to build on key ideas contained in the readings. The class will make much more sense if you did  the reading beforehand!

How can students begin to improve their reading skills?

Ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of this reading assignment? How does this reading tie in with the course overall?
  • Am I reading this journal article to get an overview of a research procedure?
  • Am I reading the text to learn new terms and concepts?
  • Am I reading the novel to be able to discuss themes and writing techniques?

When you do your readings will depend in part on the purpose of the reading. For example, in traditional lecture courses, if the prof. lectures on the key ideas in the text, you might try skimming the chapter before class, and then read more thoroughly after the lecture (it usually takes less time if you have a general understanding from class).

For strategies to increase reading effectiveness, visit our online resources about Reading and Note-making.

3.  Tests and exams

Tests and exams can be stressful, but planning ahead definitely reduces the pressure! Start be reading the Learning Objectives in the course syllabus, in the lecture slides, or handouts. This will indicate what is most important to know in the course.

Exams can have different formats including multiple choice, short answer, essay, quantitative problem-solving, or image recognition (e.g. slides in Anatomy or paintings in Art History).

Memorization is the foundation of knowledge, but the goal on most tests is to tap conceptual thinking. Re-reading or re-writing notes won’t be enough to create deep thinking; you should also summarize themes in an organized structure, do practice problems, drill, and self-test.

Deeper level conceptual thinking can be tapped in many ways. You may be asked to compare and contrast 2 theories of population change or systems for moving water through the earth; analyze an argument, a tonal pattern in music, a theme in a poem, or some data; or apply a new theory to existing data, a formula to a particular mathematics problem, or a therapeutic technique to someone with a spinal cord injury.

Multiple choice exams (as well as short answer, essay and problem-solving exams) can tap application and analysis questions in addition to facts and details. Don’t be surprised by the “analyze” or “compare and contrast” questions on a multiple choice style exam!

Exam questions tap different levels of thinking

For strategies on preparing for and writing exams, visit our online resources on Exam and Midterm Prep, or for on-line exams or quizzes, go to the During the Course/On-Line Test Taking section of our Online Courses resource.

Writing tests online

Each course may have a different format to the on-line quiz or test, so ask the professor how the quiz will be structured. For example, multiple choice, short answer and essay type questions could all be part of an on-line quiz.

Many quizzes are designed to be completed during a window of time (e.g. on Tues. between 9am and 9pm) but once you login, the clock starts and every student will have (e.g.) 30 minutes to complete the quiz.

Understand test logistics, and ask questions well in advance if you are not sure. For example:

  • What is the procedure to login to the test?
  • Can you save your answers throughout the test?
  • Can you return to questions if you skip them initially?
  • How do you submit the test?
  • Will you receive an alert message about unanswered questions?

How does the grading system work?

Queen’s uses the cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) system, which has a range of 0.0 to

  • Depending on the Faculty regulations, students are expected to maintain a minimum cumulative GPA across all Students who fall below the Faculty requirement may be placed on probation, which means they can return to Queen’s the following year, with conditions applied. Students in upper years who don’t meet the Faculty requirement may be asked to withdraw.

Students should become familiar with the Regulations for their faculty. For example:

Speak with an academic advisor or professor from your faculty for details about your situation.

Within every Faculty, there is an appeal process that students can use, depending on their circumstances, to challenge decisions based on the academic regulations.

Some faculties offer a voluntary Bounce Back program in the winter term of first year, for students whose estimated GPA is below a pre-determined threshold. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science offers a voluntary “Section 900 ” (sometimes called “J-section”) which extends the school year until June, to enable students to re-take core courses if needed.