Welcome, parents and guardians, to the Queen’s University community. Your students are engaging in intellectual and personal growth that will shape the rest of their lives.
Your students have many resources at Queen’s to help them have a positive university experience, but they will look to you for support and encouragement. One way you can provide these is to encourage your students to use our resources at SASS.
At SASS, we support students’ academic growth by helping them develop skills in writing and learning via online resources, workshops, and appointments. Our service is free, confidential, and supportive of undergraduate and graduate students in all programs and years. We help struggling students as well as highly achieving students. Please explore our website to learn more about how we can help your students achieve their academic potential.
- Our Academics 101 resource is a good place to start. This series of online tutorials provides instruction about academic expectations, essential skills and habits, and developing a plan for the first six weeks for first-year students.
- You may like to see our resources for students who have English as an additional language, or who are international or exchange students.
- Student Affairs also has additional resources for students at Queen’s.
Please note that confidentiality of academic, personal, health and other information about your student is strictly enforced throughout the University. We can share information about your student with you only if your student has given us specific written permission.
Please also note that the SASS website deliberately uses the pronoun “they” in its singular form, to be gender-inclusive.
Frequently asked questions
Academics at university
Not surprisingly, university is different from high school in terms of academic expectations, classroom routines, assessment procedures, and more. You can help your student adjust to these changes by helping them understand that they may need to try different academic strategies to succeed in this new context, and also to seek help early if they have questions or are having difficulty.
Workload and time
- A student’s weekly schedule may have lots of apparently open spaces that at first glance may seem like free time.
- As a rough guide, we recommend that students spend 8-10 hours on each course every week (including time in class, labs, or tutorials, doing homework, etc.). Therefore, a student taking five courses should expect to spend about 45 hours total per week on their academics.
- Readings may range from none to a few hundred pages weekly, and lab reports may take 6-10 hours to complete. Students may like to review our How to Use Homework Time resource to understand expectations for this aspect of academics.
- Professors structure their courses independently of other instructors, so the workload might vary from week to week.
- Research indicates that adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition, as well as relaxation time, all support academic success; you may like to talk with your student about finding a healthy balance in these areas. SASS can also help.
- All these points add up to more responsibility and independence for students; they need to develop great time management skills so they can succeed in their studies and stay healthy and happy.
Professors’ and Teaching Assistants’ expectations
- Students should come to class / labs prepared, having reviewed lecture notes posted on the course website, skimmed lab procedures, or finished the assigned readings.
- Students should read each course’s syllabus (course outline) thoroughly. The syllabus is usually posted on the course website.
- Professors and TAs expect students to seek them out if they have questions or need help; students can email them or, better, talk to them in person during their posted office hours.
- If a student does not understand clearly what is required in an assignment, they are expected to talk to the professor or TA well before the assignment is due.
- Professors want their students to do well, and are typically approachable and helpful, but they will not usually approach students to check in; students must take the initiative themselves, preferably early in the term.
- Students should learn how to communicate with their professors and TAs.
Lectures, labs and tutorials
- Many lectures in first year have several hundred students. Students may have little interaction with professors during lectures, although questions are generally welcome.
- The much smaller tutorials or labs scheduled in many courses are a great opportunity to connect with TAs and get help or ask questions about course content; a lot of learning happens in these groups.
- Students should attend all lectures, labs and tutorials. Generally, they are expected to complete assigned readings, read lab instructions, do homework questions, or preview posted lecture slides or notes before attending classes, but students should ask their professor / TA about this expectation; it can vary by course.
- Students should listen, take notes, and participate in lectures / tutorials / labs.
- Students might take online courses or courses that offer a blend of online and in-person lecture delivery.
- Half-credit courses are about 12 weeks long. At the end of the course, students usually have about a week of free study time before their final exam schedule begins.
Assessment or grading
- In first year, marks are largely based on tests, exams, and essays, depending on the course.
- Mid-term and final exams take a variety of forms (multiple-choice, essay, short answer, etc.) and may test students on a variety of types of content (concepts, details, theories, applications, etc.); students can adopt different strategies to meet these challenges. SASS offers workshops, appointments, and online resources about exams.
- In upper years, assessment may change to more project-based, seminar and essay formats.
- Many students experience a drop in their grade average in first year; often, what worked as a learning approach in high school doesn’t work as well in university. SASS can help students adjust their approaches.
- Students with documented disabilities who require accommodations to acquire and demonstrate their knowledge are encouraged to contact Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS).
- Your student’s classmates may be similar to your student in their academic achievements, as Queen’s students often were the “top of the class” in their high schools. It is often an adjustment to students when they suddenly see themselves as one of many, and they may doubt themselves. Parents can listen to their student’s concerns in this area and offer reassurance and encouragement. SASS can work with students to help them develop their own academic goals and understanding of success in the context of the university’s academic expectations.
- Queen’s and SASS value and celebrate the diversity in our community, and we encourage students to recognize that diversity offers rich learning and collaborative opportunities, and potential lifelong friendships. One excellent resource for you and your student to refer to on this topic is the Inclusive Queen’s page.
Intellectual development in the university years
According to Harvard educational psychologist William G. Perry, Jr., students engage in the following types of thinking as they proceed through university, and beyond.
- Students in first and second year often rely on dualistic thinking, characterized by the belief that knowledge is absolute and knowable. Students at this stage may hold fairly fixed attitudes and opinions, which reflect an “all or nothing” or “right or wrong” style of thinking. This development relates to shifting one’s level of thinking from memorizing and understanding to analyzing, applying and evaluating (Bloom, 2002).
- Students in upper years tend to shift to multiplistic thinking, recognizing that knowledge is diverse and uncertain. Students may express greater interest in viewing an issue from many perspectives and engaging in complex, uncertain questions that may have no simple, correct answers.
- Graduate students often develop relativistic thinking; context or circumstances take on greater importance. There is often more thoughtful evaluation of opposing views, including opinions that may differ from family or cultural values and ethics.
- Some mature adults in the upper years of graduate school or in careers may achieve integrated thinking based on constructed knowledge. Their past experiences, personal awareness of priorities and values, and accumulated knowledge enable individuals to think in rich and creative ways and to accept the possibility of incomplete understanding. If the individual develops a world view or follows an approach to solving problems that is consistent with their beliefs, they demonstrate what educational researcher Arthur W. Chickering, in his theory of identity development, refers to as integrity.
You might like to apply Perry’s, Bloom’s, and Chickering’s ideas to understand changes in how your student thinks and understands their world. For example, first-year students are often dismayed by a growing sense that, compared to high school, they are less intellectually able to “learn it all.” You can reassure your student that their uncertainty is an important sign of growth and development. Similarly, your student may also change their views of their professors as “authorit[ies] as the source of ‘Truth’ to authorit[ies] as a resource with specific expertise to share” or of themselves as a student, “moving from a passive receptor of facts to an active agent in defining arguments and creating new knowledge” (see Perry Network, accessed June 10, 2019). This scholarly journey can feel risky to students but your encouragement will help them.
Over the years, as students continue to develop intellectually, they will shift from a sense of certainty in what they know, to recognizing what they don’t yet know, to understanding that they will never know for sure, and then grow into the perspective that they make their own meaning and choose their own contributions to the world based on their knowledge, sense of identity, and moral/ethical position.