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Making it work… at home

Studying for exams in a time of global pandemic brings unforeseen challenges. Whether you’re working from your bachelor apartment or your family’s kitchen table, we are here for you.  

Working in less-than-ideal circumstances is challenging! But don’t despair. Many of our recommended strategies for learning and studying remain effective. The academic skills specialists at SASS have compiled this compendium of strategies to help keep you focused and motivated. 

This resource is also available as a PDF.

Before we beginWork efficiently and effectivelySet up your scheduleEffective home study habitsAvoid procrastinationOnline examsSelf-compassion

Before we begin

A sudden shift to remote instruction can create both anxiety and pressure. Even in the wake of this crisis, professors still want you to learn, to enjoy the course, and to do well. This hasn’t changed. 

The best thing that we can all do right now, other than staying home, is communicate. Contact your professors and TAs about time pressures, due-date pressures, grade anxiety and communication anxiety.  

Many of us are fighting hard for a sense of normalcy; we want things to go back to how they were. But this pandemic is changing and will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. As you adjust to this new context, begin by focusing on food, family, friends, and maybe fitness. Devise a strategy for online social connectedness with a small group of family, friends, and/or neighbours (see strengths-based actions to connect, from a safe distance). Stay in touch; support each other. 

Once you have established the basics, you can start to make the necessary mental shift. Ignore the people who are posting that they are getting tons of work done; ignore the people who feel they will never work again. They are different people, on different paths. 

Don’t compare yourself to others; just compare yourself to yourself. You don’t have to feel pressure to be anything you’re not. These are challenging times. Check in with yourself every day and adjust your study plan accordingly. You’ll get more done some days than others, and that’s okay. 

You are doing what you can, and that is enough. 

Note:

Working efficiently and effectively from home

Keep up your old routine as much as possible. Think about what was working for you and take on the parts of that routine that are still realistic. For example, 

  • School is still your full-time job, even if you’re working in less than ideal circumstances. That boils down to 8-10 hours / course / week
  • Maintain a routine
    • If possible, “attend” classes at the same times, on the same days. If this is not possible, work when you can, focusing on 2-3 courses each day. 
    • Between your “classes,” do homework and work on assignments. 
    • Aim to have consistent bedtimes and wake-up times. 
    • Eat meals at regular intervals.  
    • Get dressed and ready for the day. You can still wear comfortable clothes—even switching from “night PJs” to your “day PJs” (or otherwise comfy clothes) can help. 

Having a routine takes some of the decision-making out of your day and can increase your confidence. Working with a realistic schedule, for the situation you’re in right now, can be encouraging! You can do this. 

It’s important to have a balance between work and other activities. Consider: 

  • Doing your most challenging work first, before less difficult or in-depth tasks. 
  • Do your work before relaxing. Earn your reward; you’ll feel better about it. 
  • Take short, frequent breaks: 
    • Work for up to 50 minutes at a time, with 10-minute breaks every hour. If 50 minutes is too long, do what you can. 
    • Work for a maximum of 3 hours at a time, and then take a break for an hour or so. 

Short and long breaks, combined with work before reward, gives you a sense of accomplishment at regular intervals, supporting your motivation. 

Set up your schedule 

SASS offers two types of schedules. Either or both may be helpful for you, depending on your context:  

SASS also has many more strategies on how to study for exams

Part of setting up a schedule is informing the people you live with about your intentions. What are you working toward? When are you not to be disturbed? When do you need quiet? When are you planning to take a break? How can you all work together to support your schedules? 

Control how you use your time 

What do you need to get done? What are your priorities? Look at the big picture first, and then narrow it down to what you need to do each day. See:

Effective study habits 

Set up your space 

Make sure the place you study is used only for studying

This is one of the things about libraries that works for a lot of people. You go there to work—not to sleep, not to hang out, not to watch movies. 

  • When you’re working from home, this separation of activities can be more challenging, but still achievable. During work hours at least, your work spot (e.g., desk, table) is transformed into a work-only zone. Make sure the place you use for studying is exclusively for studying during “work hours.” 

Context matters

  • Find a space with natural light if you can. Natural light will help boost your mood and motivation. 
  • Set a comfortable temperature. 
  • Choose a somewhat comfortable chair. Not too soft! 
  • Have everything you need at hand: computer, notebook, notes, flashcards, pens, etc.
  • Remove the things you do NOT need: phone, chat windows, hobbies, etc. 

Study well 

Organize the course material meaningfully 

  • Identify the main concepts of a course; look at the course syllabus and description, and textbook chapter titles or lecture topics. 
  • Make summary sheets for the main topics in a course; select content for these from your lecture / reading notes.

Elaborate 

  • Elaboration helps to make meaning from the material being studied. It’s a way to go beyond memorizing to applying and analyzing. For example, explain the relationships between two or more concepts; analyze the idea/concept for its component parts. 

Solve problems 

  • Work through problems and then review related concepts or theories. Spend about 20% of your time reviewing concepts and 80% of your time doing problems 
  • Each problem is part of a family of problems where each procedure is a variation on the underlying concept. Use the course syllabus, lecture topics, and/or chapter headings to identify the main concepts of the course. 

Self-test 

  • Self-testing helps you identify what you don’t know. It improves memory by requiring you to recall specific information. Include some self-testing every time you sit down to study rather than saving it for last. 

These study strategies and more are part of the study plan. Download the exam study schedule and consult the resource on how to use three-hour study blocks effectively.

Avoid procrastination (as much as possible)

Build activities into your routine by pairing something you want to do (e.g., writing for 20 minutes) with something you already do (e.g., drinking coffee). First, do the thing you would like to do, and then do the thing that you would normally do immediately after. 

Connect with friends and classmates online to form a study group. We recommend about 25% of your study time should be spent studying (virtually) with others. 

Plan what you will do when procrastination tempts you by writing down the things you might do to avoid working (e.g., vacuum, watch YouTube), and then write down something you will do instead (e.g., schedule a different time to vacuum and put it in your calendar, then do five practice problems). When you think about procrastinating (e.g., vacuuming instead of studying), do the alternative thing you’ve written down.

Clarify your goals 

It’s easier to spend your time intentionally when you know what matters most to you. There’s a lot going on right now, so start by reminding yourself of what’s most important, academically.  

Then, focus on that. 

Goals are most effective when they are: 

  • specific 
  • realistic (can you achieve this goal with your resources, time, etc.?) 
  • measurable (how will you know when you’ve achieved this goal?) 
  • given a timeline 
  • written down and reviewed as needed. 

For more on goal setting, see SASS’s information on time management.

Reduce distractions 

Avoid multitasking. This means that when you’re working:  

  • your phone should be off and out of your reach 
  • you’re not checking social media
  • you don’t have any chat windows open 
  • you’re not watching a show or movie in the background
  • you have a clear sense of what you’re working on and for how long (e.g., “I want to work on the problems at the end of Chapter 12 for the next 45 minutes”).

Wear headphones. Some students find music (even if it is instrumental) distracting; you may prefer white noise or café noise to help your ability to focus.

Here are just some of the available options: Rainy moodCelestial white noiseDesign your own white noise, and Coffitivity. Headphones also act as an effective do-not-disturb signal to yourself and to those around you. 

Online exams

Open book exams are still demanding

Knowing the course content well will improve your chances of doing well. Even if there isn’t a timer running, the types of questions you will be expected to answer will focus on analysis and application of information you should already know and understand.

  • Use the course learning objectives (and, if available, weekly or unit learning outcomes) to organize the material.
  • Create unit or weekly summaries of the course content. Focus on the key concepts and how they are organized, connected, and related. Summaries come in all types of formats: 1-2 page “cheat sheets” or study notes; concept or mind maps to visually represent the information; summary tables to compare elements and their attributes, etc.

Organize your materials and notes

Don’t rely on your ability to find information that you need while you are writing the exam. To best prepare, create your own study and reference notes by using charts, graphic organizers, concept maps, or reference guides to organize main topics, themes, and information.

  • Reviewing for the exam will also build your familiarity with the course material. If you need to double-check something during the exam, make sure you’ll know where to look.
  • As you create your summaries, keep track of lecture slide numbers, page numbers, etc. to quickly and easily look up information. Add sticky notes, make lists, etc.

Know how the exam will be run before it begins

Can you preview the questions? Can you go back and change your answers?

  • Sometimes, you are not able to go back once you have pressed “next.” In these cases, we encourage you to record your answer first on scrap paper before transferring it online.
  • Read any/all instructions that you have and if possible, ask questions in advance.

Preparing to write an online exam

  • Select a testing space where you will be able to concentrate.
  • Be clear about what you need from those around you.
  • Turn off your phone.  
  • Make sure you have everything you will need:  
    • Computer and charger 
    • Good internet connection 
    • Notes and course material (if allowed) 
    • Scrap paper and a pen/pencil 
  • Avoid plagiarism  
    • Do not chat with friends while taking the exam 
    • Use your own words or cite as required  
    • Keep the exam questions to yourself once you are done writing the test  
  • Don’t forget to 
    • Save your work in case of glitches 
    • Keep the browser open until you are finished and have reviewed your work 
    • Submit the exam and take a screenshot
    • Seek assistance for any technical issues right away

Practice self-compassion

Support your mental health and immune function by getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, exercising, and staying in touch with friends and loved ones. Focusing on academic work doesn’t have to come at the expense of your health. 

  • Your feelings matterIt’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, angry, etc. 
  • Take time to regulate your own emotions. Try to accept what you cannot change and focus on what you can change. 
  • Build in social connections. Try online exercise classes, Instagram live events, group chats, etc. Set up regular social interactions with friends around your study schedule. Make plans to chat with family members in other households on a regular basis. 
  • Be realistic about your own expectations: for your ability to focus, for your productivity. Recognize your limits and do your best to work within them. Your own mental health is the priority. 
  • Deep breathing and meditation will reduce your stress and help prevent burnout (see, for example, loving kindness meditation). 
  • Reframe your perspective in as positive a way as possible (e.g., “I am not trapped at home, but safe at home,” and “Staying home is helping others stay safe and healthy). 
  • There are no norms and expectations for this time, so take advantage of this situation to form new habits, new routines, new traditions. These may be for yourselfwith those who are self-isolating with you, and/or with those you are keeping in contact with online. 
  • Set your foundation by promoting your sleep. Pre-bedtime rituals give you a sense of control and train your body to prepare for sleep. Be sure to regulate anxiety-provoking content just before bed; for example, after 8 p.m., put your phone away or at least don’t read the news.

Read More

Studying for exams

Exams are a turning point in the year, signaling the end of a term’s hard work. Although this time of year is usually busy and often stressful for students, our strategies will help you do your best.

This resource is also available as a PDF.

Get ready to studyStudy effectivelyThe study planHow to use 3-hour study blocksDuring the examExam typesAfter the exam

Get ready to study

Complete your course work

  • Go to all your classes and take good notes.
  • Complete assigned readings, preferably week by week instead of all at once.
  • Do homework questions; finish labs or assignments.
  • Get help for topics you don’t understand well.
  • See our end of term planner to identify and prioritize your end of term tasks.
  • Use our assignment planner to break a big project into smaller steps.

Get information about the exam

  • For clues about what to study, look at the course learning objectives, course description, and weekly topics listed on your course syllabus.
  • If there’s an exam review class, go to it.
  • Ask your prof or TA if the exam will focus on specific weeks of the course.
  • Ask your prof or TA about the exam’s format: the types of questions, length of exam, breakdown of questions (e.g., 50 multiple choice, 5 short answer), weighting.
  • Look at old exams, assignments, and tests for question types, topics, and key concepts.

Spread out your studying: do small amounts over time

  • See our exam study schedule template and instructions.
  • Check out how to use three-hour study blocks.
  • Break down the content of each course into meaningful chunks. “Meaningful” might involve
    • what you can reasonably study in a three-hour block of time,
    • what content is connected thematically or conceptually, and/or
    • what you want to spend the most time on, like challenging or unfamiliar material.

Improve your memory of course content

  • Pay attention to what you’re trying to learn (see focus and concentration).
  • Learn the content first, to understand it; study it afterwards, to remember it.
  • Be efficient: review what you’ve learned frequently, in brief sessions spread out over time.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep at night; eat healthy foods at regular intervals; exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Learn more about how to improve your memory.

Study effectively

Organize material meaningfully

  • Identify the main concepts of a course; look at the course syllabus and description, and textbook chapter titles or lecture topics.
  • Make summary sheets for the main topics in a course; select content for these from your lecture / reading notes. 
  • Try using charts to organize information that includes repeat types of information.
  • Fill in concept summary sheets for math or problem-solving courses, to identify key underlying concepts.
  • Create mind maps to identify relationships among main concepts and to distinguish big ideas from sub-points.
  • Look over the material to identify less familiar content; spend more time studying this material.

Elaborate

Elaboration helps to make meaning from the material being studied. It’s a way to go beyond memorizing to applying and analyzing.

  • Go beyond questions that ask “what” to questions that ask “how” and “why.”
  • Explain the relationships between two or more concepts.
  • Apply the concept to a new situation or create an analogy.
  • Connect unfamiliar material with information you already know.
  • Make connections between key concepts and the broader themes or applications of the course material.
  • Clarify the meaning of ideas.
  • Make inferences.
  • Analyze the idea/concept for its component parts.

Solve problems

Work through problems and then review related concepts or theories. Spend about 20% of your time reviewing concepts and 80% of your time doing math. 

Each problem is part of a family of problems where each procedure is a variation on the underlying concept. Use the course syllabus, lecture topics, and/or chapter headings to identify the main concepts of the course. 

Self-test

One of the most effective ways to study, self-testing helps you identify what you don’t know. It improves memory by requiring you to recall specific information. Include some self-testing every time you sit down to study rather than saving it for last. 

  • Answer the questions on old exams and practice problems.
  • Make up your own questions.
  • Use flashcards or quizlets.
  • Study as a group: quiz each other and explain your answers.
  • If you can’t find a study group, try quizzing yourself out loud.

The study plan

Download and fill in the exam study schedule template. (Includes detailed instructions!)

Studying efficiently over five days is a great goal for many undergraduate exams.

A study plan reduces your stress because it helps you stay on track and prioritize healthy habits. The SASS study plan allows you to consider how much time you may need for different courses and helps you distribute your review time among all of them. It includes:

This study schedule works best when you have a period of time with no classes, such as the study week before finals in December and April. Ideally, try to finish the term work of readings, assignments, quizzes, presentations, etc. by the last day of classes in Week 12, so you can then shift to “study mode.” For classes with unfinished term work, you will need to both finish the course requirements and study during the exam period.

Key planning tips 

  • Aim for a sustainable study schedule. It’s like training for a marathon; every day makes a difference.
  • The two-hour breaks are essential. They allow your brain to consolidate the information you’ve been rehearsing, and allow you to relax, eat, and exercise.
  • Try to schedule study blocks at the same time of day that the course’s exam is scheduled.
  • Study for two or three courses in a day.
  • Maximize your memory by distributing, for example, 15 hours of study over five or six days, rather than over two or three days.
  • Study the hardest material during your peak learning times.
  • Build in down time.

Try not to study nine hours each day. It’s OK not to study every available minute!

How to use three-hour study blocks

After you’ve made an exam study schedule, your next challenge is to balance the time you have available with the volume of material you have to study, to make a great study plan.

For each course:

  • Count the number of blocks of study time that you estimated for the schedule (not including any catch-up blocks you needed).
  • Divide your course material into chunks, so that the number of chunks equals one less than the number of blocks (e.g., 5 blocks and 4 chunks, 7 blocks and 6 chunks). Chunks can be divided into topics or units, or number of pages, or importance of the material within the whole course, or chapters, or in any other meaningful way.

If each chunk cannot realistically be covered in 2 or 2.5 hours, you may need to rethink your exam study schedule to re-allocate the study time you have available, or alter your expectations of your preparedness for the exam.

  • In each three-hour block of time, spend about 10-20 minutes reviewing recently studied material, about 2.5 hours studying fresh material, and about 15 minutes testing yourself on the fresh material.
  • Take breaks over the three-hour block of time, to allow information to be consolidated in your memory (e.g., 50 minutes on and 10 minute break, every hour for three hours).
  • Enjoy non-intellectual activities for two hours between study blocks to further support your memory. Stretch, go for a walk, eat, relax, and check your phone. Set a timer if you need to end your break on time.

See here for a sample plan (5 days, 15 hours). Five study days, producing 15 efficient study hours, is just an example—your courses may need more or a bit less.

Your plan will reflect your own needs. Many students study between 10-20 hours for each exam.

Remember to take short breaks during a three-hour block.

What does it mean to study? Summarize using an organized structure (e.g., mind map, table, concept summary, Cornell notes) to see relationships and connections between ideas, and review this structure as often as you need.

What does it mean to self-test? Answer practice questions from your text, assignments, or Exam Bank, or ones you have created based on the course learning objectives or tips from your prof about what is most important.

What does it mean to review? A more general refreshing of your memory, focusing on what you did not know during your self-test of that content.

What is a comprehensive mini-exam? A practice exam, written under “real exam” conditions (e.g., times, formula sheet, open book).

During the exam

Having a plan for how you’ll tackle an exam can make a big difference. Here are some things to try.

  • Aim to stay calm and relaxed so you can think. Here are some strategies to try.
  • Jot down how much time you think you’ll need for each set of questions. Stick to your planned time budget as much as possible.
  • Read instructions and questions carefully.
    • Read each question at least twice before you answer it. Many students lose marks because they rush to answer questions and misread them.
    • Watch for qualifying words such as “not,” “some,” or “most of the time.”
  • Do a memory dump. Jot down any information you’re worried you’ll forget before answering any questions.
  • Do the questions you know first to build confidence.
  • Review your answers before handing in your exam to catch mistakes, and ensure you’ve answered questions thoroughly and clearly.

Exam types

Different types of exam questions call for different strategies. When you know what type of questions you’re likely to face, you can use this information to decide how best to study.

Multiple choice exams

  • Read and answer the question before reading the choices. Then select the best option. Several options may have correct elements.
  • Begin by answering all the questions you know in the exam booklet. Transfer your answers to the scantron sheet in groups of ten questions.
  • Code the answers you don’t know: ? for the ones you need more time for and X for the ones you have no idea about.
  • Return to ? questions first, then X questions if the time permits.

Take-home exams

  • Know the professor’s expectations. Check the course syllabus.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the course content by applying, analyzing, or evaluating–not just repeating facts.
  • Flag important content in your textbook and notes.
  • Know where you can find resources (e.g., library, websites).
  • Prepare exam aids, such as formula sheets, ahead of time.
  • Reduce distractions while writing the exam.
  • Take short breaks as time allows.

Lab exams (bell-ringers)

  • Take a moment to orient yourself at each station. Look at the visual. Understand what you need to do.
  • Some questions ask more than one thing; answer these fully.
  • Don’t leave the answer sheet blank; you might get part marks for an incomplete answer.
  • Check your answers if you get a rest station.
  • Breathe and stretch while rotating.

Essay exams

  • Your argument should be organized, clear, concise, accurate, and relevant to the question.
  • Brainstorm. Jot down key concepts, theories, facts, or themes.
  • Outline your essay before you start writing.
  • Include one main idea per paragraph. Offer evidence and interpretation.
  • Start and finish with strong opening and closing statements. Write these last.
  • This is not the time to fuss over choosing the right word. Answer the question as well as you can, then move on.

Problem-solving exams

  • Take time to think about the problem. Exactly what do you need to solve?
  • Ask yourself: what concept(s) or theory does this problem cover?
  • Write down all the givens in bullet form.
  • Draw a clear diagram with all conventions: label axes, directions, etc.
  • Keep expressions algebraic, not numeric.
  • Show every step as you solve the problem.
  • Check your answer for common sense (e.g., magnitude, dimensions).
  • Verify your answer using another method, if possible.

Short answer exams

  • Start with a strong, focused topic sentence.
  • Use a simple organizational structure: point, evidence or example, and interpretation.
  • Add a summary sentence to recap if applicable.

After the exam

  • Take a break; get some exercise and food, take a nap, etc.
  • If you have more exams to write, follow your study schedule.
  • If you don’t have more exams to write, enjoy some time off from school.
  • Once your prof has marked your exam, go look at it. Figure out what you did well, and where you went wrong, so you can do better next time. 

Read More

Math problem solving

Solving problems tests your ability to apply theoretical concepts. You’ll need to think theoretically as well as do the calculations to do well in math-based courses.

This resource is also available as a PDF.

Helpful habitsWhat to do when you're stuckHow to solve problemsProblem solving toolsStudyingResources

Helpful habits

Math is about creativity and making sense of the world. It’s also about connections and communication. It’s not just about getting the right answer. One of the most effective things you can do is to try to shift your thinking—about math and about your own ability.

Spend enough time on your math courses.

  • See how you do by putting in 8-10 hours per week on each course (this time includes time you spend in class, labs, etc.).
  • Spread out your work; do some math every day. It will add up.
  • Keep up with the homework. Concepts later in the term build on the ones from earlier in the term.
  • Having trouble managing your time? Make an appointment with a learning strategies advisor; we can help!

Be thorough. Don’t just rush through problem sets.

  • Take a systematic approach (e.g., Polya’s problem-solving techniques).
  • Read and define the problem first; this takes time, but it’s worth it.
  • Look for and understand the underlying concept (the “why” or “big picture”) of each question, not just the procedure for solving it.
  • Produce a complete and well-reasoned solution, not a superficial one.
  • Aim for accuracy before you aim for speed.
  • Spend time on challenging questions, not just familiar ones.

Recognize repeat concepts.

  • Most math courses ask you to do hundreds of problems, but the problems usually fall under a handful of fundamental concepts that you’ll revisit in different forms over the term.
  • Learn to identify and understand these few concepts and their relationships to each other, and recognize them when they take different forms (e.g., how are the concepts similar, how are they different?).
  • The learning objectives of a course syllabus often tell you what the key concepts are.

Self-assess and reflect.

  • Monitor your thought process while solving problems (e.g., by using decision steps).
  • Reflect on how you present your thinking. Is it clear and purposeful?
  • Monitor your progress and change course if necessary.
  • Use incorrect answers and failures to motivate a change in strategy.
  • Ask, “does this make sense?” and, “did I solve the problem/answer the question?”
  • Check the reasonableness of your answer.

Don’t give up.

  • Expect math to be a challenge and to take time. Keep trying.
  • Mistakes are valuable! They aren’t a sign that you’re bad at math; they’re a necessary part of the process.
  • Questions are important. Get help when you are stuck. (And take a break when you feel frustrated.)
  • Be optimistic. The problem does have a solution.
  • Don’t assume you’re not a math person. Everyone can do math at a post-secondary level.

What to do when you’re stuck

Math can be challenging and takes time to master. To keep going, even when it’s difficult, you need to use your resources. You don’t have to figure this out on your own!

  • Ask questions: TAs, professors, and peers want you to succeed and will generally welcome questions.
    • If you don’t know where to start with a problem, you can still explain in general what you know about the concept, and what you’re thinking of doing.
    • If you’re stuck in the middle of a problem, but know what to do next, make up an answer for the step you’re stuck on and use it to solve the rest of the problem. Then get help. Your attempt at a solution will get you better feedback from your TA/professor and will mean more than no attempt at all.
  • Self-assess throughout your course as an active way to monitor your own understanding. Thinkabout
    • where you need to be (see learning objectives from the course syllabus),
    • where you are now (your background knowledge, past experience, etc.), and
    • how to get where you need to be.
  • Use the concept summary and decision steps tools to deepen your understanding and awareness of the key concepts, and to improve your ability to recognize and solve problems related to those concepts.
  • Make math more social to boost your skills, motivation, and confidence. Work with others: share resources, talk through solutions, and explain concepts to each other.
  • Check out other SASS resources: academic skills resources, subject-specific academic resources, workshops, and appointments.

How to solve problems

Practice problems are for figuring out, and then practicing, new and different ways to solve a type of problem. The process is what matters. Thinking through a problem will deepen your understanding and help clarify the questions you will ask peers, TAs, or profs.

Before you start your homework questions, review your class notes and/or the relevant textbook chapter, and identify the key concepts that they describe. Try working a sample problem from your notes or text, without looking at the solution, to see if you understand the idea. Then try the homework problems:

  • Think of problems as a way to communicate, from the problem-setter to you. Ask: what do we know (givens)? What can we do? Are there clues or keywords in the problem that point to a particular concept?
  • Try to identify a key course concept that applies to the problem. See our concept summary tool.
  • Diversify your thinking; there’s often more than one way to solve a problem.
  • Accept mistakes as a valuable part of the learning process.
  • Identify where you get stuck and, if you can, why.
  • Prepare questions to bring to your TA / prof / help desk.
  • Model the problem: draw it, talk it out, use analogies, change something (e.g., the scale), or ask “what if…” as ways to see the problem in a new way.
  • Predict/explain as you go, to understand more analytically. See our decision steps tool. Similarly, you can use a two-column approach to your notes: one for the solution steps and one for your explanation of why you’re taking each step.
  • Work out loud; notice what strategies you’re using and why.

Concept summary

(Fleet, Goodchild, & Zajchowski, 2006)

Concepts are general organizing ideas. A course usually covers a few main concepts, along with their many applications. Key concepts may be identified by:

  • reading the learning objectives on the course outline or the course description,
  • referring to the lecture outline to identify recurring themes,
  • thinking about the common aspects of problems you are solving.

Learn and understand the small amount of information essential to each concept. If in doubt, ask the professor what is important for you to “get.”

PDF: Concept summary. Example of a concept summary for Equilibrium of a Rigid Body (Physics).

 

Decision steps

(Fleet, Goodchild, & Zajchowski, 2006)

This tool is suitable for use in statistics, accounting, and other applied problem solving situations.

During the lecture or when reading course notes, focus on the process of solving the problem, instead of on the computation. When your professor is lecturing, listen to their comments on how steps are linked from one to another. This helps you identify the decision steps that lead to correct application of a concept. Ask yourself,  “why did I move from this step to this step?”

PDF: Decisions steps

 

Studying

In math-based courses, the goal should be to focus on problem solving, not reading. For example, if you have six hours a week to study, spend one hour reading and five hours doing problems.

Use problem sets effectively

  • Do problems to mastery. Once you’ve mastered one kind of problem set, don’t worry if you haven’t finished every single problem—move on to the next type, or apply what you’ve learned in a different context.
  • Use the answer key strategically. Avoid looking at the answer key while you work on a problem, but then check to see if your answer is correct.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Work backwards. For problems where you are given the answer but don’t know the starting point, begin at the end and work backwards to undo the problem step by step.
  • Use images. What can you draw to help yourself understand and solve the problem? Can you make a mental picture or otherwise visualize this problem?

Study techniques

  • Interleaving: Mixing up problem types supports your learning. The aim is to arrange problems so that consecutive problems cannot be solved by using the same strategy. Retrieval Practice has a guide that can help you get started: Interleaved mathematics practice.
  • Self-testing (including the range of problems strategy) helps you anticipate different kinds of difficult problems for exam preparation, and solve some practice problems to test yourself. Don’t wait until the night before the exam! The more frequently you self-test, the better your learning.
  • Explaining to / teaching others are great ways to make sure you’re thinking aloud, describing the problem, and working with others. Use study groups to compare completed solutions to assigned problems. Teaching someone is a very effective learning and study technique.

For more study strategies, see our test and exam preparation section.

Resources

Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Wiley.

McMaster University’s academic resources website, which features three videos on problem solving:

Fleet, J., Goodchild, F., & Zajchowski, R. (2006). Learning for success: Effective strategies for students (4th Edition). Thomson Nelson.

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Parents

Parents and students exploring campus during SOAR (Summer Orientation to Academics and Resources)

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.

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.

FAQsAcademicsIntellectual development

Frequently asked questions

My student is coming to Queen’s in September! What can they do to prepare themselves academically?

A good starting point is Academics 101. This series of interactive online tutorials takes students through essential academic expectations, essential skills and habits, and resources for first-year students. Your student may also like to see our online resources for students who have English as an additional language, or who are international or exchange students.

Can I book a SASS appointment for my student, or register them for a SASS workshop?

When they arrive at Queen’s, students can register for appointments with our online booking system; it’s easy and quick for them to do. Students can visit our workshops page for information about our popular academic skills workshops. As a parent or guardian, you can help your student by reminding them of these resources and encouraging them to sign up for themselves.

Can you confirm if my student attends a SASS appointment or a workshop?

We do not confirm registration or attendance to parents / guardians. SASS follows the University’s confidentiality policy regarding academic, personal, health and other student information. We can share information about students only when they have given us specific written permission. We encourage students and their parents / guardians to communicate directly with each other.

Parents/guardians with serious concerns about their students may contact the Director of SASS.

Does SASS help only students who are getting low marks?

No. SASS helps all students—struggling, high-achieving, and everyone in between—from their first year of undergraduate studies through to PhD level. Students come to us for many reasons and from many different contexts. Our objective is to help students develop skills, strategies and confidence for their individual circumstances.

My student had an IEP / accessibility accommodation in high school. How can you help?

SASS works with all students to support them in their academic skill development, but we do not specialize in working with students with disabilities or accommodations; we refer students with questions about accessibility or accommodations to Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS).

In terms of how SASS can help your student, we recommend our online resources, our workshops and our writing and learning appointments.

My student seems overwhelmed and stressed by their studies. How can I help them?

Academic demands can certainly feel stressful at times. Learning to recognize the signs of stress and to manage their stress is an important skill your student can develop. We recommend that you review our very thorough online resource on academic stress, and encourage your student to do the same. You can use this resource as a starting point for talking about how your student is doing and how they might take steps to manage their stress. This resource includes links to a variety of helpful resources at Queen’s; students can use these links to seek help.

Parents/guardians with serious concerns about their students may contact the Director of SASS.

My student did not get the mark they were hoping for on an assignment, and now they are worried that their marks won’t be high enough to let them into a particular program. How can SASS help?

Students who would like to study in a particular program should meet with their academic advisor; most undergraduate students can find their academic advisor listed on the ArtSci, Engineering, Nursing, or Business pages.

Students who would like to understand “where they went wrong” on an assignment or exam can meet with their professor / TA.

Students who would like feedback on their writing can book a writing appointment at SASS; our writing consultants cannot comment on marks or comments from professors or TAs, but they can review a piece of writing with a student to identify areas of strength and weakness, and work with the student to help them develop their skills.

Similarly, many students benefit from learning skills appointments, in which they can learn new strategies and habits that can support their academic success.

Another possible starting point is our Subject-Specific Academic Resources listing.

My student has received a fine from SASS.

You can find information about fines and our appointment policies here.

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).

Classmates

  • 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.

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Support for students with English as an additional language (EAL)

SASS offers a number of programs and resources to help multilingual students be successful at university. Both undergraduate and graduate students can improve communication and build confidence by working on academic English reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

SASS staff pose prior to a presentation.

Not sure where to start? Visit our frequently asked questions tab.

We support...EAL appointmentsWeekly programsPractice English onlineReading and computer softwareFrequently asked questions

Language skills we can help with include…

Writing

  • General skill development: learn strategies for academic writing and self-editing
  • Grammar: learn, review, and practice grammar topics
  • Cultural conventions: learn about the expectations of a North American / English audience
  • Academic vocabulary: develop an academic word bank
  • English Proficiency Test (EPT) preparations: practice for Engineering and Applied Science Students

Speaking

  • Presentation practice: get feedback on a presentation for a course or conference
  • Pronunciation: review and practice the sounds of English
  • Academic discussions: learn and practice strategies for contributing to class discussions
  • Vocabulary: build a spoken academic vocabulary with appropriate idioms and expressions

Listening

  • Lectures: learn and practice strategies for understanding lectures and conferences
  • Comprehension: develop skills to understand spoken English and pull out key ideas
  • Active listening: find ways to engage with what your peers and professors are saying

Reading

  • Comprehension: develop strategies to break down complex academic readings and identify key concepts
  • Vocabulary: learn about resources for understanding academic language
  • Integrating Research: explore how to effectively integrate ideas from readings into your writing for a North American / English audience

EAL appointments

What is EAL support?

Students who speak English as an additional language can meet with the Academic Skills Specialist (EAL) for ongoing skills development. The purpose of this service is to support students in developing their academic English skills over time. Students may be interested in additionally booking writing or learning strategies appointments. The EAL program helps students develop similar skills as these other two programs, but through the specific lens of English skills development.

These appointments are private and confidential. Appointments are free, and they are available to all current domestic and international students who do not speak English as their first language.

“[The EAL Coordinator] explains things really clearly and made me feel more confident about my English skills. SASS and EAL made my graduate studies easier and less stressful. I wish every university had that program.”

What are EAL appointments like?

The first meeting focuses on discussing your goals for improving your academic English and creating a plan to achieve those goals. You and the coordinator will decide together how many times you should meet and what you will do at each session.

Each appointment is different, to suit each student’s needs, but some typical sessions include:

  • Grammar lessons: Students bring in a piece of their writing. The coordinator helps to identify trends of grammatical errors and explains self-editing strategies to fix them. (Note—this is not an editing service.)
  • Academic writing development: Students bring in writing and the coordinator helps identify places where meaning is unclear. By discussing word choice, transitions, and sentence structure, students develop their ability to produce writing that effectively communicates critical ideas.
  • Pronunciation: Either by going through the sounds of English, one by one, or through speaking exercises, students receive feedback on their English pronunciation.
  • Academic reading in English: Students bring in an academic reading and learn, then practice, strategies to support their comprehension of both vocabulary and key ideas.

How do I book an EAL appointment?

If you are interested in booking a EAL appointment, please request an introductory appointment. Once you fill out this form, you will receive an email with further instructions on how to access our online booking tool.

You need to fill out this form only once.

Weekly programs

Both SASS and QUIC (Queen’s University International Centre) offer weekly opportunities to practice academic English skills and improve your writing with the support of professionals. Most programs are free and you do not need to register. You can come every week or just when needed.

Write Nights

Write Nights

  • What is it? A chance to learn about and practice English academic writing
  • When? Tuesday evenings, 5:30pm-7:30pm
  • Where? Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How does it work? Each week, SASS’s EAL Coordinator leads an interactive workshop on a different writing topic, such as articles, critical thinking, or sentence variety. Students can join for the topics which are of interest to them in order to build on writing foundations, evaluate examples, do practice exercises, learn strategies, and ask questions. Registration is not required.

“I have benefited a lot from the Write Nights workshops! It was like a course for me. The things I have learned from these workshops helped me to edit the writing myself. Although I still make mistakes, I believe I will be better and better! Everyone there are super dedicated in learning.”

“The Write Nights program was one of the first activities I did after my arrival to Kingston; it really helped me to get engaged in the Queen’s University and to adapt to the new academic environment. It is a perfect space to review the most complex topics in English writing for EAL students and even for practicing conversational English while you are meeting new people. They also provide useful tools and handouts in each class.”

Drop-In EAL Support

Drop-In EAL Support

  • What is it? A drop-in program for academic English homework support
  • When? Wednesday evenings, 6pm-8pm
  • Where? Stauffer Library, room 143

How does it work? An EAL assistant will sit down with a student for 15 minutes at a time to answer questions, give feedback, and offer strategies. After assisting other students, they will come back to the previous students to check in and answer further questions. Registration is not required.

English Conversation Group

English Conversation Group

  • What is it? An opportunity to practice English language conversation skills
  • When? Thursday evenings, 5:30pm-7pm
  • Where? Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How does it work? Volunteers help guide English conversation with group activities and discussions. There’s a new topic every week. Learn idioms, expressions, and pronunciations in a welcoming environment. Registration is not required.

QUIC Social and Cultural Activities

QUIC Social and Cultural Activities

  • What are they? Activities at QUIC that offer opportunities to meet other students and practice oral communication skills in a social environment.
  • When? Check the QUIC Events Calendar or QUIC social media for activities throughout the year
  • Where? Usually at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How do they work? QUIC plans social and cultural events throughout the year to engage all students. Examples include movie nights, community lunches, and bus trips. Some events have fees and require registration.

Grad Writing Lab

Grad Writing Lab

  • What is it? An opportunity for all graduate students to get writing support
  • When? Monday and Thursday mornings, 9am-12pm
  • Where? Graduate Student Reading Room on the 3rd floor of Stauffer Library

How does it work? Both domestic and international graduate students can drop in and work on their writing in a graduate community space. There is a dedicated academic writing specialist on site who can help students with writing questions. Registration is not required.

Practice English online

In addition to SASS’s writing and learning resources, you can use these external links to develop your academic English skills.

Dictionaries

Oxford English Dictionary: comprehensive, traditional dictionary

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: entries include collocations (i.e. words that go together, like prepositions or common phrases)

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary: entries include definitions, collocations, audio examples of pronunciation, sentence examples, and alternative forms of the word

Linguee: translation tool with concrete examples in both languages, plus examples of the word in external sources

Grammar lessons and exercises

Online Writing Lab, Purdue University: exercises on grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, sentence style, writing numbers, and paraphrasing and summarizing

Punctuation, Oxford Dictionary: explanation of the different punctuation marks and their uses

Grammatical Terms, Grammar Bytes!: printer-friendly explanations of grammatical topics with examples

Exercises, Grammar Bytes!: interactive or printable exercises on various grammatical topics

Verb Tense Chart, Alba English: colour-coded infographic explaining English verb tenses—link automatically downloads PDF of chart

Verb Tenses, Englisch Hilfen: text-based chart explaining English verb tenses—includes conditional tenses

Academic language

English Spelling, Oxford Dictionary: explanations of tricky spelling trends

Academic Phrasebank, Manchester University: categorized templates of academic phrases to express specific ideas (e.g., “introduce a new topic”)

Understanding Vocabulary in Context, Douglas College: explanation of strategies and corresponding practice exercises

Lexical Notebook, British Council: strategy for creating a new vocabulary notebook

YouGlish: tool that uses YouTube videos on academic / professional / technical topics to show the pronunciation of English words in context

Independent study: work on English by yourself over time

ELC Study Zone, University of Victoria: lessons and practice for English language learners that are categorized by language level—lessons include grammar, reading and listening, and vocabulary

BBC Learning English:

TED Ed: approximately 5-minute videos with corresponding comprehension questions, discussion questions, and extended reading

Grammar Girl: blog on various grammar and language-related topics

Reading List, Queen’s School of English: suggested fiction for English language learners

Reading and computer software

Students have the opportunity to work independently on language and academic writing skills. SASS offers students access to two new computer programs:

  • Inspiration can help students brainstorm ideas, clarify thinking, and organize information using mind-maps and outlines.
  • Kurzweil 3000 is text-to-speech software providing multilingual students with audio and visual aids for reading, writing, and fluency.

If you would like to learn more about how this software can help develop language fluency, vocabulary, and self-editing skills, please contact the Academic Skills Specialist (EAL) (eal.sass@queensu.ca).

Frequently asked questions

Does SASS offer ESL support?

Yes, it does! At SASS, we have switched to using the term, English as an Additional Language, or EAL, instead of ESL. The reason for this is to acknowledge that some students speak more than two languages. If you’re looking for ESL support, visit our EAL page.

What does English as an Additional Language or EAL mean?

When we refer to students with English as an additional language, we mean students who learned to speak English after their first language or who are multilingual.

What does Academic English mean?

Just as there is British English, Ghanaian English, and Indian English, you can think of Academic English as a particular variety of the English language that is intended for a specific audience. Academic English refers to the specific vocabulary, style, and conventions that we consider most appropriate and effective when communicating with an academic audience. We use Academic English in scholarly articles for publication in journals, writing assignments for university courses, presentations for academic conferences, etc.

What academic skills can the EAL program help me with?

The EAL program can help you with reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills as they relate to your academics. For more information about what each of these sessions can cover, refer to our language skills descriptions.

How are EAL appointments different from writing and learning strategies appointments?

SASS has three appointment programs, each offering a different but related service to students. In writing appointments, students can learn general writing skills and get feedback on a particular academic writing assignment, such as an essay or a lab report. Learning strategies appointments are for all of the academic skills students need to be successful outside of writing—time management, note-taking, presentations, etc. The EAL program is an intersection of both writing and learning, but specifically through the lens of academic English.

For example, a student may have a learning strategies appointment to work on reading strategies, and then have an EAL appointment to work on understanding English vocabulary in readings.

Another example could be a student who has a writing appointment to get feedback on an essay for History 122, and then has biweekly EAL appointments to work on sentence structure and verb tenses in academic writing in general.

Can I get someone to edit my paper?

No, there are no editing services offered by Queen’s University. At SASS, our mission is to help you develop the academic skills you need to edit and improve your own work. We can, however, help you identify types of grammatical errors and describe strategies for fixing them. If you would like feedback on a particular writing assignment or advice on general writing skills, book a writing appointment; if you would like to work on your academic English writing, book an EAL appointment.

Do EAL appointments count towards my limit of 6 writing appointments?

No, EAL appointments are separate from writing appointments. Students will decide with the EAL Coordinator how many EAL appointments they will have during the initial consultation. This number depends on each individual student’s needs and the plan that will best support the student in developing their goals.

Does SASS help students in all faculties and departments?

Yes, SASS can help students in all faculties and at all levels of degree. Every program at Queen’s requires strong academic communication skills; the EAL program can help students develop their skills, regardless of their research focus or concentration.

I am an international student. Where can I go for advice on how to be successful at university?

International and exchange students can start by reviewing our resource about the Canadian academic environment.

International and exchange students looking for advice about transition to Canadian culture, immigration, health insurance, housing, or other essential services while studying in Canada can access an International Student Advisor at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC).

Students looking for advice related to cultural adaptation, adjusting to a new cultural / academic environment, negotiating relationships with peers or professors, or other wellness-related topics can get confidential support from the cross-cultural counsellor.

Students looking for advice about choosing courses or degree requirements can contact their relevant academic advisor from their faculty. Find a range of academic counselling options here.

What can I do if…

I want to practice on my own?

Students can explore our online modules on a variety of writing and learning topics, or visit these external websites for additional English practice.

I am looking for someone to help me practice speaking?

For practice in conversational English, you can attend the Conversation Group every Thursday evening at the QUIC. Additionally, you might be interested in the mentoring programs offered by the Student Experience Office to learn about getting the most out of your student experience. Join the Peer Mentor Program or Q Success, if you are a first-year student.

If you are looking for more intensive support, you can book a pronunciation session with the EAL Specialist. For independent practice, SASS has adaptive reading software available for students to use. Book time with the software by contacting the EAL specialist.

I am fairly confident in my English speaking/ writing but want to keep improving?

SASS helps all students—struggling and high-achieving, 1st-year to PhD—improve their writing, learning, organization, and studying skills. The same is true for students at all levels of English proficiency. Our services are not remedial; rather, we are focused on supporting all students in continuing to develop their skills.

I will be away from campus but still want to work on my English?

Registered Queen’s students are able to book online appointments for EAL support. Online appointments happen using an integrated tool in our booking system, WC Online. If you already have access to the Academic English Skills Support schedule, simply choose the “meet online” option when booking an appointment. To get access to this schedule, please fill out this request form.

Students can also practice with our online resources and exercises on external websites.

I’m an Engineering student and have to pass the EPT. Can you help me prepare?

Yes! You can have an EAL appointment to work on strategies for effective writing or practice EPT-style exercises.

I am a graduate student?

SASS supports graduate students in their academic skills development. Graduate students can book appointments for writing, learning, and academic English. Although our professional staff may not necessarily be experts on your subject matter, they will be able to provide you with strategies that will improve your writing and develop your academic skills.

In addition to appointments, graduate students can attend weekly programming, like the Grad Writing Lab, and participate in Expanding Horizons workshops. They should also visit our graduate student page for additional resources.

I don’t know where to start?

If you are a student who speaks English as an additional language (EAL), start by booking an EAL consultation. You will have the opportunity to meet with the coordinator to create a plan that will best support you in achieving your academic goals.

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Managing your time at university

Managing time well is an important part of university life. Undergraduate and graduate students alike want to do well at school, stay healthy, and do many other things—all within a 168-hour week.

University has its own challenges for managing time: the workload is demanding, there are plenty of distractions, and days are often unstructured. It’s easy to let time slip by.

Stay in charge of your time and your success! Being clear about what’s important to you and using your time intentionally will help you have a satisfying, successful, less stressful university experience.

This book is also available as a PDF.

PrioritizingWhere does your time go?Estimating timeSchedulingHelpful toolsEfficiency tipsTroubleshooting guideGraduate students

Prioritizing

Prioritizing is difficult to do well at first, but it’s essential for planning your time effectively; if you don’t prioritize you might miss important deadlines, or spend time on one task at the expense of a more important or urgent task. It’s also a skill you can improve with practice. Here are a few methods; try different ones until you find one that suits you.

Matrix method: Use the time management matrix to help you identify which tasks you should do first.

Try to accomplish some important, non-urgent goals every week. This habit will keep you out of last minute, crisis mode.

A-B-C method

Categorize your tasks into:

  • A: must do today or tomorrow
  • B: might do today if there’s time, but can delay for a few days or a week
  • C: can delay for more than a week

Prioritize:

  • the hardest tasks
  • the tasks due first
  • the assignments worth the most marks
  • the tasks that support your goals
  • work before you relax. Reward yourself each day after solid, sustained effort.

Mark each task with an A, B, or C, then schedule the tasks accordingly.

Where does your time go?

Start by figuring out how you currently spend your time. Try filling in our weekly time use chart. Take a look at your results; are you surprised by how little or how much time you have left over, or how you spend some of your time? Do you wish you had more time for some activities? Keep reading for strategies for setting goals, prioritizing activities, and managing your time, or check out our procrastination and concentration pages.

To-do lists

Many students rely on their to-do lists to stay organized and get tasks done on time. A to-do list can help you:

  • achieve your short- and long-term goals
  • reduce stress and feel more in control of your life
  • avoid forgetting things
  • prioritize
  • fill in your weekly schedule and term calendar.

One method for making a to-do list

  • Use whatever tools you prefer: pen and paper, sticky notes, an agenda, an app, a document saved on your laptop.
  • Have on hand a calendar with coursework deadlines and important personal dates.
  • List everything you can think of that you need to do in a month or a term: administrative tasks, projects, readings, laundry, errands, etc.
  • Try not to worry about how much there is on the list at this point.
  • Break down large tasks (e.g., “create COMMS 234 presentation”) into small, specific tasks (e.g., “email COMM 234 group members to set next meeting date,” “choose topic,” “assign tasks among group members,” etc.).
  • Make sure everything on the list starts with a verb, for example, “write methods section of lab report.”
  • If a task has a specific deadline, note it down.
  • You might find it helpful to think of this as a master list, not a daily list. As the week goes by, keep track of new additions to your to-do list on a separate list, and add them to the master list on a daily or weekly basis (use the process below).

What to do with a to-do list

Assess the list:

  • Maybe some of the items aren’t that important or urgent, and could be postponed or deleted. This is a good strategy to use when you’re busy.
  • If an item will take you just a minute or two, do it right away and cross it off your list.

For the remaining tasks:

  • prioritize which should be done first, second, etc.
  • estimate the time needed for each task; be a bit generous with this estimate
  • schedule the tasks into your weekly or monthly schedule according your priorities and time estimates. Be realistic.

Each week, set aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to review your list and the upcoming week. What tasks need to be accomplished? Do you need to add anything else to your list? Schedule tasks into your week. If you have trouble prioritizing, refer to your short-term goals. Each evening, set aside 5-10 minutes to make a realistic to-do list for the next day. Refer to your weekly goals to help set priorities.

If you don't like to-do lists

Do you find to-do lists stressful? Is it impossible to cross off all the items on your list? Try:

  • making sure everything on your list is specific and starts with a verb
  • breaking larger tasks into smaller ones that you can do in an hour or less
  • keeping a master list and then transferring just 2-3 of your highest-priority tasks from that list onto a daily to-do list
  • checking out some of our strategies for prioritizing tasks and avoiding procrastination
  • instead of a daily to-do list, track your accomplishments for the day as you go, and compare it to your weekly goals.

Estimating time

Estimating time accurately will help you get tasks done on time with less stress, and protect the time you’ve set aside for sleeping, relaxing, eating and exercising—it’s an important skill! You’ll get better at it with experience.

It’s easier to estimate time more accurately for smaller tasks than bigger ones, which is another reason to break big projects down into smaller, specific tasks.

Be realistic. Don’t try to get everything done in a day. It’s better to have a short to-do list and complete it than to feel overwhelmed by a long list of tasks.

On average, students should spend about 8-10 hours per course each week, attending class and labs/tutorials and completing homework. If you’re an undergraduate student taking five courses, you should spend about 45-50 hours per week on school. Think of school as your full-time job.

For example, if you are taking five courses and spend 20 hours total in class / lab time each week, expect to also spend about 25-30 hours on homework each week (5 courses x 9 hours per course = 45 hours per week total for school; 45 hours total – 20 hours in class = 25 hours of homework).

Graduate school has its own rhythm, but try treating school as a full-time job and then modify your time commitment as you understand the demands better.

Scheduling

You can use our weekly schedule and monthly calendar templates to plan how to spend your time. They come with instructions to help you achieve scheduling success!

Use a weekly schedule to:

  • protect time for sleeping, eating, and exercise
  • keep track of classes and other commitments
  • choose when to work on specific tasks
  • plan flexibility and relaxation time.

Use a term calendar to:

  • keep track of due dates and how much assignments/exams are worth
  • see the big picture of the whole term
  • plan ahead for busier weeks.

Here are sample schedules from our SASS peers! [Forthcoming.]

Scheduling tips:

  • Taking time to sleep, exercise and eat well is critical to your academic success.
  • It’s a lot more effective to do some work every day of the week / term than to cram it in last-minute. Easier said than done; if you struggle with this habit, try a learning strategies appointment.
  • Know yourself. When you schedule tasks, consider what time of day you work best.
  • Do the hard tasks first to set the tone for the day and motivate yourself.
  • University offers wonderful opportunities. Don’t just bury your head in your books for four years; make time to try new things.

Helpful tools

  • Term calendar: use the instructions to fill it in and see the whole term at a glance.
  • Weekly schedule: use the instructions to fill it in to plan your week. See a how-to video here.
  • Weekly time use chart: see how you spend your time. An eye-opener for many students.
  • Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
  • Course Planner
  • Assignment planner: use this tool to break large assignments into small tasks with mini-deadlines; get tips and resources for each stage.
  • Thesis manager: for graduate students; helps you see the big picture and break down the thesis process into small, manageable stages with mini-deadlines.
  • End of term planning chart: fill this in to get a handle on what’s left to do, how long it will take, and how much it’s worth. A helpful tool to regroup and prioritize around Weeks 9-12 of a term.
  • Task Analysis Chart: break a big task into smaller parts and estimate how long each will take.

Efficiency tips

  • Consider school your full-time job.
  • Use the free time between classes to do homework.
  • Do difficult tasks first.
  • Work for a maximum of 3 hours at a time, and then take a break for an hour or so.
  • Work for 50 minutes, then take a break for 10 (or work for 25 and break for 5); repeat.
  • Reduce distractions.
  • Adopt routines. They take the decision-making out of your day.
  • Try mindfulness techniques to stay focused and calm.
  • Work before relaxing. Earn a reward.

Troubleshooting guide

“I make a to-do list every day but never get through it. Then I feel guilty.”

  • Make a weekly to-do list. Then try limiting your daily to-do list to only three items. If you have extra time, tackle the next thing on your weekly to-do list. Or try using a to-do list that covers two or three days. Or keep a list of completed tasks instead.

“I make schedules but I can’t seem to follow them.”

  • Try making your schedule realistic, not idealistic. When are you really going to start studying: 7:00 a.m.? 9:30 a.m.? How many hours a week will you really commit to? Remember to leave room for downtime.
  • Try booking an appointment with a learning strategist.

“I spend too much time on online activities. Then I don’t have time to work or sleep.”

  • Try scheduling specific times for these activities, with a limit of how long you’ll spend doing them. Then, turn off, close, and log out when you’re trying to work or sleep.
  • See our advice on managing distractions or book an appointment with a learning strategist.

“I have trouble deciding what to do first.”

  • Consider due dates, how much time is needed to do the task, and how many marks it’s worth, if others are depending on you, and how important it is for your goals. See our prioritizing strategies.

Graduate students

Graduate school presents its own time management complexities that may challenge your skills. Approaches or habits that worked well for you in other contexts might not work as well for you now. We offer some practical information here.

You may also like to book a learning strategies appointment, or visit our graduate student page or our faculty / TA resources page for more help and resources.

Time challenges for graduate students

  • long-term, complex projects
  • unclear academic expectations
  • multiple competing roles (academic and non-academic)
  • lack of structure in a week
  • distracting negative feelings such as self-doubt, worry, and guilt
  • lack of accountability or feedback on progress.

Time management strategies for graduate students

  • Don’t wait! Create structure as early in the term as possible; see our resources on setting goals, managing time, using to-do lists, prioritizing, and scheduling.
  • Try the thesis manager.
  • Schedule quiet time for thinking and writing.
  • Schedule time for relaxation, sleep, and exercise to stay motivated, happy and healthy.
  • Set daily routines; they save time and mental effort.
  • Organize your work space, digital files, emails and paperwork to save time.
  • Reduce/manage your distractions.
  • Meet with your supervisor regularly; send follow-up emails listing key discussion points.
  • Email your supervisor regularly with updates (accomplishments, challenges, questions).
  • Keep a record of weekly goals and achievements and next intended steps and share these with your supervisor at each meeting. Review the list daily to stay on track.
  • Track your progress on a calendar.
  • Explain your student life to your partner/family/friends, and enlist their cooperation.
  • Schedule time for the important people in your personal life.
  • Check out our procrastination and focus and concentration resources.

Planning large projects

Large projects, such as researching and writing a thesis, may span several years; most graduate students don’t have training or experience in this level of project management.

Even if you have clear goals and solid time management skills, large projects might be daunting. In addition, some aspects of the project might not be in your control (e.g., waiting for your supervisor to read and provide feedback on your work). Large projects may also compete with other tasks, both academic and personal. The thesis manager can help you break a thesis down into smaller steps with timelines.

It can also be helpful to think through some of the following questions, and/or discuss them with your supervisor, as you plan your thesis or another large project:

  • What are my academic and administrative responsibilities?
  • To whom am I accountable?
  • When do I want to finish my project? When are major deadlines?
  • How do my major deadlines translate into smaller tasks from week to week?
  • What happens if I don’t finish on time? Do I need a backup plan?
  • What aspects of the project do I control, totally or to some extent? Who else has control, in what ways?
  • What feedback/support can I expect from my supervisor/others?
  • What are my priorities? How will I manage competing priorities?
  • How will I maintain a healthy balance between my academic and personal life?
  • How will I sustain my energy and a positive attitude to the project?
  • How will I know when it’s time to let go and move onto something else?
  • How can I manage perfectionism and/or procrastination?

Read More

Focus and concentration

Being able to concentrate on schoolwork is critical for learning and studying. It’s also a skill that you can develop. Read on for some strategies that may help.

This resource is also available as a PDF.

Set yourself up for successManage distractionsGet to workIn lecturesMore resources

Set yourself up for success

Your work area

  • Do you know what you need to work on right now, how, and why?
  • Do you have a place where you can work uninterrupted?
  • Are your supplies close at hand?
  • Do you have good lighting and a comfortable chair (don’t study on your bed!)?
  • Are your devices off, or on silent, and out of sight? (If you need to be online to complete your work, block distracting websites.)

Create homework habits

  • What time of day do you focus best? Do your most challenging work then.
  • Develop a routine place, time, and approach.
  • Try working for 50 minutes, then taking a 10-minute break, repeated 2-3 times.
  • Or try working for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break, repeated 4-6 times.
  • Try varying the subjects / tasks in each long study session.
  • Break up large projects into manageable sections. Congratulate yourself for completing individual sections.

Support your health

  • Eat regularly to give your brain energy.
  • Sleep enough to feel rested and alert.
  • Exercise to reduce restlessness, manage stress and feel good. Getting fresh air before class or homework time may help you be more alert.

Manage distractions

Distracted by YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and texts? You’re not alone. 23.4% of Queen’s students reported that internet use/computer games affected their academic performance within the last 12 months (see NCHA Student Health and Wellness Survey).

Technology is vital to everyday tasks, but our dependence on technology can turn into a habit that prevents us from getting our work done. Learn to intentionally give your attention.

Here are some strategies to try:

When you need to focus on a task...

Ask yourself, “Do I need my computer / phone / device for this task?”

No, I don’t need it.

  • leave laptop at home
  • log out and close laptop; put out of sight in a backpack or drawer; turn off wifi
  • put phone on airplane mode/on silent, out of sight in a backpack or drawer
  • check for notifications on long (1-2 hour) breaks, not short (5-10 minute) breaks

Yes, I do need it.

  • block unnecessary sites with apps
  • check for notifications on long (1-2 hour) breaks, not short (5-10 minute) breaks
  • when you’re tempted by a distraction, ask yourself, “why am I doing this? Will it support my goals?”
  • challenge yourself to go five more minutes without checking your phone/social media

Increasing the physical distance between you and your phone / laptop, or increasing the time / effort required to check notifications, may help you manage your impulses.

When you want to avoid your phone...

  • With a trusted roommate/friend, lock your phones and swap them for a couple of hours when you really want to focus.
  • Check your phone and social media only at specific times during the day, such as every two hours, or after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Let your family and friends know you’re not available during work time unless it’s an emergency. Tell them you’re trying to change your online habits to support your academic/health goals and ask for their support.
  • Ask yourself, “Tonight, when I look back on my day, what would make me feel as though it was a good day, well-spent? What can I do right now to contribute to that satisfaction?”
  • Charge your phone in another room, or put it on airplane mode, while you sleep.
  • Try thinking of time away from your phone as liberating, a chance to be yourself and to do things that you love to do.

When you do check your phone...

  • Track how much time you spend on your phone / laptop for non-work activity. Lots of apps exist that help you track phone usage.
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to return to work after a break. Or have an accountability buddy who helps you get back to work after a break.
  • Combine your phone check with a look at your daily to-do list/weekly schedule, to help you remember that you had planned to get something specific done in this time.
  • Remember you can do non-phone things on a break, like stretching, running up and down stairs, taking a short walk, getting a coffee, listening to a song with your eyes closed, etc.
  • If you fear letting down family and friends by not responding to their messages, commit to responding on breaks, or later that day, instead of instantly.

When your thoughts distract you...

Get distracting thoughts out of your head by writing them down on a nearby pad of paper. Set aside a bit of time each evening to review your distractions:

  • some items may be trivial and can be forgotten
  • some items may be important–turn these into specific actions and add them to your to-do list
  • discuss ongoing, distressing thoughts with someone.

Track your attention: if you’re distracted while you’re trying to work, try making a check mark on a nearby pad of paper, then turn your attention back to work. Later, look for patterns. Do your thoughts wander when you are tired, hungry, restless or worried? Think about your improving your health habits and/or talking to someone about your worries.

Minimize or manage distractions that you have some control over; for example, ask your friends and family to help you protect your work time, and reassure them that you will be available to them other hours of the day.

If these strategies aren’t helpful, remember that giving into online distraction can be a very difficult habit to change. Don’t expect to go from constantly distracted to perfectly focused in a day. Try one or two of the strategies above for a week or two, then try a couple more for another week, and aim for slow but solid improvement over time. You might also consider booking an appointment with a counsellor to talk about how to break a habit.

Get started

  • Keep all necessary supplies close at hand to avoid set-up time and distractions.
  • If a large task seems daunting, break it down into several smaller, specific tasks. Still daunted? Make them smaller.
  • Try the “5 more rule.” Commit to working for five (minutes, pages, sentences, etc.) and then do it. Then decide to work another 5 more or not.
  • Start each work session with 10 minutes of review of the most recent material, to reinforce previous learning and boost your confidence.

Work within your attention span

Rather than becoming frustrated about lack of focus, learn to work within the limits of your attention span.

  • First, find the limits of your attention for a particular task or subject. Can you stay focused for 10 minutes? 20 minutes?
  • Try setting a regular 5-minute timer, and when it goes off, ask yourself if you are still engaged in the task. Mark down when your attention begins to wane.
  • Once you have established your attention span for a course, divide your work into chunks that will take that long to complete. For example:
    • You have about a 30-minute attention span for working on a case study in your Commerce class. Divide the project into reading the assignment for 30 minutes, then finding 3 research articles for 30 minutes, etc.
  • Take 5 minute breaks between work sessions. Use a timer to keep you on track, both for your working sessions and for your breaks. You can set up your phone to help you, or search for an online timer that will time your work sessions and breaks.
  • Do your hardest work (the most difficult stuff, the boring stuff) at the time of day when you are most alert.

Motivate yourself

  • Remind yourself of how the task you’re trying to focus on will her you meet a longer-term goal.
  • Set a specific target in terms of time spent on a task, or amount of work to complete.
  • Work before you play. Build in a reward for successfully reaching your goal: a coffee, chat, walk, or something you enjoy that you must earn before you have it.

It is much easier to focus if you’re interested in a task, but what if you aren’t interested? 

Try active studying strategies:

  • Ask yourself questions.
  • Relate the information to your personal experience or to your other courses.
  • Think about the topic’s real-world implications. Ask “what if” questions.
  • Make up your own examples.

Try reminding yourself how this task will help you achieve an exciting goal.

Keep in mind that sometimes you just have to do something you don’t want to do; consider it good for character development and get on with it.

Use self-talk to stay on task

Self-talk can help you get started and stay on track. Congratulate yourself for staying on track, or remind yourself where your attention should be. Keep practicing; over time, you can develop a habit that keeps you motivated and focused.

Examples of encouraging self-talk:

  • If I get started now, I’ll feel less stressed later.
  • I’m really making progress on this paper.
  • I’ve been working for 30 minutes without distraction, yay!
  • What is most important right now?
  • How long have I been on this website? 
  • Is what I’m doing now helping me reach my goals?

Study with a friend

Studying with someone else can help you stay on track and re-focus if you find yourself distracted. Just seeing a friend working can be a great way to stay motivated, and if one of you gets distracted, the other can offer a friendly reminder to get back to work.

You can also hold each other accountable for your progress on weekly goals. Tell each other what you’ve done over the week, and what you want to accomplish next week.

In lectures

  • From the readings or problem sets, come up with questions in advance. You don’t have to actually ask them, unless you want to; just listen for the answers during lecture.
  • Reduce distractions: get to class in time to pick your best seat—whatever works for you.
  • Stay awake: take notes during the lecture, and ask questions.
  • Use a code in your notes to mark things that you don’t understand, or that seem important.
  • If the lecture has a break, try to get outside for some fresh air.
  • Engage your mind by participating in class and thinking actively:
    • offer your opinion
    • think about how the material relates to recent lectures or readings
    • try to anticipate the professor’s next idea
    • ask questions, out loud or in your mind.

More resources

The following campus resources helped create content for this web page, and can offer more support.

  • Check out Health Promotion to learn more about sleep and other health issues affecting university students, or to book a Healthy Lifestyle Consultation.
  • Talk to someone at Counselling Services about distracting and distressing thoughts, or maintaining a healthy relationship with technology.
  • Visit the Faith and Spritual Life Office to talk about distracting and distressing thoughts, or technology from a spiritual and/or community perspective.
  • Student Academic Success Services can suggest strategies that support concentration.

[1] American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Queen’s University Executive Summary Spring 2013. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2013.

 

Read More

Adjusting to Canadian academics

Tips for international and exchange students

Welcome, international and exchange students! We are happy to have you here. International and exchange students contribute valuable perspectives and skills to Queen’s University. As you settle in here, you may need to adjust to an unfamiliar academic environment. Here are some tips to help you succeed.

TimeClass structureAssessmentSkillsHabitsRelationshipsLooking for more support?

Time: What should I know about the workload?

  • The 12-week semester goes by quickly, so it is important to keep up, especially when later class materials build on what you learn earlier in the semester.
  • Expect frequent assignments and readings, starting in the first week of classes, in addition to essays and midterm and final exams.
  • Some assignments are worth more grades than others; distribute your work time appropriately among multiple priorities. For example, you might spend only three or four hours on something worth 5% of your final mark, but perhaps 20 hours on something worth 20%.
  • Many professors have specific expectations about meeting deadlines; be aware of these.
  • Look through the sessional dates to get a sense of the important dates in the semester.
  • Use the course syllabus to create a course plan.

On average, expect to spend about 8-10 hours on each course every week, including time spent in class or labs and on homework. Here are some time management tools and ways to stay motivated.

Class Structure: What will my classes look like?

  • There are four main kinds of courses that you might take: lectures, tutorials, seminars, and labs. Each has a different structure and purpose, but they all require regular attendance.
  • Class sizes may be bigger or smaller than you are used to. Some lectures may have as many as 500 students while an upper-year seminar may have as few as six.
  • You may have tutorials or labs, usually led by a teaching assistant (TA), which complement your understanding of the lecture material through marked activities, discussions, and readings.
  • Understand how online systems will be used in each class and get familiar with them as soon as possible. For example, learn how OnQ works.
  • Read each course’s syllabus for important information about communicating with your prof or TA, due dates and grading structure, expectations and learning objectives, etc.

SASS offers tips for success in online courses.

Assessment: How will my prof grade my work?

  • Assignments may take many different forms: essays, presentations, science labs, group work, case studies, reports, problem sets, and creative products.
  • You may also be marked for the quality of your participation in class: i.e., regular attendance, asking relevant questions, offering ideas, etc.
  • If you are unsure how to approach assignments, talk to your prof, visit SASS, or use our assignment planner.
  • In addition to assignments, you are likely to have tests and midterm and final exams.
  • The course syllabus or course website should tell you how much each assignment or exam is worth, and describe the professor’s expectations of your work.

Try our Grade Calculator to determine your mark in a class.

Skills: What are the academic skills I might be expected to use?

  • You may be expected to do a large amount of reading in some courses. Click here for some reading and note-taking tips.
  • Writing and research often take more time than you might expect—start early and get help at the Writing Centre or from a research librarian to save time.
  • Math, engineering and science courses will ask you to solve math problems.
  • It’s very important that you adhere to academic integrity.

You will be asked to think critically, which means analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing information, not just describing it. Speak to your professor or TA if you are unsure of their expectations.

Habits: What should I do regularly?

  • Go to all your classes, labs, and tutorials, and participate: take notes, ask questions, offer your ideas, listen to others.
  • Reduce distractions in class: sit near the front and turn off your phone.
  • Do your homework.
  • After class, write a short summary, in your own words, of key ideas from the lecture and homework.
  • Learn a little every day instead of trying to learn and memorize it all just before a test or exam.
  • Don’t work all the time! Take breaks. Make time for sleep, eating, exercise and fun.

Stress is a common reaction to a new environment, but you don’t have to manage it alone. If stress interferes with your daily life and school, speak to someone. Many people at Queen’s will be glad to help you.

Relationships: How can I connect with my professor, TA, classmates and other community members?

  • Your professors and TA want you to succeed. Go see them during their office hours to get to know them and to ask for help. Here are some tips for communicating with them.
  • In some classes you might work in groups. Here are some tips for navigating group work.
  • Try to develop friendly relationships with your classmates early in the course, to make it easier to share notes, study together, and enjoy attending class.
  • The Alma Mater Society and Society of Professional and Graduate Students can help you find opportunities to get involved on campus and meet people.

Looking for more support?

You are already likely in touch with the Queen’s University International Centre or your exchange office, but here are some other sources of support at Queen’s that you might find helpful:

  1. Need more support with English skills? See our online resources or make an appointment for a consultation with our English as an Additional Language (EAL) coordinator.
  2. Need more help with writing? See our online resources or make an appointment with a writing consultant.
  3. Need more support to help you learn effectively? See our online resources or make an appointment with a learning strategist.
  4. Feeling stressed or in need of advice about course selection, your health, finances, personal challenges, or life as a graduate student? See here for some resources.
  5. Looking for help in a particular course? Here is an overview of subject-specific academic support resources.
  6. Looking for information on each faculty’s regulations, policies, programs, courses, and degree requirements? See the academic calendars.

Read More

Graduate student writing groups

Download a PDF of this resource here.

Why a writing group?MembershipPurpose and formatManaging feedbackPractical logisticsGroup leadership and rolesAdding new members and ending the group

The ultimate goal of a thesis or dissertation writing group is to help members of the group complete the writing required for a graduate degree, and have as positive an experience as possible.

What do grad students say about the experience of writing a dissertation or thesis?

  • “A writing buddy was essential to staying motivated and productive.”
  • “I felt really isolated before working in a writing group. It was great to see what other students were doing, and how we shared similar struggles.”
  • “My writing group [of people outside my research area] really helped make my work more coherent and improve the logical progression of my thinking, so my supervisor could focus feedback on the content itself.”
  • “Writing the dissertation was such an unbelievably long process. Connecting with others helped me keep perspective, especially when a new member joined who was just starting out. I saw I had made progress, and it felt great to encourage a more junior student.”

Graduate students might create or join a writing group to:

to reduce isolation, to receive feedback, to increase accountability

Another type of thesis writing group is a thesis writing support group, which is often psycho educational in nature and led by a professional counsellor. This article will only focus on peer-driven groups.

Membership

There is no formula for creating a group, but here are some things to consider:

  • MA or PhD students?

Given the different expectations in an MA thesis vs. a PhD dissertation or manuscript, it may be preferable to seek members working at the same level.

  • Same research field, or different departments?

If members are in similar fields, they share a general knowledge base, which may be helpful if they offer feedback on each other’s writing. On the other hand, if members come from different fields, they may be more open to divergent interpretations or ideas, more likely to take creative risks in their thinking, and less competitive (e.g., for supervisor’s time, grants, jobs) or less concerned over intellectual property rights.

  • Similar or different stages in the writing process?

Some groups prefer members to be at various stages from proposal writing to final editing, so more experienced students can mentor and encourage less experienced students. Some groups want members to be at similar stages, to share a common experience.

  • Open or closed membership?

An open writing group, with members who just show up to write on a regular basis and then leave, can more readily have an open membership.  These groups often pop up (and disappear) independently in departments, or through the School of Graduate Studies or the Society for Professional and Graduate Students at Queen’s.

Closed groups have a fixed and committed membership that enables trust to develop. These groups may have expectations for adding new members, duration of membership, and departing members.

  • Members who are currently friends or currently unfamiliar to each other?

The person who initiates the group typically will have an influence on soliciting members. It is important that members believe they can be comfortable, trusting and respectful with each other, especially if the group will be interactive.

  • Large or small?

Depending on the purpose served, the group can be very large (60?) or rather small (6?). Other factors, like being able to find available space and a common meeting time, may influence the size of the group.

Determining purpose and format: Types of writing groups

small group of students workingClarifying the writing group’s purpose and structure is critical. For more detailed information on this topic, please see the Stanford University Hume Writing Centre’s Starting an Effective Dissertation Writing Group and the University of Minnesota’s Getting the most from a writing group.

It is also important to establish the group’s boundaries. Completing a thesis or dissertation is very demanding and often challenges a student’s sense of self-worth and professional direction or ambition. A peer writing group is not a therapy group, although there may be emotional and psychological benefits to participating in a writing group.

Students with concerns for their sense of self or well-being should speak to a trusted professor, mentor or counsellor. Counsellors are available to full- and part-time students through the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies or through Student Wellness Services.

Writing groups often fall into one or more of the following categories: community-based, accountability-based, and feedback-based.

Accountability-based group members usually

  • set “public” deadlines for completing specific tasks, in person, an online social media group, or a shared Google doc
  • check in with each other’s progress
  • acknowledge each other’s successes, and encourage each other through setbacks.

One online accountability site is Phinished.org, where writers can make pacts about how much they will finish. Students who want to “show off” their accomplishments might use 750words.com, where students earn points for daily writing and can display their badges on Facebook.

Community-based group members usually develop

  • community norms for noise, conversation, internet use, food, timing, attendance, etc.
  • a structure for breaks, start and end times, social chat time, and perhaps writing exercises

There are no “rules” to follow, but a format for a community-based group might include:

  • A check-in from each member about events of the week, progression on goals, new barriers or issues to be resolved (maybe 2-3 minutes per member).
  • An educational or problem-solving discussion of new or persistent issues (maybe up to 20 minutes). This discussion could include brainstorming solutions, an invited speaker, a group member presenting on a hot topic, or a discussion of a relevant writing technique.
  • Time to set SMART writing goals for that writing session and for the upcoming week (5 min)
  • Writing time (1-2 hours?). The group should agree how much time they would like to spend writing, and when they will take breaks. Breaks support focused, creative thinking. One way to use a longer writing period is to break up the time like this:

Write for 80 minutes, then break for 10 minutes
Write for 60 minutes, then break for 10 minutes
Write for 10-15 minutes to review the writing to identify issues or unclear thinking. Then, write down a question to ponder until the next writing session. Start the next session by writing a response to that question, or discuss unanswered questions with the group or thesis supervisor.

  • Time to socialize after writing (maybe 15 minutes).

Every group needs to work out a format that meets the needs of the members, and is manageable and sustainable.

If your group is designed for feedback, the group

  • shares their work. Some standard systems for writing, editing and collaborating online include Google Docs, OneNote (Outlook) and Dropbox
  • sets expectations and norms for the amount of time any one person will spend on feedback
  • determines the focus of the feedback (content vs writing style) and for when writers need to share with the group
  • members specify what kind of feedback they want, and direct readers to specific concerns.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill offers a thorough list of questions to help feedback-based groups set expectations and norms.

In addition to the possible elements of a community-based writing group, feedback-based groups include time for writers to share their work and receive feedback.  Some groups will choose to devote their time to feedback only, and save writing time for non-group time.

Managing feedback

students giving and receiving feedbackWriting groups usually include time for writers to share their work and receive feedback.

The following content is based on work by S. Lee and C. Golde.

Asking for feedback

Feedback groups need to consider:

  • how to schedule feedback: sign-up list, regular rotation, informal approach
  • whether to distribute materials in advance or present material during the group
  • clarifying what writing projects might be acceptable for requesting feedback: outlines? first drafts? polished drafts? conference papers? whole works vs chapters or sub-sections?

Writers seeking feedback should offer a brief overview of the piece’s purpose, audience and key ideas, their own current assessment of it, and a specific request for structural, stylistic or other feedback. The piece should be short enough to allow the group members to review it in a reasonable time frame. Writers seeking feedback should not treat their group members as proofreaders.

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is a skill, but it starts with intention. Are you there to support the writer or show off your own skills? Be sensitive and helpful, and remember that soon it will be your turn to hear what others think of your writing.

It is a rare opportunity for a writer to hear from others in a “safe space.” Respond with specific references to their work, using language that is clear, non-judgmental and leaves room for the writer to further explain themselves. Avoid overwhelming the writer with too much feedback. Offer praise as part of your feedback; every piece of writing has something praiseworthy about it. Speak as a thoughtful reader, not as an all-knowing judge, and stick to the type of feedback that the writer asked for.

Receiving Feedback

It is an act of courage to request feedback and then listen with an open mind to what is offered regarding your writing. You may not agree immediately (or ever!) with all that you hear, but it is a privilege to have people spend time thinking about your work, so it behooves you to pay attention and sort through comments later.

To accept feedback gracefully,

  • listen to the entire feedback first, and try to understand the meaning of the feedback.  Write down notes and questions.
  • be engaged. If anything is unclear, restate your understanding of what you thought the speaker said.
  • be respectful. Try not to be too defensive. Even if a reader’s response is due to a misinterpretation of the writing, their perspective deserves attention. If several readers agree that a section is confusing, the problem probably lies in the writing.
  • keep a feedback log. Keep track of the kinds of feedback you get. Identify common themes. Address problems with your writing group, or visit the Writing Center or your supervisor.

Practical logistics

students around a tableThe group’s planning and organization could be determined in advance by one person who initiated the group, or they could be negotiated among members during an early meeting. Some logistics to consider:

  • Where will the group meet? On campus or off? What facilities will be needed, depending on the purpose of the group ( e.g., tables, white board, data projector, multiple power outlets)? Rooms on Queen’s campus are available:
  • When and how frequently will you meet?
  • What are the expectations around attendance and preparation (e.g., for a feedback-based group)? What is the consequence of failing to keep the commitment?
  • How can new members join, and what is the process when a member decides to leave?
  • What work can be brought for feedback? Initial ideas or outlines or rough drafts or polished drafts? Research proposals? Thesis or dissertation writing only? Conference presentations? Publication submissions? Grant proposals? Job applications or CVs?

Group leadership and roles

three students working at a cafeDepending on the focus of the dissertation writing group, there may or may not need to be a leader. For example, an online accountability group like Phinished.org has a web manager rather than a leader.

A group aimed at increasing community may not require a leader, but may need someone to book rooms and communicate with members.

A feedback-based group will benefit by agreeing on a leadership or organizational model. Members may decide to have a single leader or rotate the leadership, to manage or delegate tasks such as:

  • scheduling meeting times
  • booking rooms
  • communicating among members
  • setting the agenda and facilitating the meeting (e.g., who presents work for feedback, selecting writing activities, inviting quest speakers, etc.)
  • keeping the meeting on track and on time
  • note-making for feedback
  • bringing the cookies 🙂
  • setting up and/or cleaning up the room

Adding new members and ending the group

several students working on one computerAnother logistical decision is: will the group be open or closed in membership?

New members may be added to a closed feedback-based writing group once an established member completes writing their dissertation, or no longer wishes to be part of the group. Generally, the culture of a closed group will be better maintained if a group member talks to a prospective member before inviting them to join, in terms of

  • their writing goals (does this group meet their needs?)
  • their ability to make the same time/space/duration/ possibly “feedback homework” commitments of the existing members
  • whether they appear to be compatible with the existing members

Some groups might choose to vet prospective members for “fit” or have a trial period before the prospective new member has to officially join the group. As new members join, there usually is a period of re-adjustment and a shift in the developmental stage of the group.

Endings are inevitable, and often generate mixed feelings: “YEAH, I did it! But I’m going to miss you so much!”

Individual members of a feedback-driven group will leave as they complete their own projects or the group may disband as planned after some period of time, or just dwindle out. Ending a feedback-based or community-based thesis writing group hopefully signals great accomplishments for members.

Regardless of the reason, the end presents an opportunity for self-reflection, either individually or as a summative exercise by the whole group. Some reflective questions to consider:

  • How did this group help me meet my personal goals?
  • Are there ideas or work habits or activities that would be useful to include in my future large writing projects?
  • What can I take away and quickly put into practice in my academic life?
  • Is there unfinished work (personal or professional writing or activity) that I need to complete? For example- do I need to reduce my fear of speaking in public?
  • Can I get ideas or resources from the group to help solve a particular problem before we end?

Read More

Online learning

Online learning is increasingly common at Queen’s, where nearly 3000 students take courses online every year. Whether you’re taking a course entirely online or one that combines on-campus tutorials with internet-based discussion and lectures (a “blended” course), online learning requires special skills.

Online courses are just as intellectually challenging as on-campus courses. You’ll still be asked to read articles and books, complete assignments on time, write tests and exams, and display academic integrity. But in online courses, you may find that your professors and classmates seem distant or absent, that your written communication skills are called on more regularly, and that your ability to motivate yourself to work independently is challenged.

This guide is just an introduction to the keys to success in online courses. You may find our modules on time management and motivation and procrastination useful. If this is your first university course, or you’re returning to education after a long time away, we encourage you to work through Academics 101, a series of online tutorials we’ve developed to help you hone essential academic skills while at Queen’s. If you need one-on-one help, SASS offers learning strategies and writing appointments by telephone or on campus.

Keys to successGroup work & discussion boardsWhere do I go from here?

What are the keys to success in online courses?

Review the course syllabus.

As in any other course, your first job is to read the syllabus, which you should find on the course homepage (generally through your onQ portal, although some faculties use different online platforms). If there’s anything that isn’t clear or that you don’t understand, make sure you ask your professor or TA for help. Here are some guidelines for communicating with professors and TAs.

Understand the platform.

Spend time exploring the layout and organization of your online course. Refer to the syllabus, explore menus, and ask questions if you’re unsure. Avoid missing an important resource or losing marks on a quiz because you didn’t know where to find it on the course page or how it worked. You may be asked to write quizzes and exams entirely online, so if your prof plans to do a dry run of an online exam (i.e., run one for no marks), take it. It’s a great opportunity to understand how the real exam will be administered. Prepare for online exams in the same way as you would an on-campus exam.

Be an active participant.

Developing a learning community is vital for success in an online course. Think of discussion boards as virtual class discussions. They’re a chance to share ideas with peers and show professors your critical thinking. Even if the professor doesn’t comment, she is reading the thread to make sure the conversation is staying on track. Making connections with your peers can be more difficult in an online course, but it’s still important. Use online tools and helpful apps to connect with your peers and instructors. Ask questions, share ideas, engage!

Take responsibility.

You’re responsible for all of your own learning in all university classes. In an online course, where you may never meet your teachers or classmates, that’s even more true. It’s up to you to do readings, watch video lectures, complete assignments on time, and work towards mastering the course content. That might take, on average, 8-10 hours a week—more if you’re taking a condensed summer course. You might find our time management guide helpful.

Get organized.

Contrary to many students’ expectations, online courses are not easier because they appear to easily fit into any schedule. They require plenty of work and organization! Treat your online course just as you would an on-campus course by scheduling time to “attend” regularly—3-4 times a week—and to keep up with readings and homework.

  1. Manage your time

Good time management skills will help you get started, stay on task, and finish on time. That’s especially true when grades are increasingly based on a large number of small tasks, rather than a single assignment and exam. If you’re already using a weekly schedule, make sure to slot in times every week to check in with your online course to ensure you’re aware of approaching deadlines and have apportioned sufficient time to tackle them. Professors also post course updates online, so regularly logging in will ensure you’re aware of important news.

  1. Log in and accomplish specific tasks

Reviewing the syllabus and your course pages will help you know what you have to do and when you have to do it. Then, log in regularly (two or three times a week) with specific tasks in mind each time. Think of it like a regular on-campus class: sometimes you attend a lecture, sometimes you block off time for homework or reading, and sometimes you participate in a tutorial or group discussion.

For example this schedule illustrates a possible week’s schedule. In total, the plan below allows the student to spend 10.5 hours on coursework:

Morning Evening
Tuesday Start week’s readings (2 hours) Finish week’s readings (1.5 hours)
Thursday Write week’s notes
Complete weekly quiz (1.5 hours)
Friday Write group project (1 hour) Edit group project writing (1 hour)
Saturday Watch weekly video lecture (2 hours) Write three discussion board posts
Check in with group members for midterm project (2 hours)

Try planning and sticking to a schedule like this one. Your specific tasks might change over the course of the term, but if you make the commitment to log in regularly, you’ll equip yourself for success.

Expect the unexpected.

Be prepared for glitches and issues; that’s just the nature of technology. Have a back-up plan and keep copies of your work, even after you’ve submitted it. If your computer fails, you can use the computers at Stauffer Library. If you can’t get there, contact your professor to let them know about your problem.

Group work

Group work can be tricky in general, but even more so when you’re working online and can’t meet with your team in person. Since professors frequently set group assignments in online courses, try referring to the SASS guide to group work or using a helpful app (e.g., Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) to help you manage group work online. When using apps, make sure your entire group agrees to use whichever app you choose and that you all check regularly for updates to chat threads, comments on shared work, etc.

Discussion boards

The following was developed based on the suggestions and strategies in the University of Leicester’s resource for seminar and tutorial participation.

In an online course, you’ll often be asked to explain thoughts and communicate with others solely in writing. Many online courses make participation in a discussion board or forum mandatory. You may be asked to post regularly, comment on others’ ideas, or pose questions about course topics. If this is a requirement, make sure to read your syllabus carefully for your professor’s expectations about what you’ll need to contribute. Participating in fruitful discussions is also a great way to connect with classmates and teachers whom you may never have met in person.

To ensure you are getting the most out of the discussion board format, think of your responsibility as a 3-step process: preparation, discussion, and follow-up.

Preparation

Keep up with the required coursework (e.g., readings, weekly quizzes) so you’ll be able to understand, analyse, and meaningfully comment in the discussion. In advance of posting anything, try:

  • summarizing the main ideas from that week’s readings and video lectures in your own words. Use our guide to reading and notemaking for help.
  • brushing up on relevant topics from previous weeks when necessary.
  • keeping a list of topics that would make good discussion board posts or that relate to the week’s key themes: thoughts or questions you have; tricky or unsubstantiated issues; topics you found especially interesting or surprising.

Discussion

What to say

You may be nervous about engaging in public discussion, in person or online. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to show the professor you’re a great student, but that’s not what academic discussion is for: the idea of the discussion is to reflect on, challenge, or constructively add to others’ ideas. If you have a thought or a question about the material, someone else may share your ideas—and they’ll be grateful when you post them. Try the following strategies:

  • Reading the whole discussion before you add a comment. It’s much easier to join a conversation if you’ve been listening long enough to know what people are talking about and what’s been said.
  • Adding simple and constructive ideas to a complex discussion is okay. Generally, the best discussions don’t arrive at an answer immediately. They take time to explore different avenues first, so it’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers straight away.
  • Sharing responsibility with your classmates. Don’t dominate or avoid the discussion boards—find a balance between leading and standing aside for others.
  • Being positive and respectful of others’ opinions and interpretations of the material.

Adhering to the following strategies will ensure your posts remain on topic, insightful and appropriate:

Acknowledgement

Link your comments and posts to what others have said, to show you’re following and building on the discussion, not just interjecting with unconnected thoughts. Use names and short, direct quotes to make it clear to whom/what you’re referring.

Agreement

Agreeing with your classmates is a nice way to start. Try something like “I agree with Will that…” or “Will makes a good point about…” Having shown where you agree, develop the discussion by adding a new connection, a point of disagreement, or showing the idea in a new context. For example:

“Yes, I agree with Will that Said was taken out of context in that case. The same is true of another text we read…”

Observation

Adopting the observation strategy involves commenting on the state of the discussion as a whole, showing that you’re appreciative of all the efforts your fellow discussants are making and that you can take a broader view of the material. For example:

“We began by discussing Noonuccal, but now we’ve moved away from that…”
“It feels like our discussion of this week’s reading has highlighted some of the key course concepts. For example…”

Offer alternative views

It can be tricky to disagree with other students, but presenting a well-reasoned alternative viewpoint shows your engagement with the material. Don’t be afraid to disagree with someone, so long as you remain civil and explain your reasoning. Start by showing you understand the point that was being made, then explain why you disagree. The explanation is crucial: it will show you’re not just arguing, you’re engaging in critical thinking, which demonstrates real understanding of your course.

e.g., “You said that Vygotsky’s theories remain relevant for today’s teachers, but doesn’t that contradict with…”

Involvement

Outstanding students try to make new points, direct the conversation, and bring other people into the discussion. Explaining the logic behind why you are trying to shape the discussion will ensure that you’re not just cutting other students off, but trying to lead the discussion towards a new and interesting place.

e.g., “I think we need to look more closely at the impact of…because…” or “What Carmen said earlier about lateral violence was really interesting, since… Do you think that..?”

How to say it

Online communication has a reputation for bringing out the worst in people. The lack of face-to-face interaction can make you feel anonymous, granting permission to behave differently from how you would otherwise. That means it’s important to participate in online discussions with a professional tone—that means both what you say and how you say it.

Remember that a discussion board is an academic environment. You are being graded in part on how you interact and communicate your ideas. Remember that once you’ve pressed send on your comment, you can’t take it back. Spend time carefully thinking about content and tone before making your comments public. The following rules usually help:

  • You should always be respectful of your classmates, your professor, and the material you are working with.
  • Find out if your professor has suggested a code of conduct or posted a guide to communication. Follow it.
  • Try to remain objective and don’t get personal. Comment on course content, not the person expressing an opinion.
  • If you feel yourself getting upset, take a break to calm down before responding. Read over your post before submitting to make sure you’re saying what you mean to say.
  • Use the strategies in the table above to keep the discussion on track and defuse potential conflict before it escalates.

If you’re struggling with how to express your thoughts in online forums, book a Writing Centre appointment at SASS.

Follow-up work

Depending on the purpose of the discussion board communications, your understanding of the course material may be enhanced and/or you may wish to re-examine or extend your readings on a particular topic. Be sure to keep track of any connections, relationships, reinterpretations, problem solving methods, or analyses that require follow-up.

Finally, remember that in an academic environment, you are subject to academic integrity—even if it’s on a discussion board. You cannot use your classmate’s thoughts or words without proper citations. (See OWL Purdue’s citation style chart for an example of how to cite discussion board posts in APA.)

Where do I go from here?

All of SASS’s services are available to students taking online courses. Telephone appointments with writing consultants and learning strategists can be booked online, so you never need to feel like you’re alone.

The following resources are useful guides to some of the content discussed on this page:

Queen’s provides extensive support to both online and on-campus students. The following services may be of use:

Online courses might seem like a challenge, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while, you’re juggling lots of other commitments, or you’re unused to using online tools for communication and study. Try adopting some of the habits outlined in this guide to ensure you’re in top shape for the course and, as ever, if you have questions, just ask—the staff at SASS are a great first port of call!

Read More

Communicating with profs and TAs

This resource is also available as a PDF.

Contacting your professorMeet your professors during their office hoursWorking with TAsTroubleshootingEmail etiquetteGraduate students

Contacting your professor

  • Check your course syllabus for information about your professors’ office hours and email or phone preferences.
  • If possible, inform them in advance about the purpose of any meetings you request.
  • Identify yourself by name, course, and section.
  • Before requesting an extension on an assignment, check the syllabus for relevant information. For example, are marks deducted? When? How many? Are there exceptions?
  • Communicate clearly and concisely. Like you, professors are busy.
  • Be polite and formal in your interactions, unless you are invited to be informal.
  • Do not expect an immediate response to your request. Professors might not check emails at night or on weekends.
  • Respond promptly to their messages.

Meet your professors during their office hours

Professors want you to do well, enjoy their courses, and develop an interest in their fields of research.

They can:

  • clarify difficult content after you have read the notes or text, attended the lecture, or tried the homework.
  • encourage you when you may be feeling overwhelmed by the course.
  • explain assignments after you’ve tried to understand their purpose, format, or expectations.
  • stimulate your interest in a subject area. Your professors have research areas they are often deeply committed to. Ask them about their work, and see if you share their passion.
  • be a reference for a job, a graduate school application or a research proposal, if they know you first.
  • hire you for research help, which builds your practical experience.

Set a goal of speaking outside class with each of your professors at least once each term.

Working with TAs

Teaching (or lab) assistants (TAs) are usually graduate students who assist professors with specific tasks. In large classes, they are a connection between undergrads and professors.

  • Ask your TAs how they want to be addressed. Even though they may be close in age to you, they may prefer some professional distance.
  • Be polite when contacting TAs by email.
  • Understand their role: TAs may lead tutorials, mark papers or exams, or hold office hours to answer questions.
  • Ask for feedback on tests or assignments. Show your TA that you want to know how to improve (vs. criticize their grading).
  • Respect their wishes about how and when you may contact them.

Troubleshooting

  • Engage in the course: read your course syllabus for information on course objectives, topics, and key dates.
  • Ask questions and offer ideas in class, so the professor knows who you are.
  • Look for opportunities to talk with your professors outside of class, especially if you don’t speak in class.
  • Request feedback on how you are doing, and how to deepen your understanding or improve your grades.
  • Try to learn more about your professors: their research interests, other courses they teach, or their community involvement.
  • Attend talks or academic events at which your professors will be present.
  • Offer professors or TAs positive and constructive feedback on the courses you are taking with them.
  • Respect the professional boundary between professors and students.

For more on how to establish good communication and enjoy a productive working relationship with your supervisor, see this resource from the School of Graduate Studies.

Email etiquette

Correct options are in bold.

  1. Fill in the subject line with:
    • nothing
    • help
    • absent from MATH121 on Monday
  1. Start an email to an instructor with:
    • hey!
    • Hi Kim
    • Hello, Prof. Young
  1. Identify yourself, saying:
    • Nothing; they can read the email address.
    • I’m a student.
    • I’m in your MATH121 (Section B) course.
  1. State your request:
    • please send the homework solutions
    • I was sick and missed class. Any solutions handed out?
    • I was sick and missed class. I got notes from a friend, but I have a few questions. Can we please meet?
  1. Sign off with:
    • Greg
    • Greg Jones
    • Thanks for your time, Greg Jones (Student #15869923)

Graduate students

For information on how graduate students can establish good communication and enjoy productive working relationships with their graduate supervisors, see this resource from the School of Graduate Studies.

Read More

Course planning resources

Return to Time Management

Steps for Getting OrganizedHow to use homework timeCourse PlannerCourse Tracking SheetEnd of Term Planning ChartGrade CalculatorThe Study Plan

Steps for Getting Organized

  1. Use term calendars, weekly calendars, and daily to do lists. (Here are some helpful templates to get you started.)
    • If you need some flexibility, try not to pack your weekly calendar with too many activities. If you find that using calendars and to-do lists make you feel even more stressed, try looking at your life as a whole. Ask yourself: What are my values? What are my goals for the future? List your goals and then prioritize them. This might help you focus on what to do today and in the future.
  1. Don’t overbook. Schedule downtime every day. During downtime, you are not accountable to anyone or anything!
  2. Use a mind map. To see the whole picture first, draw a mind map. Mind maps are powerful visual tools for seeing the connections between a big concept and its associated detail. In other words, it allows you to see both the forest AND its trees! A bonus of mind-maps is that details can be easily added, deleted and moved around.
  3. Break down big projects.
    • Start by brainstorming.
    • Break the project down into steps, focusing on one step of a project at a time. Imagine putting on blinders like a racehorse so you can help yourself focus. You can do this by reorganizing and redrawing your mind map; writing the steps on sticky notes and rearrange until you have the right order; or using the Task Analysis chart.
    • Break steps into activities. You could then make a new map for each step.
    • Schedule activities: Use an agenda. Put sticky notes in an agenda and only take off the ones that are to be completed that day.
    • Complete project.
  4. Just do it. Sometimes just getting started on a task can help you feel better and will jump-start your motivation.

How to use homework time: Work smarter, not longer

It can be helpful to make a distinction between learning and studying.

Learning is focused on increasing your understanding of facts, concepts, processes and relationships (i.e., your understanding of the material).

Studying is designed to increase your recall of subject matter, through repetition of previously learned material.

The following ideas explain how to use homework time for effective learning, which will also result in less pressured studying.

Homework activities

1. Preview the lecture:

  • Before class, preview the lecture outline, web notes, lab objectives, or assigned problem set to begin to form a picture of what the class will be about.
  • Skim or read the assigned text. Read to get the BIG PICTURE, by reading the chapter introduction, summary, glossary and review questions. Then, return to the chapter beginning and read for more detail, or skim by reading the subtitles, first and last sentence of each paragraph. Be aware of material that is totally new and complex, and listen for that in the lecture.

2. Review your notes after the lecture:

  • Before sleeping that night, read over your notes from each class that day; this facilitates establishing a strong memory trace – which is very helpful when it comes time for studying! This might take 10-15 minutes for a single lecture.
  • Fill in gaps in your notes, add titles, and identify what you do not understand.
  • Summarize each lecture (don’t just copy it over verbatim) to use as study notes.

3. Complete assignments:

  • Keep up to date with assignments, aiming to finish 1 day ahead of due date to allow for human or technical malfunction!
  • Read in detail if you need further clarification, if the course is based on the text, your prof.expects you to, or you have time and enjoy the topic.

4. Do a weekly review:

  • Schedule a block of time for regular review of your summarized lectures or readings notes, concepts in key problems or labs, made over the past week. This might take 20-30 minutes per course.
  • Pay attention to what you do not know, and set a goal of figuring it out over the next week.

How much is “enough” homework time?

(Psst! Did you know there are 168 hours in every week?)

Time estimates vary according to course content, academic goals, other responsibilities and commitments, but…

  • A minimum is typically 1 hour of homework for every hour of undergraduate Arts.
  • Often, 2-4 hours of homework for every hour of lecture is needed for preview, review, and either keeping up with labs and assignments, or reading in the humanities or social sciences.
  • Lab and applied science courses are harder to predict, so track your own patterns and estimate based on that. Remember to include preview and review.

Consider school your full-time job

  • 15 lecture hours + 15 homework hours = 30 hours/week
    15 hours of class + 30 hours homework = 45 hours/week
  • Most full-time jobs range from 30 to 45 hours per week! Celebrate the flexibility of your working hours!

Course Planner

Download Course Planner Template

Course:                                                               

Assignment
(Labs, essays, exams, tests, seminars, projects, etc.)
Value Due Date Grade
 .
Midterm exam
Final exam
Participation

Instructions:

  1. Make one copy for each course and place in the front of each binder.
  2. Review the course syllabus and record all assignments, exams, etc. on your planner.
  3. Record the value of each item and the due date.
  4. Transfer due dates to monthly wall calendar.
  5. As tasks are completed during the term, enter the grade received.
  6. Prior to the final exam, calculate grade achieved thus far.
  7. Assess what your grade will need to be to maintain or improve your grade.


Course Tracking Sheet

Download Course Tracking Sheet Template

Use this to set goals, record your progress, and make decisions about allocating or re-distributing time among your courses. Do you need to shift amount of time you spend on each course, to meet your goals? How many marks do you need on final exam or paper to achieve your goal?

Course Grade  Goal Accomplishments (record as weighted value or % if assignments & tests are of almost equal value)
 .

End of Term Planning Chart to complete assignments

Download End of Term Planning Chart Template

Behind in the work? Aiming to finish your term work by the last day of class? Looking for a plan?

Instructions

  1. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish and enter these things on your Term Calendar. Break large projects into smaller chunks, so they feel more See the Assignment Calculator for research papers.
  2. Create an End of Term Planning Chart and include 7 columns:
    • Course, task or assignment, % value if relevant, due date if
    • Then add: estimate of time needed to do the task, leave a column to record the actual time taken, and finally, a column for “DONE.”
  3. Look at your Weekly Schedule to see when you have homework time available, and slot in hours for your different tasks or Separate your “keep up with regular work” from your “catch-up” time. It is often helpful to make a schedule for each week, by copying the basic template of classes, other commitments, health habits (eating, sleeping, exercise), and filling in the rest based on your immediate priorities.

NOTE: If you estimate you need more time to do your tasks than is actually available, you will need to re-adjust your estimate.  Can you take time from one project and re-assign it to another to better reach your goals? Or can you accept using less time than you would like on something?

You can’t make more time, so you will need to fit your work into the time available.

 Example:

Course Task % Value Due Date Estimated Time
to Complete
Actual time Done!
CRSS 335 Chapter 5 (30 pages) Nov. 15 10 hrs 2+1.5+ 2+

3+3 (11.5)

x
PHIL 202 20 page essay

  • confirm topic
  • make research plan
  • research, make notes
  • outline
  • messy draft
  • edit, rework
  • visit the Writing Centre
30% Nov. 22

  • Nov. 7
  • Nov. 8
  • Nov. 11 
  • Nov. 15
  • Nov. 18 Nov.19 Nov. 20
3 or 4 days

  • 1 hr
  • 1.5 hrs
  • 10 hrs
  • 3 hrs
  • 8 hrs
  • 2 hrs
  • 1 hr
 

 

 

 

End-of-Term Planning Chart

Course Task % Value Due Date Estimated Time
to Complete
Actual time Done
 .

Grade Calculator

Not sure how your marks are adding up? Download the grade calculator, an Excel spreadsheet, to help you keep track of your grades.

Download the Grade Calculator

The Study Plan

Download The Study Plan Template

Why should I start studying early?

Did you know that the human brain learns academic material faster and better if done in brief blocks of time spread over longer periods, rather than in a few lengthy sessions?

For example, you will perform better on an exam if you spend one hour studying each day for 20 days than if you spend 10 hours studying for two days before an exam. Which means that cramming is BAD NEWS!

What if I have to cram?

Ok, so sometimes life gets crazy and we end up having to cram, right? If you have to cram, try to focus on remembering the information you know already rather than trying to learn new information. And here’s the kicker: you will typically NOT remember what you tried to learn the night before the exam, so it’s best to make sure you really know some of the information well. If you do have a few days, try to spread the studying out so you are not doing it all in one day.

How should I plan my exam preparation?

If you plan ahead, many students have found the “The Study Plan” gets good results. However, five days is really the minimal and we recommend a much longer study plan, if possible. For example, if you have not read any of your BIOL 101 textbook and a multiple choice quiz of over 100 test questions is looming, 5 days will probably not suffice.

Components of The Study Plan:

  • Space out your learning over a minimum of 5 days.
  • Divide your material into workable “chunks,” (e.g., a chapter, a set of lecture notes).
  • During each day, prepare a new chunk. Preparing might be reading and note-taking, amalgamating lecture and textbook information, reorganizing lecture notes.
  • Review previous material.
  • Use active learning strategies such as questioning, reciting, cue cards, study groups, etc.
  • Use self-testing techniques to monitor your learning.

How much time should I set aside to study?

You might need a minimum of 8-10 hours of studying to get a good mark on an exam. However, the time you need to spend really depends on many things such as:

  • the difficulty of the course
  • to what extent you have kept up with the materials during the term
  • how important this exam is to you

How to make a Study Plan

  1. Break your material into chunks. If it can be divided by chapter, article, theme or topic, then use that. If not, divide the material in a way that is manageable to you. For example, if one chapter is very long and/or complex, break that chapter into sections.
  2. Plan to spend 2.5-3 hours studying on each of the five (or more) days.
  3. Each day, begin by reviewing the previous day’s work, focusing on what you did not know on the self-test, and then preparing a new section. End with a self-test.

Example time frame:

Date What to do What to study Length of time
Day 1 Prepare
Self-test
1st section/chunk
(e.g., a chapter)
2 hours
20 minutes
Day 2 Review
Prepare Self-test
1st section
2nd section
20 minutes
2 hours
20 minutes
Day 3 Review
Review
Prepare Self-test
1st section
2nd section
3rd section
10 minutes
20 minutes
2 hours
20 minutes
Day 4 Review
Review
Review
Prepare
Self-test
1st section
2nd section
3rd section
4th section
5 minutes
10 minutes
20 minutes
2 hours
20 minutes
Day 5 Review
Review
Review
Review
Self-test
1st section
2nd section
3rd section
4th section
5 minutes
5 minutes
10 minutes
20 minutes
2 hours

You may need to extend the preparation time depending on the information and to match your own learning pace. However, studying for more than 3-4 hours at one session is not as helpful as several shorter ones.

Also, don’t forget to take short breaks throughout!

Read More

Academic integrity

Download a PDF of this resource here.

There are a lot of reasons to attend university, but one of the most important is the opportunity to further your own academic and personal growth. Queen’s University is committed to the “dissemination and advancement of knowledge, personal and professional development, and good citizenship” in its scholarly community (Queen’s Code of Conduct, p. 3).

In this module, you’ll find information about

  • what “academic integrity” means,
  • why it matters,
  • what counts as academic dishonesty, and
  • how we can help you maintain your academic integrity while you’re at Queen’s.

What is academic integrity?Why does it matter?Violations of Academic IntegrityHow SASS Can HelpAdditional InformationFAQ

What is academic integrity?

Academic Integrity means the practice of honest and responsible scholarship. It’s a key part of everything we do at university.

Academic Integrity consists of the “fundamental values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility,” which are “central to the building, nurturing, and sustaining of an academic community” (see the Centre for Academic Integrity).

It is your responsibility to adhere to the principles of academic integrity.

You probably have questions. Maybe you’ve heard of “plagiarism,” but aren’t sure exactly what it means. And then–how do you avoid committing it? Is plagiarism the only way you can violate academic integrity? And why does it all matter so much, anyway?

NEXT: Why does academic integrity matter?

For more information on policies and procedures specific to your faculty or school, click here.

Why does it matter?

Academic integrity matters because it’s what makes your degree worth something. Studying at Queen’s means you are part of a scholarly community, one in which all members (students and faculty alike) are held in mutual respect. Academic Integrity also supports the reputation of Queen’s University; universities, and the degrees they confer, are only as strong as their reputations.

Violating academic integrity can have serious consequences, from failing a course to being expelled from Queen’s. Keep the big picture in mind: you’re paying a lot of money for the opportunity to learn and develop your knowledge and yourself.

Cheating affects those around you, but, most of all, it affects you–ultimately, you are cheating yourself.

Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Pennsylvania State University, outlines some of the consequences of cheating in a blog post on the Teaching Professor Blog. Paraphrased from that blog post, here are six reasons not to cheat:

(1) Knowledge is cumulative.
  • What you learn later will draw on what you’re learning now. Cheating now means you’ll have to do twice the work later to catch up.
(2) Train your brain.
  • When you cheat, you don’t learn. You won’t develop your writing, critical thinking, and problem solving. These critically important skills are ones that employers will assume you have upon graduation.
(3) Once a cheater…
  • Research shows that cheating is almost never a one-time thing. In fact, you might get used to cheating and do it after you leave Queen’s (e.g., at work, on your taxes, with unethical business practices, in your personal life).
(4) It’s about integrity.
  • It doesn’t feel good when people are dishonest with you. Think about the kind of person you want to be: it probably isn’t someone who cheats.
(5) You’ve got this.
  • You can achieve your goals without cheating! Successful university students are those who adopt positive and tested approaches to studying, not necessarily those with the most innate intelligence. There are resources on campus (like SASS) that can help.
(6) Pride and self-respect from your grades.
  • You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and receive a self-respect boost from grades you’ve earned honestly.

Academic integrity is a principle that will follow you beyond any one class to graduation and into the workforce. Here’s a powerful example of how cheating can haunt you from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Learning Module 1, pg. 3):

“[I]n 2013, Chris Spence was forced to resign as the director of education for the Toronto District School Board after he was caught plagiarizing parts of several opinion-editorial articles published in a Toronto newspaper.

Subsequently, he was also found to have plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis which was completed in 1996. While no decision has been made yet regarding this allegation, Spence risks having his degree revoked. He now must work to restore his reputation in order to find new work. Academic misconduct is a serious offence which may affect not only your university career, but also your professional career.

NEXT: Examples of violations of academic integrity.

Violations of Academic Integrity

According to the Senate policy on academic integrity, the specific violations of academic integrity are: plagiarism, use of unauthorized materials, facilitation, falsification, and forgery.

Plagiarism


What is plagiarism?

  • using someone else’s ideas or phrasing without proper acknowledgement
  • intentionally or inadvertently, representing some or all of another author’s ideas as your own

For example, it’s plagiarism if you:

  • copy and paste from the internet, a printed source, or other source and fail to provide appropriate acknowledgement
  • copy from another student
  • use direct quotations or paraphrased material in an assignment without appropriate acknowledgement
  • paraphrase so closely that most of the phrasing resembles that of the original source
  • submit the same piece of work in more than one course without the permission of the instructor(s).

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Many students struggle with academic integrity simply because they do not understand what scholarship means: a key factor is community. Becoming part of a community of scholars means that you are joining an ongoing discussion. Counter to many students’ expectations, it is not necessary, especially at the undergraduate level, to create new knowledge in every assignment. Instead, students are expected to build on and refer to established knowledge. Many students are tempted to cheat because, fundamentally, they don’t understand the expectations: “the more [citations you] have, the smarter [you] look!” (Prior, 2001).

Think of it this way:

It’s not that you have to cite sources, it’s that you get to cite them.

You can avoid plagiarism if you:

For more on how to avoid plagiarism in your writing assignments, see our handout on Avoiding Plagiarism.

For students with English as an Additional Language: Many EAL students struggle to meet their instructors’ expectations for academic writing when they are learning not only the subject matter, but also the English language. it isn’t always clear how to write in your own words. See here for more information on academic integrity, plagiarism, and instructors’ expectations.

Use of Unauthorized Materials


What does it mean to use unauthorized materials? 

  • possessing or using unauthorized study materials or aids during a test,
  • copying from another student’s test paper,
  • using an unauthorized calculator or other aids during a test,
  • removing materials from the library without authorization, or
  • deliberately concealing library materials.

This is the “classic” form of cheating that you have probably seen in movies or in stock photography. Leaning over to copy an answer from another student’s paper, writing the formulae on your arm, using your phone to look something up, smuggling notes into an exam–these are all considered violations of academic integrity.

You can avoid use of unauthorized materials if you:

Facilitation



What is facilitation?

Facilitation refers to deliberately enabling another person’s breach of academic integrity. For example,

  • knowingly allowing your essay or assignment to be copied by someone else,
  • buying term papers or assignments and submitting them as your own, or
  • selling term papers or assignments.

Buying and selling academic work are more explicit examples of facilitation, ones that most students would identify as breaches of academic integrity. However, allowing a friend to copy your assignment (in whole or in part) is also cheating. If either of you is caught, you could both face consequences.

You can avoid facilitation if you:

Inappropriate Collaboration

Is it all right to work together on an assignment? Never guess or assume, no matter what “everyone else” is doing–ask your professor to be sure!

“Collaboration” includes group work (e.g., on a lab or assignment), jointly working on homework problems, having a friend help you rewrite a paper–even checking homework answers prior to submission. In all these cases, it is your responsibility to ensure that the work you submit is the result of your own effort–if the work has your name on it, you are responsible for all of it.

So when is it not okay to collaborate? If “two or more students submit identical or nearly identical work, claiming it is their own,” it’s inappropriate–and it’s cheating. More broadly, it’s cheating if students “work together or share information without specific instructions [to do so] by the professor“–on any assignment or task that will be submitted for marks!

For more information, see “Collaborating with Integrity.

Falsification



What is falsification?

You commit an act of falsification when you misrepresent yourself, your work, or your relationship to Queen’s. For example, you cheat by falsification if you:

  • create or alter a transcript or other official document,
  • impersonate someone in an exam or test, or
  • falsify or fabricate research data.

While most students violate academic integrity inadvertently, it is difficult to commit falsification by accident. This category of academic dishonesty takes purposeful effort.

You can avoid falsification if you:

  • just don’t do it! There’s always another way.
  • plan ahead (see time management in grad school, goal setting, planning your assignments, and prioritizing your time)
  • keep lines of communication open with your professor or supervisor and disscuss challenges.

Forgery



What is forgery?

Forgery is falsification taken to the extreme: it is not the altering of official documents, but the submission of documents which are entirely fraudulent (e.g., medical notes, transcripts, etc.).

It is extremely unlikely that you could commit forgery by accident; just as with falsification, this category of academic dishonesty takes purposeful effort. Forgery is a transparently deliberate act of cheating.

You can avoid forgery if you:

  • just don’t do it! There’s always another way.
  • plan ahead (see time management in grad school, goal setting, planning your assignments, and prioritizing your time)
  • keep lines of communication open with your professor or supervisor and disscuss challenges.

NEXT: How SASS can help you avoid violations of academic integrity

How SASS Can Help

It can be challenging to maintain your GPA, balance the demands of a full course load, keep up with coursework, submit assignments on time, and still have time to manage the rest of your life.

We get it. Student Academic Success Services is here to help make sure that students have the skills in place to avoid violations of academic integrity. In fact, two of the most common reasons why students violate academic integrity are poor time management and lack of knowledge, both of which can be overcome with a little effort. You can do it and we can help!

We offer a variety of resources, from workshops to online resources to one-on-one consultations.

Academic Integrity Workshops

Throughout the term, SASS offers workshops on issues related to the effective practice of academic integrity. For example, we have workshops on

  • effective time management that can help you avoid time-crunches that might tempt you to cut corners;
  • note-taking skills that can help to ensure that you’ve accurately recorded source material and the sources from which you’ve borrowed;
  • the practice of academic integrity in student writing.

SASS Handouts and Resources

Looking for resources online you can read right now? We have

1:1 Writing & Learning Consultations

Our staff of professional writing consultants and learning strategists can help you learn to

  • integrate sources into your work
  • properly paraphrase, quote, and use citations
  • manage your time to avoid the temptation to take short cuts
  • and more!

Book an appointment online to find out how we can support your writing and learning.

NEXT: Additional sources of information and frequently asked questions about academic integrity

Additional Sources of Information

There are number of useful resources from other post-secondary institutions that address academic integrity. The following resources can help you further develop your understanding of and adherence to the principles of academic integrity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Students often have specific questions about what is considered an academic integrity issue and what is not. Some of these questions are below (adapted from the Academic Integrity @ Queen’s website):

Is it true that if I paraphrase or slightly alter the wording from a source, I do not have to give credit?

This is not true. If you take anyone’s ideas or words and present them as your own argument or use them to support your argument, you must give appropriate credit. If you are unsure how to do so, click here for citation resources or ask your instructor for help.

Is it true that as long as I provide a citation when I copy something, I am not plagiarizing?

Providing a citation is a good start, but you must add quotation marks if you are copying someone’s idea word for word.

Am I allowed to re-submit previous assignments since I own them?

Although this may seem logical, it is prohibited and an example of “self-plagiarism.” If you truly feel that your previous work is related to your current assignment or project, talk to your instructor(s) to see if it can be re-submitted or revised for an alternate submission.

Since my instructor did not ask for my sources, do I need to include any?

Just because your instructor did not ask for them, it is not a legitimate excuse to avoid giving proper credit. You may still be found to have committed plagiarism if you don’t. Further, it is good practice to include your sources in order to acknowledge where your ideas come from.

Is it okay if I forgot or didn’t know that I was plagiarizing/breaching other aspects of academic integrity?

It is your responsibility to understand what conduct is not permitted at the University. “Not knowing” is not an excuse, so you should familiarize yourself with the forms of academic dishonesty and school policies, or ask your instructor if you are still unclear.

Is sharing information with friends on an assignment all right?

There is a distinction between inappropriate collaboration and ethical group work.  If the work is meant to be independent, you are breaching academic integrity by discussing answers with others. If your instructor does not address the issue, it is your responsibility to find out, rather than assume that it is collaborative group work.

Is it true that submitting papers that I buy online is not plagiarizing, since they are available? 

This is definitely not true. The act of purchasing a paper to submit is cheating.

Will I be at a disadvantage if everyone cheats except for me?

If others are earning their marks and even degrees by cheating their way through, it won’t be long before they get caught. Furthermore, they will not develop the necessary skills for life and work after university. Holding yourself to high standards of academic integrity in learning will pay off in the future and make you proud of a degree that you worked hard to get.

Have a question about academic integrity? Email us! Or book a 1:1 appointment with a learning strategist or a professional writing consultant.

Read More

Appointments

Students with a Queen’s net ID, student number, and Queen’s email may book appointments for help with academic skills, writing, and English language skills. All appointments are confidential and free for incoming and current Queen’s University students.

All appointments are booked through our online booking system.

Academic skills appointmentsWriting appointmentsEAL appointmentsPeer writing appointmentsOnline appointmentsHow to book appointmentsFAQs about WCOnlineAppointment policies

Academic skills appointments

For graduate and undergraduate students.

  • Want to stay on top of your academic game?
  • Behind in your readings?
  • Feeling disorganized or unmotivated?
  • Trouble writing exams?

two people sitting at a table for an appointment

Meeting with a learning strategies advisor can help you improve your performance and confidence. We welcome all Queen’s students, regardless of year, program, or academic standing. Our team of learning strategies advisors can help by coaching and encouraging you in different strategies, skills, and mindsets for learning.

Appointments are about 50 minutes long, and are free and confidential. No information will be shared unless the student gives specific permission to do so. Referrals are not required.

Before your first appointment, consider…

  • For you to feel more satisfied with your school performance or experience, what would need to change? Are there academic skills to improve? Personal habits to modify? Attitudes to re-evaluate?
  • What went well last term or year?
  • What academic (or personal) habits or skills held you back from being your best?
  • Have you run into these issues before? What helped?
  • Is there feedback from your profs that you need to address?

At your first appointment, you are encouraged to bring…

  • a completed study skills and habits questionnaire
  • relevant materials, e.g., a text for help with reading, or class timetable for help designing a weekly homework or research schedule, or notes to practice summarizing methods
  • an experimental frame of mind, as finding a better approach involves trying new ideas or methods

Wait time for a learning strategies advising appointment may be 1-3 weeks, or longer during midterm and final exams.

To maximize your opportunity to meet with a learning strategies advisor and allow you time to practice new strategies, students are welcome to book up to one appointment per week and two per month with the same advisor. In exceptional circumstances, the advisor may adjust this policy.

Writing appointments

A writing consultant and a student pour over an essay draft

Undergraduate and graduate students of all faculties and levels of academic achievement and writing proficiency at Queen’s University use SASS’s popular writing service. These free, confidential appointments are specific to individual student needs, but commonly include topics such as

  • understanding an assignment
  • brainstorming ideas
  • developing an argument or thesis statement
  • organizing main points
  • revising a draft
  • improving grammar and style
  • integrating research

Please use our online booking system to book a 25- or 50-minute appointment with a writing consultant (click here to book an online appointment).  If you have questions about the online booking system, please see our FAQ tab.

If possible, book early–our appointments are popular!

Please click here for important information about writing appointment policies.

Having trouble getting an appointment? If you are a first- or second-year student seeking help with an assignment, you can sign up for an evening appointment with a Peer Writing Assistant (see Peer writing appointment tab). 

Frequently asked questions

How far in advance should I book my appointment?

Book appointments early—if possible, well before your assignment is due. We recommend that you book an appointment as soon as you know your assignment’s deadline. Please note that you may only have one appointment per week; students who would like a second appointment in a given week can make that request and will be contacted about a second appointment only after those on the waiting list have been accommodated.

How do appointments work?

You will have a private appointment with one of our trained staff, who will ask you questions about your assignment and offer suggestions specific to your concerns. The session may involve working through an entire draft or only selected parts of it. Our consultants work with students at any stage of the writing process – understanding the assignment, brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and revising. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your appointment:

  • Consider in advance how you would like us to help you. Are there specific parts of a draft, or specific skills, you want to focus on? Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • Be prepared to collaborate. Rather than “fixing” your paper for you, our consultants help you develop your skills within the context of working through your assignment. Come prepared with questions, ideas, and your learning goals.

When should I book a 50-minute appointment? When should I book a 25-minute appointment?

Appointments of any length are subject to availability, but, generally speaking, 50-minute appointments are more suitable for longer papers and more complex issues (generating an argument, overall coherence, organizing the paper, etc.), while 25-minute appointments are more suitable for short questions, clarifying your purpose, grammar issues, short brainstorming sessions, and follow-up sessions. Note career document appointments (cover letters, personal statements, professional school applications, etc.) can only be booked for 25-minute sessions, no exceptions.

What kinds of writing can you help me with?

We work with all kinds of academic writing—labs, essays, dissertations, reports, and more. You are also entitled to one session per academic year to work on a cover letter, personal statement, or other application document. Please note that consultants will not work with take-home exams, including graduate comprehensive exams, no exceptions.

What should I bring to my appointment?

  • The assignment instructions. A course syllabus can also be helpful.
  • A double-spaced, printed hard copy of your draft, if you have one (it’s okay if you do not yet have a draft). Our consultants do not work on laptops.
  • Questions you would like to ask the consultant or issues you would like addressed during the session.

Will you proofread my essay?

We cannot proofread for you. That would make us better editors, but it would not help you become a better writer. We can, however, help you become a better proofreader of your own writing.

How many appointments can I have?

Anyone registered at Queen’s is entitled to 6 appointments per academic year (please note that there is a limit of one appointment per week, per student). Appointments may be 25- or 50-minutes long, depending on the particular writing issue, subject to availability.  First-year students may also use the 25-minute drop-in sessions offered by our Peer Writing Assistants (these appointments will not count towards your 6 appointment limit). Appeals for additional sessions can be addressed to the Director, Susan Korba (korbas@queensu.ca).

What if I need to cancel an appointment?

We require at least 6 hours’ notice of cancellation; many students are on our wait list and we can fill your place if we have enough time. Students who do not give us at least 6 hours’ notice of a cancellation may not be entitled to further sessions and will have a $25 charge placed on their Queen’s account. See our appointment policies tab for more information.

When are appointments available?

During the Fall and Winter terms, appointments are available throughout the day, some evenings, and some Saturday mornings (please note that fewer appointments are offered during the first few weeks of the Fall term, during Study Weeks and Reading Week, and throughout the Spring and Summer terms). Evening appointments are also available with Peer Writing Assistants most evenings during the week.

Do only struggling writers use this service?

No. Even accomplished writers find writing difficult at times. At SASS, we see writers of every level of proficiency. Everyone can benefit from having someone read through a draft and offer suggestions for improvement. As Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

For more important information, please review the appointment policies tab.

EAL appointments

ESL Poster on Door

At SASS, we want English as an Additional Language (EAL) and international students to be able to communicate fluently and confidently while studying at Queen’s University. Our EAL programs feature one-to-one personalized consultations focusing on writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills. For example, multilingual students can book one of the popular P&P consultations (Pronunciation and Presentation Skills) to get feedback on pronunciation issues and/or practice for an upcoming oral presentation. We also offer workshops, EAL resources, and access to computer softwareInspiration and Kurzweil 3000—through the Academic Skills Lab so that students can work independently on writing and reading skills, which can improve overall fluency.

Book an introductory consultation

Multilingual students who would like language skills support should begin by booking an introductory consultation with the EAL Program Coordinator.

Request an introductory appointment

Please note that EAL students who want help with writing assignments can book writing appointments in our core writing program.

For more information, please visit the EAL Support Page.

Peer writing appointments

If you are a first- or second-year student and would like some writing assistance, you might like an appointment with a Peer Writing Assistant.

What is a Peer Writing Assistant?

SASs’s Peer Writing Assistants (PWAs) are upper-year and graduate student volunteers who are committed to helping other students develop their writing skills and confidence.

What do PWAs do?

PWAs are trained to work on-on-one with students taking first- and second-year courses; they help with clarifying the terms of the assignment, brainstorming, pre-writing and structuring, providing feedback, and directing students to the resources they need to produce good papers. For many students, this service makes a significant difference in their academic performance and confidence.

Sessions are 25 minutes long and are based on a collaboration between the PWA and the student seeking assistance—i.e., PWAs do not proofread or make writing decisions for the students they help. Instead, they help students develop their own skills in writing, editing, and critical thinking, in the context of working on a particular assignment.

When are PWA appointments available?

PWA sessions take place Monday-Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. from mid-September to the end of November and from mid-January to the end of March. Please book early; these appointments are popular.

If you are booking with a PWA, please note:

  • students may sign up for only one appointment per evening and a maximum of two appointments per week
  • these appointments are for first- and second-year course assignments only
  • for in person appointments, please bring your work in hard copy; our PWAs do not work on laptops
  • PWAs will not help with take-home exams

How to book an online appointment

Please use our online booking system to book an online appointment with a writing consultant or learning strategist. If you have questions about the online booking system, please see our FAQ tab.

When you book an appointment, please indicate whether you would like to meet in person or online by selecting a choice from the drop-down menu on the booking form.

If possible, book early—our appointments are popular!

How to prepare for an online appointment

To begin your online session, click on your appointment slot and enter the link “Start or Join Online Consultation.” When you click on that link, you will be redirected to the virtual space that includes a shared whiteboard, a text chat box, and video chat windows. You have access to the virtual space as soon as you make the appointment.

We encourage you to go in before your appointment time to ensure that the connections and functions are all working properly for you. Online consultations are best facilitated through a Chrome browser.

If you have any technical problem, please let us know via email.

How to book appointments

Students can book an appointment at any time using our online booking system. You must register before you can make an appointment. Once in WCOnline,

  • select a date, timeslot, and a consultant. Available appointment timeslots are WHITE. (RED indicates a timeslot is already taken, and BLACK indicates that appointments are not available during that time. A GREY timeslot indicates an appointment that has already occurred.)
  • all appointments begin on the hour or on the half-hour. For example, if you want to sign up for a 25-minute appointment at 10 a.m., reserve the time between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
  • click on an open (white) appointment time to open the Reservation Window.
  • when the Reservation Window opens, you must complete the required information in order to continue. We ask this information to ensure you receive the best possible consultation. This information is considered private and is accessible only to relevant SASS staff.
  • after completing the form in the Reservation Window, click “Save” to finish. Your appointment will now appear on the schedule in red, and you will receive a reminder email with the date and time.

We look forward to seeing you here! If you have any questions, you can email academic.success@queensu.ca, call 613-533-6315 or visit the Student Academic Success Services reception desk on the main floor of Stauffer Library between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday (note that our front desk is usually closed for lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m).

Frequently asked questions about WCOnline

How do I cancel an appointment?

If you must cancel your appointment, here’s what you should do

  • Ensure that you are cancelling 6 hours in advance of the appointment, in accordance with our cancellation policy (this policy does not apply to peer writing appointments).
  • Log into the SASS appointment booking system.
  • Locate your appointment on the schedule.
  • Select your appointment to open the reservation window.
  • In the reservation window, scroll to the bottom and locate the checkbox labelled “Cancel this Appointment.”
  • Click the “modify” button. Your appointment is now cancelled. You may also call the front desk 6 hours in advance to cancel an appointment (leave a Voicemail message if your call is not answered; phone messages are date and time-stamped, so you will not be charged if you have called 6 hours in advance of the appointment).

Failing to provide 6 hours’ notice when cancelling appointments will result in a $25 fine levied against your Queen’s account (this policy does not apply to peer writing appointments). Note that students who “no-show” (fail to cancel appointments with 6 hours’ notice and do not show up for the appointment) are not entitled to further appointments until the fine has been paid.

I want to make my first appointment but I can't log in.

If you are making an appointment for the first time, you have to register with the system before it allows you to make an actual appointment. Please register using the link to the SASS appointment booking system. After completing the registration form, you will be ready to make appointments. You will not need to register again.

I'm having trouble navigating WCOnline.

The main page of WCOnline is the Main Schedule, and you will automatically be brought to it when you log in. If you navigate away from the Main Schedule, you can select “View Schedule” from the main menu drop-down (hover over your name in the upper left-hand corner). When using WCOnline, it is important to use the menu and pop-up windows. Using the “back” option in your browser does not always help. It can sometimes cause the browser to require a manual refresh (the browser will prompt you to do so if this occurs).

WCOnline uses pop-up windows. If your computer uses a pop-up blocker, please allow WCOnline to use pop-ups. You will not be able to make appointments without them.

Sometimes the pop-up windows can “hide” behind the main window, so if a pop-up window is not showing and you have not disabled pop-ups, try minimizing the main window—the pop-up is probably behind it.

My account won't let me reserve appointments.

If you have missed an appointment that you did not cancel with sufficient notice, and you have not yet paid the fine, your account has been disabled and you will not be able to make online appointments. OR you have already met the appointment limit for the day, week or academic year. Please contact the front desk at 613-533-6315 if you want to speak to the Director about securing additional appointments.

The reservation window isn't appearing.

The reservation window is a pop-up. Be sure you have pop-up windows enabled for WCOnline. On a rare occasion, it may open behind your current window. In that case, simply minimize the browser and it should be open behind it.

I want to change my password.

You can change your password through the main menu. On a laptop or computer, hover over “Welcome” with the cursor on the upper left portion of the screen, and a drop-down menu will appear. On a smartphone or tablet, you will need to tap or touch the “Welcome” message. Select “Update Profile and Password” and follow the instructions on that page. Please note that changing your password is only possible if you have filled out all the required information! WCOnline will not save your password if you do not have all required responses (fields marked with * are required).

I forgot my password.

If you don’t remember your password, all you have to do is reset it from the login page. Simply click the prompt towards the bottom of the page and a new password will be emailed to your account. The new password will be case sensitive, so it’s best to copy and paste the new password into the system rather than trying to retype it. Once you are back in the system, follow the steps above for “I want to change my password.”

I need a text-only version.

You can access a text-only version of our online scheduling service from the login page. Below the login information and password reset link, there is a link to the text-only scheduler. Simply click that link, and continue into the WCOnline scheduler.

Appointment policies

How many appointments can I have?

We at SASS want students to succeed and feel supported. We therefore do our best to accommodate as many students as we can in our appointment schedule. Availability of appointments depends on the type of appointment (see below) and, to some extent, on demand; some times of year are much busier than others. (You may book appointments weeks in advance to secure your preferred dates and times.)

  • Students are entitled to six writing appointments during the fall/winter school year.  Appeals for additional sessions can be addressed to the Director of SASS. Students may book up to six additional appointments in the spring/summer term. Because of high demand for appointments, students are limited to one writing appointment per week.
  • Generally, students meet with their academic skills specialist about once every two weeks. In times of high demand, this frequency may be reduced; under some circumstances, this frequency may be increased. There is no other limit on the total number of academic skills appointments students may have.
  • Students may have a maximum of one EAL appointment per week. The frequency of EAL appointments is determined during and after the introductory meeting by the EAL coordinator and the student.
  • Students seeking help with writing assignments in first- or second-year courses may book up to two Peer Writing Assistant appointments per week.

What if I need to cancel my appointment?

  • First, be aware that students who have booked writing appointments can benefit from them even if they don’t have a draft to work on. Writing consultants work with students at every stage of the writing process.
  • If you need to cancel your SASS appointment, please do so 6 hours in advance, online or by phone. Failure to give the required notice or to appear for a scheduled appointment will be considered a “no show” and result in a $25 charge added to your Queen’s account.
  • Any student who arrives more than 10 minutes late may forfeit that appointment.
  • Any student who fails to either attend or cancel an appointment may not be entitled to further services at SASS. In the case of writing appointments, “no-shows” will be counted as one of a student’s six allotted appointments.
  • A student may not transfer an appointment to another student or send a proxy to attend an appointment on their behalf. Any student who violates this policy will no longer be allowed to use the service.
  • Appeals due to extenuating circumstances should be directed to the director.

Can you help me with take-home exams?

  • Take-home examinations cannot be the subject of any SASS consultation (this includes graduate comprehensive exams).
  • Students who know they will be writing a take-home exam are encouraged to prepare in advance by booking appointments to work on their general writing and exam prep / taking skills, attending workshops and reviewing our online resources.

Can you help with course content / comment on a mark I got on an assignment?

  • SASS staff do not appraise comments and/or the grade on a marked paper, nor do they advocate on behalf of students. We adhere to a strict policy of non-interference in regard to student-instructor relations.
  • SASS staff cannot fulfill the duties of a teaching assistant. Questions about course content, including questions about citation format, should be directed to your instructor or TA.
  • Although some members of our staff teach or act as TAs or markers for various Queen’s courses, appointments may not be used for students to meet with their instructor or TA.

Appointments with professional writing consultants / Peer Writing Assistants

  • We want to help you as much as possible, but we cannot be very helpful if you visit us the day your assignment is due. Leave enough time (several days) to revise your work after your appointment.
  • You are welcome to book appointments weeks in advance, to help you plan your writing. The earlier you start on your writing, the better quality it will be.
  • Our writing consultations are not intended to be used for editing or proofreading your paper. Although our staff will point out patterns of grammatical or stylistic weakness and explain how to identify and fix them, they mainly concentrate on structure, strength and clarity of argument, integration of sources, and writing process strategies, leaving it up to you to apply them. The responsibility for making any changes to your work rests with you.
  • For in-person appointments, please bring a hard copy of your work. In-person appointments will not be conducted on laptops.
  • Students may use one writing appointment only to seek help with a job search document or other application (personal statement, cover letter, graduate or professional program application, etc.).  These appointments are intended to help the student clarify and reorganize the document and do not involve editing or proofreading.  The final document is the student’s own responsibility and should reflect the student’s own voice and skill level.

Online appointments

  • Students must have a viable internet connection for online appointments.
  • We encourage students to log in to their appointments several minutes before their appointment time to ensure that connections and functions are all working properly. Online consultations are best facilitated through a Chrome browser.
  • Students are responsible for uploading any document(s) they wish to discuss in their appointments.
  • Generally, online appointments at SASS have few or no technical issues, but in the case of audio or video failure, appointments may rely on text box communications / document markup only.

How do I pay my fine?

If you are more than 15 minutes late or you fail to give 6 hours cancellation notice, you will forfeit the appointment and will be charged $25.00. You will have one month from the date of your missed appointment to pay the debt, after which time the fine will be reported to the Registrar’s office and charged to your student account. You can pay your fine at the SASS front desk between the hours of 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, Monday to Friday. Please note that we only accept cash.

If a second appointment is missed, your account will be disabled and any subsequent appointments you have booked will be cancelled. If you wish to reinstate your account please email the Director.

Any student with questions or concerns about SASS programing or policies should make an appointment to speak with the Director of SASS, Susan Korba, at 613-533-6000, ext. 77630, or by email at korbas@queensu.ca.

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