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 Calculator.
  • 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.