Study Resources

Students often believe that the highest grades go to the brightest students. A more accurate statement, however, is that the highest grades go to the best students--those people who have learnt how to be good students. College and university study is like everything else: skills are required to do well. Despite the fact that we spend upwards of one-quarter of life in school, few people take the time to learn these skills.

At Nelson Education, we want to help you earn higher grades in less time. On this page, we provide you with dozens of carefully selected websites that offer clear, effective instruction on key academic skills.

 

 

Student Survival Skills

Do you struggle to find enough time in the day to meet with your friends, play sports, work part time, and keep up with your school assignments? Being successful in school and doing well on your assignments doesn't have to be a stressful experience if you organize and manage your time well and make sure you balance social activities with school responsibilities.Below are some useful guidelines to help you strengthen your study habits and manage your time wisely. Make the most of your college experience!

 

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Making the Most of Course Instructors &Course Outlines

Your course instructors can be valuable learning resources. At first, you may feel a little intimidated by them, especially if you are in large classes, but instructors can provide you with the help you need if you make the effort to see them during their office hours or by appointment. Surprisingly, many course instructors report few visitors during their office hours. By preparing fairly specific questions ahead of time, you can increase the likelihood your instructor will provide you with useful information.

The course outlines your instructors provide are a road map for the direction of the course and can also be useful learning resources. When you receive course outlines at the beginning of the term, look for the following:


From Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild and Richard Zajchowski, Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students, Third Edition. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 19–20.

 

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Learning in a Second Language

If English is not your first language, you may find working with abstract concepts and specialized terminology in a Canadian college especially difficult. If you are a student in this situation, you need to be strategic. The following are some time-saving strategies that may help you with your work:


While it may be tempting, try not to sacrifice sleep in order to get more work done. Chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of becoming ill and may also interfere with your memory skills.

It is a challenge to learn a second language, but you can enhance your language skills by practising the second language every day. Read newspapers or magazines for relaxation, and talk with your instructors and peers as much as possible.

From Fleet, Joan, and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management. Toronto: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1994. 102.

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Motivation and Concentration

Being Your Academic Best
The motivation to tackle the daily demands of student life is essential good time management and success in school. For some students, motivation is a problem because they do not see courses or programs as being relevant to their personal goals. Other students may experience problems with motivation because they are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Additional factors that can diminish motivation include personal problems, attempting to tackle too much within the available time, being overly critical of yourself, and even lack of sleep.

What decisions can you make to strengthen your motivation?
One option is to change your attitude to school. For example, you can generate interest in a course by speaking with the instructor, or you can improve your effectiveness by meeting with a counsellor to discuss learning strategies. You can also remind yourself that, while school years are a time for meeting new people, your first priority is your education. This means you need to ensure that you are allowing a reasonable amount of time for school and that your sleep is not being compromised.

Still not motivated?
If nothing seems to improve your motivation level, you may have to make important decisions about your situation, such as changing your program, reducing your course load, or even leaving school. Only you can assess whether you should focus on changing your attitude to school or whether it is desirable or possible to change your situation.

KNOW YOUR TYPE
While lack of motivation can result for a number of reasons, including lack of interest (see Commitment), frustration over low marks, and worry, it may also reflect a habitual approach to school on the part of a student. A number of common patterns of behaviour can cause motivation problems if carried to extremes. While it is unusual to fit neatly into only one pattern, can you see elements of your approach in any of the following behaviour types?


The Perfectionist

The perfectionist is motivated to do an exceptional job on every academic task. This type of student works very hard and tries to complete all of the assigned work without any shortcuts at all. While conscientiousness and diligence can be a strength, perfectionism becomes a weakness when a student is not very strategic. The perfectionist is inefficient because he or she believes that everything is equally important and requires a lot of work. It is important to prioritize tasks and make time-saving decisions, especially during busy times of the school year.


The "On the Spur of the Moment" Decision Maker

This type of student usually does not plan ahead. Although he/she may be motivated to do school work, it is always a last minute rush. This is not always a problem, since some students work better under the pressure of an imminent deadline. However, this kind of behaviour can become a weakness if competing tasks combine to create an unmanageable load. Without the benefit of foresight, the student may be forced to hand in substandard work or sacrifice studying in order to complete assignments.


The Game Player

The game player is motivated by the desire to do the minimum amount of work for the maximum payoff. This approach can prove to be a significant strength. The student prioritizes tasks, makes good use of resources, such as talking to instructors and looking up old exams, and listens intently for cues about which content is especially important. The negative element to the game player is evident in the student who constantly manipulates the system to get deadlines extended. This can backfire if extensions compound, or if the student gets a reputation for lateness.


The "Count Me In" Student

This type of student is motivated to be involved in a lot more than course work; for example, political activities, sports, paid employment, volunteer work, and social activities. While personal development certainly can be enhanced by varied pursuits, it is important to pay particular attention to prioritizing among competing activities. With a wide range of interests and only 24 hours in the day, the "count me in" student needs strong time management skills. When poor time management collides with active involvement in a variety of activities, the end result is often incomplete assignments and below-potential performance.


The "I'll Be at the Library" Student

This type of student has limited involvement in activities outside school. Academic activities absorb most of his or her available time. There are different reasons why a student may be motivated to focus almost exclusively on school, including genuine intellectual fervour or fear that anything less than 100% dedication will result in failure. The advantages and disadvantages of this approach depend on the personality characteristics of the student: some students manage splendidly while others cope very poorly when school work becomes the major component in their lives. It is this distinction that helps to determine whether the behaviour pattern is a problem or not.

From Fleet, Joan, and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management. Toronto: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1994. 50–55.

 

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COMMITMENT
Your level of commitment while studying is closely linked to your interest in the subject matter, the way in which the course is taught, the setting, and whether or not it is an optional or mandatory course. The following strategies can help you to maintain a high level of commitment to a course:


From Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild and Richard Zajchowski, Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students, Third Edition. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 47.

 

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Procrastination

The Cost of Procrastinating
Most people procrastinate from time to time, but chronic procrastination can undermine your effectiveness. The following are some of the potential costs of procrastinating:


You can avoid falling into the procrastination trap by

  1. being aware of the symptoms,
  2. understanding the problem, and
  3. implementing strategies to beat the procrastination habit.
 

1. The Symptoms
Students can procrastinate in some amazingly creative ways. Entire apartments can be redecorated in the days leading up to a test. Sometimes great lengths are taken by a student to appear to be not procrastinating. Hours can be spent colour coding work schedules and timetables. 

Awareness of procrastination may not be enough to change this pattern. For example, a student, recognizing her tendency to be distracted at home, wisely decided to work in the library. She found a quiet location and took out her textbooks—then she went floor to floor searching for someone she knew. She intended to work in the library, but once in the library she spent her time socializing. Procrastination—the time robber—had struck.

The obvious symptom of procrastination is that the student does not begin the required task. A number of other behaviours that may reflect procrastination include spending a lot of time on low priority tasks, seeking out company all of the time, volunteering to help a variety of good causes, and sleeping a lot. What behaviours are symptoms of procrastination for you?

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2. Understanding the Problem
The underlying reasons for procrastination differ considerably from student to student. If you are a procrastinator and wish to beat the procrastination habit, consider why you engage in this self-defeating pattern. Do you recognize yourself in any of the following examples?

 

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3. Solving the Problem
How does a student start to break the procrastination habit and become an effective time manager? There are two main steps to take to begin solving the problem of procrastination:


Identifying Roadblocks
To identify roadblocks, ask yourself the following questions:


By answering these questions honestly you have taken a step toward solving the problem of procrastination. You have identified some roadblocks, and in doing so, you have increased your awareness of your personal procrastination issues.

 

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Developing an Action Plan
Simply recognizing how and why procrastination occurs does not bring about change. You need a plan of action to deal with procrastination. Action plans can take many different forms but all share the same goal: to increase your overall effectiveness.

One example of an action plan might be to identify time wasters and think of some realistic solutions to each one. Then implement your solutions and monitor your progress over the next few weeks to see how you are doing.

Another type of action plan can be developed to help tackle major assignments. By dividing large assignments into smaller tasks, they become more manageable, which decreases the probability of procrastinating and increases the quality of your work. This type of action plan might follow these steps:


The Importance of Rewards
Identifying roadblocks and developing action plans are important steps for solving the problem of procrastination. However, even if your intentions are good, old patterns may resurface. If this happens, you may feel discouraged and have a sense that change is impossible. But remember that habits do not change overnight. It is important to be patient and persistent. One way to foster change is by incorporating rewards into your action plan. Take some time to explore both small and large rewards as part of your action plan to become a better time manager, and plan to implement these self-motivators.

Rewards vary from person to person. Think about what you might consider a reward for work well done. Examples of small rewards may include:


Examples of large rewards may include:


From Fleet, Joan, and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management. Toronto: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1994. 60–70.

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Time Management Tips

Being a good time manager will help you to be a successful student. Many successful students are involved in much more than just schoolwork, and are able to achieve a balance between studying and other activities. You will find, at different times in the school year, that you apply different time management principles depending on current needs. Here are some principles to help you manage your time effectively:

1. Set academic goals.
If you set clear academic goals you will find that it is easier to stay motivated to do school work, even when the going gets tough. Some of your goals will be related to your future career, future educational plans, your current program of study, as well as to the day-to-day completion of study tasks.

2. Plan ahead and record important events.
One of the frustrating aspects of school life is that, often, deadlines all arrive together. There may be one week, especially around the middle of the term, when you have several big assignments to hand in as well as a number of mid-term tests to study for. If you have not planned ahead for such a situation, then you may have a very real problem.

If you want to keep deadlines under control, it is important to have a system for recording important test dates and assignment due dates. It is also just as important to record important personal or social events that will take additional time away from studying. Your system for recording dates should be easy to access, so that you are reminded frequently of these upcoming major events. Many students use a wall calendar above or on their desks. It is a good idea to record important dates in more than one way, for example, also in a day planner or on a weekly timetable.

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3. Locate useful resources.
If you want to make the best use of your time you will want to know those people and places that can be useful resources if you need them. The obvious resource for a student is the teacher. Often, classes are large and you will find that you do not have much personal contact with teachers, however, many teachers set "office hours" for students in their classes. You can meet with a teacher during office hours to discuss any problems that you may be experiencing.

Colleges usually provide many other support resources. If students are good consumers of these services, this can make learning an efficient activity. Services can range from "help centres" for key courses, tutorial services, typing, computing and photocopying services, to counselling and library services. You should explore the resources that are available to you so that when you need to use them, you know where they are located and times when they are available.

4. Find and use a good work location.
One of the biggest time wasters for students is poor concentration. Students report that they spend too much time daydreaming or looking around to check out what is going on around them. It is very important to find a work location, or combination of work locations, in which you can concentrate and get work done. You know that you have an efficient system when you can both work hard and play hard. That is, when you spend time studying you should get through a reasonable quantity of work, without wasting too much time. Then you can feel good about spending time with friends or in other activities of your choice.

You will know what type of location works for you. Maybe it is the library of a study room in school or in residence. It might be your own room or even the kitchen table in the middle of a busy house. Some students require absolute silence while others like some noise and activity going on around them. You will have to make the right choice for yourself (see Distractions).

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5. Know and use your "best times."
Are you an early morning person, a daytimer, evenings only, a midnight owl, or a little bit of all four? The early morning person is alert as soon as he or she wakes in the morning and can get down to work between 6:00 and 8:00 am. Daytimers are your regular 9:00 am to 5:00 pm people. They like to make full use of hours in between classes so that when they go home or back to residence they can spend most of the time relaxing. Perhaps the most common work pattern of all is that of the evenings only crowd. They get their best work done between 7:00 and 11:00 pm. Then there are night owls who only get going around 10:00 pm when others around them may be thinking of going to bed. In the quiet, early hours of the morning, the night owls are working away.

Only you can judge the time of day at which you are more mentally alert. If you can make good use of your best times, you can work most efficiently. If you claim to be a night owl, think carefully about your reasons for establishing this pattern. Many students fall into this pattern because they have a problem dealing with distractions. When everyone else is sleeping, many of the distractions are removed. You may need to rethink your management of non-studying activities.

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6. Make "to do" lists.
When you write a list of tasks that you wish to complete you achieve three very important goals.

  1. You track what has to be done. As you think about your goals, you itemize all of the components that are part of the end product. It is easy to run out of time if you underestimate what is involved in completing an assignment or learning a new concept by not making a careful evaluation of demands of the task.
  2. As you make your list you will naturally prioritize the items. What has to be done first and what can wait until later?
  3. By writing down the items you make a more concrete commitment to getting the work done. It is almost as though you are writing a contract with yourself. You intend to complete the items from the list.


At first, you may underestimate the time required for completing tasks. With practice, though, it is possible to make the lists specific to your needs with reasonable and relevant items. For the list to be most useful, it should be readily accessible and updated regularly.

One warning though—making lists does not get the work done. It is only the first step. A student may get sidetracked and spend hours of valuable time making lists and planning work, but never doing it, and that is not useful at all.

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7. Flag start dates.
For big tasks, such as completing an essay or studying for an important test, you will need to plan very carefully. For example, if you have several big tests at the end of term, you may need to start your review several weeks in advance. When you have estimated how long the review will take, choose a starting date and record it on your calendar and also in your daytimer. If you plan your major tasks carefully and record starting dates well in advance, you will not find yourself running out of time or getting overwhelmed with major competing tasks.

8. Subdivide one large task into many smaller tasks.
Seeing a task as a major undertaking can be very counter-productive. For example, a student who was experiencing writer's block had at the top of her "to do" list, #1—Write Essay. It was such an enormous undertaking that she had come to a complete standstill. Once she began to itemize manageable tasks for each week, she began to accomplish her larger goal. Being able to make small tasks out of one large one is an important part of effective time management.

9. Plan each day.
Although all of your time management planning is important, it is the daily planning that is most closely linked to getting work done. Each evening, you should think about the next day. How many classes do you have? What are the most pressing tasks? Do you have any non-school commitments? How is your energy level and what do you think you can realistically accomplish tomorrow? Ideally, you should set goals of what you'd like to get done, make decisions about where and when you are going to study, and locate any materials or other resources that you will need for the job.

If you have materials at hand and clear goals about what you wish to accomplish, you will find that it is easier to get started. You will not have to go through the step of asking yourself, "What shall I do today?" You will know where you have to begin.

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10. Engage in time-saving tasks.
If you want to be a very efficient learner and use your time well, you need to think carefully about ways of saving time. There are many such ways and you will need to think about what is appropriate to your own situation.

One way to save time is to always attend class, unless you have a very good reason for missing it. It always takes longer to obtain and decipher notes from another student. You may miss key explanations or information about the course. Sometimes students will think that they can get the information just as readily from the textbooks, but these same students are often in trouble with their marks. Think through very carefully your decisions to miss class.

Another way to save time is to read through class notes within 24 hours of taking them. Check that you fully understand the ideas, that you have recorded the information clearly, and try to see how the details in the lecture relate to the theme or big picture. A little time in consolidation of ideas can save a lot of time in the long run.

11. Be flexible.
Not all weeks in the school year will be equally busy. However well you plan, there will be some weeks when everything falls ready at the same time. You may have several assignments due and tests to write with very little time in between. On the other hand, there will be other weeks without such immediate pressure. Some of the most successful students are people who can be flexible. If the chips are down, and if it is one of those weeks when the pressure is on, they can respond positively and put in that extra push that is needed. Some people thrive on pressure while others fall apart. It is critical to know your limits and to manage your time within those limits. Flexibility of effort within reasonable limits is typical of an effective time manager.

Being flexible, however, does not mean leaving everything to the last minute, followed by "all nighters" to catch up on work to be done. The successful time manager is the student who plans flexibility into his or her schedule.

12. Evaluate your progress.
If you actively plan your time, evaluation of progress naturally follows. As you plan each day, you will evaluate whether or not you achieved the goals that you set for yourself. Monitoring your progress and accomplishments is an important component of effective time management. If you are not happy with how you are feeling, or with what you are accomplishing, you may need to rethink your initial goals.

From Fleet, Joan, and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management. Toronto: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1994. 24–30.

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Distractions

Internal Distractions
You will lose concentration while studying if you are uncomfortable physically. You may be too hot, too hungry, or too full. The light level may be straining your eyes, or the position in which you are studying may cause your neck or back to hurt. Consequently, you may find that you begin to think about a whole range of different things, none of them associated with the course material. Setting the environment for study is important to managing concentration. Your determination to pursue your studying in an active way can be gauged by whether or not you can use some of the following self-management strategies to control internal distractions and increase your level of concentration:

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External Distractions
Although finding a time and place for studying with few distractions will not guarantee concentration, it can make it easier for you to control your attention. Most of us can focus on only one main train of thought at a time. In your study experience, how difficult do you find it to ignore the following distractions?


Students will have different reactions to the distractions listed here, although few can ignore being interrupted by someone. Students who regularly work well in a particular setting learn to expect to concentrate in that place. This also holds true for getting used to working at certain times of the day.

Maintaining concentration will be easier if you:


From Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild and Richard Zajchowski, Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students, Third Edition. Toronto: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1999. 47–49.

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Writing Essays and Reports

Writing at the University of Toronto

The Writing Centre, Queen's University

Dartmouth College

University of Victoria Writer's Guide

A great starter-kit for writing essays

A great intermediate level essay-writing guide for undergraduates

A guide for essay writing; includes a link for citing sources

A low-level, but well-organized site for essay writing

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