Study Skills

Time Management Skills

Managing your time well is essential to success at college and helps to reduce stress. There are only 15 weeks in a semester, and only 168 hours in the week. If you schedule your study time, your free time will be truly free, and you won’t feel guilty about assignments that you should be working on. 

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Schedule all your activities, academic and non-academic, week days and weekends. (A Weekly Schedule form is available from the Academic Skills Centre.) Include:

  • the time you get up and go to bed
  • classes
  • job
  • travel time
  • meals
  • duties at home
  • recreation (going out, TV, Internet, sports, etc.)
  • volunteer work, community work, etc.

Now you can see how your time is taken up and how much time is left for studying. Do you need to make any changes in your use of non-study time?


Many students get poor grades because they devote too many hours to a part-time job. Fifteen hours per week is the recommended maximum. Do you need to cut back? Remember that demands on your time increase greatly by mid-semester.


  • Look at your class schedule and consider how to make the best use of your time at the College.
  • Long breaks can be a problem, or they can be a source of valuable work time. Allow yourself some time for recreation or to have lunch with friends, but schedule some time periods for getting work done in the library or the computer lab. Write these into your schedule, and stick to them.
  • This time can also be used for seeing a peer tutor, visiting the Academic Skills Centre, seeing your teachers, etc. Meeting regularly with a study group is an excellent idea.
  • If your classes start late on certain days, think of coming in earlier to work on readings or assignments.


  • College work places great demands on your time: some teachers expect one hour of study time for every hour spent in class.
  • The Ministry of Education sets a “ponderation” (time allotment) for every college course. This is usually included on your course outline as a series of three figures. The third figure represents the number of hours per week that should be spent on homework for that course.
  • For major assignments, always schedule twice the time that you expect to need. This allows for problems and unforeseen delays. It also allows you time to edit and revise your work, to format it properly and to consult with the teacher well before the due date.


  • Determine the best time of day to study. Are you a morning or a night person? Use your best time to do your most difficult work.
  • Create a proper study space at home if possible, with a clear desk surface, good lighting, writing supplies, computer and reference books—and no distractions.
  • Divide study sessions into manageable blocks of time, perhaps 45 – 60 minutes. Take a break of 10 – 15 minutes between each block.
  • Set a reasonable goal for each block of study time; a number of pages to be read, a section of notes to be reviewed, an amount of writing to be done, a number of problems to be solved.
  • Switch subjects from time to time; for example, do one hour of Economics, then one hour of Western Civilization. This way you won’t become bored by studying the same subject for hours.


  • In addition to your weekly study schedule, use a calendar with the entire month on one page. Look through all your course outlines and write down your deadlines for the semester. Having the month on a page gives you a better idea of your upcoming assignments than a day-to-day agenda. (You may turn a page to discover you have a paper due that week.)
  • Break large assignments down into a series of smaller tasks. Estimate how much time you will need for each task, and plan when you will do it.


  • On your study breaks, don’t do something that is hard to stop, like chatting on the Internet or playing video games.
  • It’s better to study a subject three or four times a week than to cram a whole week of work into one session.
  • Because your workload will change over the semester, your schedule cannot conform to a rigid plan. On Sunday evenings you can schedule your study time for the week. This saves you from having to make schedule changes day by day.
  • Make a realistic list of things to get done each day. (Some people prefer to use lists instead of schedules.) Crossing items off a list can have a very positive psychological effect.
  • Use your breaks between classes to get some reading done or to review your notes. Using small blocks of time through the day can be very productive.
  • Forming a study group with a few classmates provides excellent motivation. It is much harder to neglect your studies if others are counting on you to be present at a certain time and to be focused on the subject. Place your regular study-group meetings on your weekly schedule.

Textbook Reading Skills

The SQ3R TEXTBOOK READING SYSTEM will allow you to focus more effectively on textbook readings. It should help you to understand and retain the information, and should make the reading process more productive and enjoyable.
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Step 1: SURVEY

Look at the chapter title. If there is an introduction, a list of learning objectives, a summary, or end-of-chapter study questions, read them. Skim the chapter looking at subtitles or section headings. Also, note any terms that are in bold type or italics. Examine any diagrams, charts, pictures or maps, and read their captions. Determine whatever you can about the subject and scope of the chapter.

This first step should provide an overview of the chapter’s content, creating a mental framework for your reading.


Think further about the chapter title, the subheadings, the illustrations, etc. and formulate some questions based on them. Write these questions down so that you can refer to them as you read.

This step helps you to focus on the subject and to engage your curiosity. Your questions, even if they are very simple, will give a purpose to your reading as you look for answers.

Step 3: READ

Now read the chapter, looking for the answers to your questions. See if any assumptions that you made about the content of the chapter are correct.

In this way, your reading becomes an active process, and concentration comes much more easily.

Step 4: RECITE

After finishing each section of the chapter, go back to your questions and see if you can answer them.At the same time, see if you can state the main ideas of your reading.If you can’t, you should read that section again.

When you can answer your questions and sum up the main ideas in your own words, it is time to move on to the next section.

Step 5: REVIEW

This is the final step in your reading session. Review all your questions and see if you can still answer them. See if you can recall the key ideas of the entire chapter.

This final step helps to ensure your understanding of the material and to fix it in your memory.

Some variations of this system include an additional step:


This involves writing brief notes based on the answers to your questions or simply on key ideas of the chapter. Simple note-taking of this type takes very little time and will certainly help you to remember the information. Keep your notes very brief, and express the ideas in your own words.

Note Taking Skills

THE DAWSON / CORNELL SYSTEM.  A weekly review of your notes using the Cornell method allows you to learn your material throughout the semester so you won’t have to cram for exams.

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Use regular lined paper suitable for a three-ring binder.

Draw (or imagine) a vertical line 2 or 3 inches from the right edge of the page.

The wider “Notes” column is for your lecture notes taken in class.

The narrower “Recall” column on the right is where you summarize your notes when you review them, you can add textbook page references here.


Write your notes in point form. If the teacher gives an outline of the lecture, use it to organize your notes.

Capture the main points and the relevant details of the lecture. Relevant details explain, illustrate, or support the main points.

Skip lines to indicate the end of the main points.

Use abbreviations to save time.

Write clearly, and on one side of the page.

Use the back of the page for charts or drawings.


As soon as possible after class, read through your notes and clarify them if necessary.

Summarize the main points of the lecture in the “Recall” column. You will have to think about the teacher’s ideas and restate them in your own words. An alternative is to write a question in the “Recall” column which is answered by your notes.

Cover the “Notes” portion and recite the main points of the lecture guided by the key words in the “Recall” column, or ask yourself your questions.

To prepare for quizzes and exams you can overlap your note pages with just the “Recall” column showing to get an overview of the teacher’s lectures through the semester.

Test Taking Skills

Begin studying a week before the exam. You will remember much more if you study several times than if you “cram” the night before.
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  • Ask your teacher what the exam will cover and what kinds of questions will be asked.
  • Go through your class and textbook notes and make an outline based on both sets of notes.
  • Clarify the material you don’t understand: speak to your teacher, see a tutor, or visit the library.
  • Form a study group: each student will know something that the others may have missed.
  • Make up model questions; think of questions that bring together the course material.
  • Eat on schedule and get a normal amount of sleep before the exam.
  • If possible, take time off from your part-time job and suspend your other activities.
  • In certain cases (such as math), you might ask the teacher to provide copies of previous exams.


In essays you must express your position and support it with evidence, so:

  • Practice organizing and restating ideas from the course rather than just rereading your text and notes. Think about how you would support or prove each point.
  • Practice stating ideas in your own words. If you can’t do so before the test, you probably won’t be able to do so during the test.


  • Before looking at the questions, read the instructions very carefully.
  • Then read all the questions, and select the ones that you are sure of to answer first.
  • Examine each question, determining exactly what is being asked. Underline key words and phrases.
  • Think about the question, and write brief notes based on the key information required.
  • Before you write your essay, prepare a brief outline – your thesis and a list of supporting points.
  • Remember the importance of opening each paragraph with a clear topic sentence.
  • Make sure that your essay addresses the question very directly and provides specific supporting facts.
  • Write something for every question. Even if you can’t say much, something is better than nothing.
  • Write clearly and neatly. This creates a more positive attitude in the person who is marking the exam.


  • Read all the questions before you begin. Answer the questions you are sure of first.
  • Underline the key words and phrases in the questions.
  • Cover up the answers before you read the question. Answer the question in your head, and then choose the response which best fits your answer.
  • Mark questions which you cannot answer or are unsure of, and go back to them at the end.
  • Never leave questions unanswered unless it is clear that incorrect answers count against you.

Further Strategies for Answering Multiple-Choice Questions

  • When in doubt, go with your first guess, if you felt confident about your answer, don’t change it.
  • Use information from other questions and/or answers.
  • Absolute words such as always, never, none, and all are often seen in false statements.
  • Eliminate the answers that are clearly not correct


  • Break vocabulary lists into small, related sets. Spread memorization out over several sessions.
  • Practice grammar by writing sentences related to your own life.


  • Memorize the formulas, so that you can write them down as soon as the exam starts.
  • Review formulas, diagrams, cycles, etc., which may be required on the test.
  • Be able to define all terms that are in bold print or italics in your text.
  • Practice doing problems with a study partner.
  • If possible, get copies of old exams from your teacher. Try writing them in the time limits set for the exam. Working with old exams also prepares you for doing problems out of the context of the textbook.
  • Work toward understanding how all the bits of information relate to the whole topic. Without this framework for your knowledge, you are attempting to remember clusters of unconnected facts.

Basic Essay Skills

Essay writing is an important aspect of college work. Essay skills are put to use in many major assignments (including term papers), in essay tests, and in the English Exit Exam. There are many different styles and approaches, and teachers’ guidelines may vary, but there are some basic principles that should be useful in almost any essay assignment.
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As a rule, your teacher will expect:

  • development of a single well-defined point(a thesis)
  • effective, logical organization(good structure and paragraphing)
  • an interesting, well-developed conclusion
  • an appropriate level of language
  • an objective tone

Teachers also expect essays to be well edited, as free of errors as possible, and neatly presented.


Writing an essay is a five-step process:

  1. planning (deciding on a thesis; outlining)
  2. writing a rough draft
  3. editing to correct and improve the essay
  4. rewriting neatly, in proper format
  5. proofreading as a final check for errors


An essay must have a thesis (a single main point). This point should be stated clearly in the opening paragraph, providing the focus for the entire essay. Every body paragraph must support the thesis.


Any essay should be planned before it is written. In some cases, a detailed formal outline is required. Even in the case of a brief essay, it is useful to write out your thesis statement, make a list of supporting points, and then consider the best order in which to present them.


As a rule, essays should be written in moderately formal standard English, without slang or contractions.

Inappropriate casual language: Kids can’t be expected to know a lot about…

Appropriate language: Children cannot be expected to know much about…

Do not write with a personal tone (using I, you, we, etc.) Your opinions and judgments are often central to the essay, but they must be expressed in an objective tone.

Inappropriate personal tone: I like Freud’s point because…

Appropriate tone: Freud’s point is valid because…


Each paragraph in the body of an essay should begin with a clear topic sentence representing the overall point of that paragraph. Everything that follows should support or explain that point.

At the end of a long paragraph, a wrap-up statement can be useful to restate the overall idea. In other cases, a transitional sentence may be used at the end to create a smooth connection with the next paragraph.


Teachers expect any essay to be well edited. Clear expression and correct grammar are essential.Work closely on your rough draft, correcting and improving everything: from the order of its paragraphs, to sentence structure, to spelling, apostrophes, and capitalization. (An editing checklist is available from the Academic Skills Centre.)

Never hand in a rough draft in place of a properly edited essay.


At the end of an essay, sum up by restating your thesis and recapping your main points. Then draw your actual conclusions, your closing thoughts about key ideas raised in the essay. Comment on what has been proved and what can be learned from this; discuss the importance or the broad implications of these ideas.

Avoid clichés (overused phrases) and platitudes (naïve-sounding pleasant remarks). Make your closing points objective, meaningful, and interesting.


Many teachers recommend the five-paragraph system, a sensible model for nearly any short essay.

Paragraph 1: introduction (theme) and thesis statement (three points)
Paragraph 2: first major point
Paragraph 3: second major point
Paragraph 4: third major point
Paragraph 5: conclusion

The opening paragraph contains essential background information, the thesis statement, and a brief preview of the three main points which will support the thesis.

Each of these points is then developed into a full paragraph, forming the body of the essay.

The final paragraph consists of your conclusion.

This five-paragraph format is a model–but not the rule for all essays. If you have more main points to make, the essay will contain more body paragraphs. (It is a good general rule to have a minimum of three body paragraphs in any essay, to ensure that your thesis is well supported.)

Essay skills are important to your success. If your corrected essays show serious faults, see your teacher for advice, or visit the Academic Skills Centre.

Oral Presentation Skills

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  • Read your instructions. Determine what your actual task is. (Some presentations simply present information; others aim at persuading listeners to accept your opinion.)
  • Consult your teacher if necessary.
  • Do your research. Collect information on your topic, making clear, detailed notes.
  • Organize your presentation. Decide what points to include and in what order. Make an outline.
  • Learn your material. Prepare yourself to speak on your topic without simply reading from your notes. A clear understanding of your subject matter will make your presentation much more effective.
  • Prepare cue cards. Using one side only, write down key words, phrases and facts to guide you through your presentation. Number each card so that you can’t mix them up.


  • Practice your presentation aloud by yourself. Make improvements as you practice: clarify your points, add examples or explanations, improve your phrasing.
  • Practice your delivery: how you will speak, what you will emphasize, where you will pause.
  • Develop effective transitions between major points. Use pauses, body language, and tone of voice to let your audience know when you are moving to a new point.
  • Time yourself. Be aware of the time limit assigned by the teacher and adjust your material accordingly.
  • Practice speaking slowly and clearly. Don’t rush through your material. Pauses following important statements will allow your audience to think about your points.
  • Practice in front of friends or family. Use their comments to make further improvements.


  • Dress comfortably and neatly. Appearance affects your presentation.
  • Greet you audience looking cheerful, confident, and well prepared.
  • Stand up straight, but try to relax. Avoid swaying from side to side as you speak.
  • Hold your notes at waist level, slightly away from your body. Glance down at them whenever necessary.
  • Maintain eye contact with your listeners. Pick a person at the back of the room, and speak as if you are addressing him or her. If you prefer, pick a spot on the back wall at eye level and focus on it.
  • Speak clearly and slowly. Pause after important points and between different sections of your material.


  • Use a map, chart, or overhead transparency if it will clarify what you are saying. A visual aid can add to the presentation and take some pressure off you. It is best not to use too many aids.
  • If using a projector or other electronic equipment, set it up and test it before your presentation.
  • You might want to photocopy a handout (an outline, chart or list) to give to your audience.


For any presentation:

I have gathered plenty of relevant, interesting information through my research.
I have organized my information into a logical sequence.
I have familiarized myself thoroughly with my material.
I can support my points with examples whenever possible.
I have prepared visual aids or a handout sheet to clarify my points (if necessary).
I am prepared to answer questions on my topic.

For a presentation that offers information on a topic:

I can deal with my topic in a thorough and interesting way.
I will provide appropriate background information and definitions of key terms.
I will make good use of examples, anecdotes, figures, etc.
I will identify major sources of information by author and/or title.
I will conclude with a review of my main points and with appropriate closing thoughts.

For a presentation based on a persuasive argument:

I will state my position clearly at the beginning.
I can build a strong case to support my opinion.
I will mention and criticize opposing arguments.
I will refer to my sources by author and/or title.
I will conclude with a review of my evidence and a clear restatement of my position.

For an effective delivery:

I will appear confident and well organized due to good preparation and practice.
I will check the order of my cue cards before I speak.
I will stay relaxed by breathing calmly.
I will maintain eye contact with my listeners.
I will speak clearly and slowly, pausing when appropriate.
I will speak loudly enough to be heard easily at the back of the room.
I will eliminate “…uhm…uh…” from my presentation.
I will stand straight but relaxed, without fidgeting or swaying from side to side.
I will keep my audience interested by showing my own enthusiasm and interest.

For more advice, visit the Academic Skills Centre (4E.3) or consult the book Speaking for Success: The Canadian Guide by Anthony Lieb.

If anxiety over oral presentations is a problem, speak to a Counsellor in Room 2D.2. Workshops on public-speaking anxiety are held regularly by Counselling and Career Development.

Last Modified: April 4, 2016