Finally, we get to the academic learning aspect of university.
Courses at the university level, with the exception of many first-year courses, tend to be rather narrowly focused on a subject.
First-year courses generally cover a wide range of topics so that students have an overview of a subject and are able to choose future courses with more insight and background knowledge.
Many first-year courses serve as prerequisites for others.
The workload is greater than that of high school and in the form of assigned readings and note taking.
When it comes to assessment, there are usually a mid-term exam and a final exam for each course. Some courses also have assignments such as essays, research reports or projects, but the number of assignments is fewer than in a high school course.
Assignments and exams are more heavily weighted, that is they count for a greater percentage of your final grade in the course than in high school.
Attending lectures is not mandatory, but is essential to doing well in a course. During a lecture the professor speaks, often while projecting a Power Point Presentation or notes, to a class which can be upwards of 400 students. I find it beneficial to sit near the front of the lecture hall to hear and see better and be less distracted. Lap tops may be permitted for note taking by a professor, but some students, like me, find old fashioned pen and paper more useful.
Some courses, often science courses, also have a lab component. Labs are held in longer time slots of two to three hours.
If students begin to feel overwhelmed by university coursework, they should seek a support system. This may mean forming a study group with others in the same course or hiring a tutor.
There may also be support systems that the university offers, such as through the library.
There are Supported Learning Groups, which are run by upper-year students who have previously completed and done well in more challenging courses to support students now in those courses. Attending an
SLG allows students to ask questions of and receive review materials from the SLG leader. The library also has staff able to help students conduct their research and offers a drop-in writing help center where students can get their written work edited or get advice on their paper at any point during the writing process.
Another important service offered by the library at the University of Guelph is help with the proper referencing of papers. Referencing at the university level is a skill which high school should take the time to learn before going to university to avoid poor marks on assignments or unknowingly committing academic misconduct. When writing an academic paper, students must reference all ideas that are not their own, including any paraphrasing or direct referencing as well as direct quotations from a source. The three main styles of referencing are APA, MLA and Chicago. Students need to clarify with each professor which referencing style is expected.
A writer’s manual can provide formatting rules for each style, both for in text citations and for a works cited list. Failure to properly reference a paper constitutes academic misconduct and plagiarism which, as many students know, can ultimately lead to expulsion from university. This may not happen on a first offense, but the consequences greatly increase in severity if a student continues to commit academic misconduct.
Studying is obviously important and students have different ways of doing so. Some students prefer to study in the library, others in their rooms or lounges. There are some students who study, particularly during exam time, all through the night while fuelled by caffeine. This is generally not a good idea; some who do study in this manner admit their next day is terrible because they are so tired and cannot pay attention in lectures.
Some students study in silence, others with background noise such as a fan or music. I prefer to listen to music while studying to block out distracting sounds such as conversations.
There is no right or wrong way to study, but students should identify and develop an effective way of studying to optimize their learning and do well on exams.
Time management becomes students’ own responsibility in university. Professors ultimately don’t care if you hand assignments in because doing so only hurts the student.
Students may become distracted by friends or by television; they may take a quick break which turns into a three-hour break. It is essential to make a plan when studying and find ways to overcome distractions. I avoid being distracted by friends by leaving my room to study since they cannot distract me if they are not near me.
It is also essential for students to make time for themselves so that they don’t become completely worn out by their studies. This can mean setting aside time to go for a walk, watch a movie or play a sport.
When it comes time for exams, students should clarify with professors about the exam format; this will usually be told to students or posted on a course website if one exists. Exams may be multiple choice, essay based, short answer or various combinations of these. Once students know the format of an exam, they can focus their studying accordingly. If I know an exam is essay based I will focus my studying more on the major concepts covered that term and not worry so much about small details.
Some students prefer to study in groups, but it is usually good to do some studying on your own too.
University is all around a rewarding experience, but students must be ready to put in the work necessary to be successful. When in doubt about a concept or an assignment it can be beneficial to e-mail your professor or TA if appropriate.
Students must realize that their education becomes their own responsibility at university; they must take ownership of it and work to develop it.
When graduation day comes around a few years from now, all of the hard work will have paid off.
Kirsti Juurakko is a first-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.