By: Sam Li
Hi, Marauders! Congratulations on your acceptance to McMaster University!
Let me introduce myself — my name is Sam, my pronouns are she/her and I am the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. I’m entering my fourth year of the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization program this fall, and in my free time, I love to exercise and create digital art.
This summer, I will be sharing my tips and tricks in the Academic Skills Prep Series (ASPS) blog posts to help you thrive and succeed in university. I will be giving my insights as an upper-year student on these six academic topics:
- Being a university learner
- Mastering time management
- Being an online learner
- Note-taking in university
- Reading and writing for academic purposes
- Studying for success
Don’t forget to sign up for our webinar happening tomorrow, July 13 at 5:00 p.m. (EDT), to learn even more about this topic.
During my first year, I rose to new challenges and built my confidence by connecting with resources like the SSC. These Academic Skills Prep Series blogs will teach you what it takes to be successful both inside and outside of the class and share some resources to help you along the way.
Today, we’re focusing on how to be a university learner. Let’s get started by discussing the main changes to expect as you transition to university academics.
Lecture styles vary depending on the instructor — some instructors spend most of the time directly teaching the student audience, whereas others try to be more interactive. Class size varies too, from small, 20-person classes to ones with over 500 students.
Some course instructors post modules on course websites. These self-paced lessons complement the lecture and reading (they’re still important, so don’t ignore them!).
Some larger classes also require tutorials. These are smaller groups led by a teaching assistant (TA) instead of the instructor. In these spaces, you get to explore class concepts in greater detail while getting the chance to interact more with your peers.
These individuals lead your tutorials. They’re often upper-year or graduate students who have previous experience with the course content. They are accessible resources for you, so be sure to connect with them if you need clarification on confusing concepts or feedback on assignments.
These are valuable times when instructors and TAs set aside time to meet with students and discuss course content and upcoming assignments or assessments. You can find office hours in the course syllabus.
This important document outlines important course details like class or tutorial times, assessment dates and required learning materials. Most of your questions about a course can be answered by reading the syllabus!
Schedule structure and pace
A key difference between high school and university is the way your learning is structured and paced. Here’s a quick comparison between each learning environment, with some guiding questions.
|“What is my class schedule like?”||The schedule is fixed and consistent.||The schedule becomes more variable. |
On some days, you might have back-to-back classes, one or two or no classes at all.
|“Who directs learning?”||Learning is teacher-directed, with access to individualized support during class time.||Learning is a mix of both instructor-directed and self-directed. |
You often complete readings or modules on your own time to supplement your learning.
|“How do instructors typically structure their classes?||Classes are a combination of learning and homework-completion time. There are more opportunities to ask questions.||The lesson may take up the entire lecture time. The instructor may take fewer pauses during the lecture for students to ask questions. |
The instructor may also opt to answer questions during office hours or at the end of every lecture.
Sam’s suggestions for student success
Now that we’re familiar with the new terms and differences in learning structure, here are my top two pieces of advice for a smooth university transition!
Take advantage of the new free time in your schedule. This means taking the initiative to fill your time with something productive.
For one, I started actively preparing for each lecture when I was in my first year. During my spare time, I made a habit of completing my required readings and modules. This helped me identify confusing topics and create questions for my instructors and TAs, which helped me engage with and deeply understand the content.
I was also proactive in being aware of my mental and physical well-being. These are equally as important as your schoolwork. I also used these gaps to catch up with friends, prepare meals or do some physical activity.
Know who’s out there to support you, and connect with them early. Alongside the SSC, Mac also has the Student Wellness Centre (SWC), Student Accessibility Services (SAS) and Faculty-specific supports — all these resources were eager to help me when I asked.
Your peers are also another great resource for when you need help. Forming a study group can help you understand the material. Your peers may have clued in to details that you might have missed, and you can help fill one another’s learning gaps.
I hope that this post has helped you feel more confident about starting your journey at McMaster. Coming to university is a major adjustment for many, but you don’t have to face challenges entirely by yourself. I found that a big part of university is taking ownership of your learning, which you’re doing by taking part in the Academic Skills Prep Series, so congratulate yourself!
I can’t wait to share more with you in our weekly Instagram takeovers and contests!
About the Academic Skills Prep Series
Throughout the second half of July, join us for live webinars as we share what it takes to be a university learner and how to advance your skills in time management, note-taking, reading, writing and much more!
Enter for a chance to win
This summer, make sure to follow @MacSSC on Instagram for all of our Academic Skills Prep Series contests! We also have one grand prize to finish the series off right! The grand prize is a $250 gift card to Best Buy, with a second and third prize of $100 and $50.
How to enter: Write a 250–300-word response that refers to at least three webinars, sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Email your submission to email@example.com by 11:59 p.m., August 6, 2021. This contest is only open to incoming first-year students.