Learning resources: Text only versions

This page contains the text-only versions of our Learning Resources for ease of use with a screen reader. For pdf downloads visit our Learning Resources page.


On this page:Time management | Group work | Study strategies | Reading and notetaking | Exam prep | Office hours | Connecting with instructors | Memory and retention | Supervision | Technology


Time management

Prioritize your to-do list

Use a priorities matrix to help structure your to-do list.

Priority: something that is important to you and your goals

Use a priorities matrix to help plan your time and tasks

  • Quadrant 1: urgent and important, projects with deadlines
  • Quadrant 2: not urgent and important, long-term planning
  • Quadrant 3: urgent and not important, interruptions
  • Quadrant 4: not urgent and not important, busywork, distractions

To determine where a task aligns with the matrix, ask yourself:

  • When is the deadline?
  • What is non-negotiable?
  • What are your long-term goals and priorities?
  • Tip: Regularly consult your course outline and myCourses calendar for relevant deadlines
  • Aim to spend your time in Quadrant 2, planning and working ahead of deadlines
  • You can create daily to-do lists with tasks from Quadrants 1 & 2.
  • To be as productive as possible while working, avoid items in Quadrant 4
  • Looking for tips to help you focus? Check out student submitted tips in How I Learn Best!

Thesis roadmap: A five-step plan

In order for you to create a strong plan for self-management while writing your thesis, here are some steps to take in order to accomplish your goals in a timely (and straightforward!) manner.

  1. Set realistic goals

    1. Setting goals assists with staying focused and motivated! One way to set realistic goals is by adhering to the SMART goal model, which means setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals for each stage of the thesis writing process.
    2. What is a SMART goal for a thesis?
      1. Specific: Start by being clear about what you want to achieve.
      2. Measurable: Make sure you can track progress within your goal.
      3. Achievable: Make sure your goal is feasible within the time frame you have set.
      4. Relevant: Ensure that your goal aligns with your interests and work.
      5. Time-bound: Set a deadline for when you want to achieve your goal.
    3. Here’s an example:
      1. No: "I want to write my thesis so I can graduate."
      2. Yes: “I want to complete the first draft of my literature review by the end of next month, with a goal of writing 500 words per day and getting feedback from my advisor at least once a week in order to complete the thesis by May in so I can accept my job offer.”
  2. Create a schedule

    1. When you're writing your thesis, it's important to create a work schedule. This may look like developing a weekly or daily schedule that includes time for research, writing, and (most importantly!) breaks. Make sure to allocate enough time for each task and stick to the schedule as much as possible.
    2. Determine your schedule
      1. Check with your department regarding the final deadline for submission.
      2. Based on the deadline your department has and your own goals, create a schedule that breaks down your work into smaller, more manageable tasks.
    3. Prioritize tasks

      1. Prioritize the tasks in your work plan based on their importance and urgency. The SKILLSETS time management workshop may have helpful tips!
      2. Focus on the tasks that are most important and will have the greatest impact on completing your thesis.
    4. Create a work plan

      1. Include tasks such as designing research questions, writing drafts, and, finally, revising your work.
      2. Make sure to break down these tasks into smaller, manageable steps that can be accomplished within your daily and weekly schedule.
    5. Allocate time
      1. Allocate a reasonable amount of time for each task in your schedule, and, importantly, make sure to leave extra time for unexpected issues or delays. If you're not sure how to know how much time to expect when working on something, check out this resource!
  3. Use tools

    1. Many tools are available to help with organization while writing your thesis. Consider using a project management tool, a citation manager like Zotero, or a writing tool like MS Word–which includes a tracker for changes– to help keep track of progress, citations, and revisions.
  4. Stay motivated

    1. Seek out resources to make sure there is adequate support and balance in the writing and revision process! This may look like getting feedback early and often. Share work with an advisor and other trusted individuals for feedback. This will be useful in ensuring accountability and progress.
      1. Check out resources on how to build a strong relationship with your supervisor!
    2. Writing a thesis can be a long and challenging process, so it’s important to stay motivated. Find ways to acknowledge the progress made along the way.
      1. Finished your literature review? Grab dinner with a friend?
      2. Stuck on designing research experiments? Reflect on what you have accomplished so far!
  5. Find support

    1. Being surrounded by folks who understand the thesis-writing process and who can offer encouragement and support when needed can be critical in maintaining an effective workflow. Consider joining a writing group or connecting with other grad students in a similar situation.
    2. McGill’s Graphos writing program may be a good option to ensure that you develop a good network and team!

Time-task estimation

Target and improve time-task estimation to feel more in-control of your time and advance your time management skills.

What is time-task estimation?

  • Time-task estimation refers to the ability to estimate the amount of time required to complete a task or series of tasks.
  • Many students find themselves falling prey to the planning fallacy: “The tendency to set unrealistic expectations for the time needed to complete a future task”

Students facing barriers may want individualized support! You can meet with an Access Advisor at the SAA to navigate services and accommodations.

Why target time-task estimation?

Education psychology researchers have identified the most impactful time-management skills to be:

  • The setting of goals and priorities
  • For more information on effectively identifying and setting goals and priorities, check out the other resources on time management.
  • Perceived control of time (PCOT)
    • PCOT refers to the feeling that you are in control of how your time is spent while working and your ability to meet deadlines.
    • Refined time-task estimation skills are a key component of strong PCOT!
  • Evaluating Perceived Control of Time (PCOT)
    • To determine where you stand on PCOT, consider how you would respond to the following statements:
      • I underestimate the time it will take to complete tasks
      • I feel myself procrastinating on tasks that I don't like but that must be done
      • I often feel overwhelmed by the tasks I need to get done
      • I feel like I lack control of my time
      • I find myself getting involved in small details
      • I find myself taking on too many tasks
      • I can't stick to the schedules I create for myself
      • I am unable to say no
    • If you found yourself agreeing with three of more of these statements, you are not alone! There is still room for improvement, and you may benefit from trying a time-task estimation exercise!

Time-task estimation exercise

  1. Create a list of tasks you intend to complete
  2. Beside each task, estimate how much time it will take you
    • Pro Tip: when estimating, consider the assumptions and constraints associated with your tasks; what do you need to complete? What can you ignore?
  3. As you complete these tasks throughout the day, pay attention to and make note of how long they actually take to complete!

Consider creating a log of all the tasks you typically complete and their average duration for future reference! Example


Estimated duration

Actual duration

Research for biology paper

1.5 hours

3 hours

Walk to school

5 minutes

12 minutes

Read through lecture slides

30 minutes

47 minutes

Take post-lecture summary notes

20 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes


When you better familiarize yourself with how long it takes to complete a task, this can result in:

  • Confirmation of existing beliefs
  • Modifications of study strategies
  • Changes which can improve long-term outcomes

The goal with this activity is for your estimations to become as close to the true execution-time of a task as possible!

How to overcome the planning fallacy

Use the following tips to help overcome the planning fallacy and build stronger time-management abilities:

  • Take the outside view. Using your time-task estimation log, take a look at previous related experiences to guide your planning!
  • Set implementation intentions. Clearly identify and write down the date, time, and location you will start in.
  • Use the segmentation effect. Break up large projects into component, more manageable parts!


Adams, R. V., & Blair, E. (2019). Impact of Time Management Behaviors on Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Performance. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018824506

Why do we underestimate how long it will take to complete a task? The Decision Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2022, from https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/planning-fallacy

Memory and retention

Sleep and learning

Why do we sleep?

Sleep is a key medicine for willpower and resilience, immune boost, metabolism, nootropic boost, physical health, emotional stability, stress relief, and trauma release.

Students' sleep habits are significantly associated with academic performance and GPA - with nightly sleep duration predicting GPA (Creswell et al., 2023)

During sleep, humans cycle through REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM) phases. Current theories hold that memory consolidation is occurring during both the REM and NREM phases of sleep – making sleep essential for learning and memory encoding (Leminen et al., 2017).

Improving sleep

View sunlight within 30 mins - 1 hr of waking

Wake up at the same time each day and go to bed when you first start feeling sleepy

Dim lights at night
Keep your room cool and dark in the night time

If you must choose between exercise and sleep – choose sleep!

Key elements of a full night’s sleep

  1. Sleep-Duration
    Adults 19 years of age and older should get seven or more hours of sleep a night (Nelson, 2021)
  2. Sleep Quality

Quality can be gauged at home by looking at how satisfied you are with your sleep (Nelson, 2021).

Consider: Sleep efficiency, sleep latency, and wake after sleep onset

Sleep efficiency: The ratio of amount of time asleep to amount of time in bed

Sleep latency: The amount of time it takes to fall asleep

Wake after sleep onset: The amount of time it takes to “properly wake up”

  1. Sleep Consistency

It is valuable to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Aim to sleep and rise at around the same time of day as well as get around the same amount of sleep each night (Chaput et al., 2020)

A full night’s sleep: memory and attention

Memory: Students need to be sleeping well consistently. If sleep duration and quality are poor when information is first learned, sleeping well the night before the exam will not be enough - grades will suffer! (Okano et al., 2019)

It is also important to be well-rested before learning new material (Walker, 2009)

Attention and Concentration: A study following sleep-deprived adults found sleep-deprivation to result in slowing of reaction speeds, lapses of attention, and decreased efficiency (Hudson et al., 2019).

Napping: guidelines and benefits

Strategic nap-taking during the day can also support learning.
The length of your nap will bring unique benefits and drawbacks (Lovato & Lack, 2010).

As nap length increases:

  • Benefits will last longer (i.e., you will feel alert for longer overall).
  • Initial impairment will be greater (i.e., you will wake up feeling groggier for longer).

Caveat: naps over 90 minutes are generally not recommended; they can interfere with a full night's sleep.


When studying up to a week before an exam, napping between study sessions results in significantly improved academic performance compared to students that continue cramming between study sessions or take passive breaks such as watching a movie (Cousins et al., 2019).

Long naps (>1 hr) produce improved cognitive performance for up to 3 hours (Lovato & Lack, 2010).

Attention and Concentration

This study found that brief naps of just 5 – 15 minutes result in immediate marked increases in alertness and attention (Lovato & Lack, 2010).

Exercise and learning

Exercise stimulates the brain to secrete chemicals called growth factors.

Growth factors are like a fertilizer for learning!

Growth factors support the growth of neurons and the formation of new connections between neurons - this is what underlies the creation of memories!

This neuronal growth helps cognitive functioning as well as has been associated with the growth of brain regions related to memory.

Cognitive functions include memory, attention, and executive functions!

Important brain regions:

  • Hippocampus is associated with memory.
  • Prefrontal cortex is associated with executive functioning.
  • Motor cortex directs movement.

Exercise also strengthens the connectivity between different brain regions such as the hippocampus, motor cortex, and the prefrontal cortex. This makes it easier for these brain regions to communicate with each other!

Benefits of exercise

Memory: Exercise improves both short-term and long-term memory (Loprinzi et al., 2021).

Attention: Attention is heightened for up to two hours after exercise (Basso & Suzuki, 2017).

Executive Function: Decision making skills and ability to self-regulate, plan, and juggle various ideas in working memory improve with exercise (Ferrer-Uris et al., 2022).

Exercise intensity

Low Intensity Exercise

  • Light walking, exercise at casual pace
  • 4 - 6 times a week
  • 15 minutes

Moderate Intensity Exercise

  • Speed walking, yoga
  • 2 -3 times a week sufficient for inducing neuronal change
  • 11 - 21 minutes in duration

High Intensity Exercise

  • Weight lifting, running, cycling, interval training
  • 2 - 3 times a week
  • 10 – 30 minutes

Choosing the right intensity

Memory and Attention: Memory formation and attention abilities benefit most from higher intensity exercise (Ferrer-Uris et al., 2022).

Executive Function: Executive function may benefit more from moderate intensity exercise (Ferrer-Uris et al., 2022).

Low intensity exercise can also be beneficial for mood, cognitive function, and attention. Incorporating any movement in your routine will make a difference.

Caveat: too much exercise can result in excess fatigue and dehydration - diminishing cognition-enhancing effects. It is important to make sure you do not over-exert yourself!

Timing exercise with learning

If you are looking to improve consolidation of information, try working out after a study session! Increased concentration of growth factors will promote long-term information storage as growth factors help cement the neural connections holding information (Ferrer-Uris et al., 2022).

If you are low on energy and looking for a boost, try working out before your study session. This will provide you with a surge of attention to get you through your studying (Ferrer-Uris et al., 2022).

More benefits of exercise

Reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms, enhanced mood and happiness, strengthened immune system, increased focus and motivation, and improved sleep quality

Check out the Student Wellness Hub's Exercise for Wellness Workshop!

Check out Teaching and Learning Services' Sleep and Learning resource!

    Study strategies

    Six study strategies

    What are the best ways to study material outside of class? The strategies listed here can enhance your learning of any material. Different strategies work well in different contexts, so be sure to align your strategy with the way your learning will be assessed.

    Strategy: Flashcards

    What is it? Cards with information written on each side to help you associate words with definitions and/or examples. Learn more about flashcards from our resource.

    When do I use it? Flashcards are especially helpful to memorize a lot of information; it works on the principal of retrieval practice, where you practice pulling information out of your brain. If you do this regularly enough, it will move the information from your short term memory storage into long term memory storage.

    Strategy: Mnemonic device

    What is it? This is a memory aid that consists of using an image or keyword, acronym, song, or groupings to help connect with text or information.

    When do I use it? You can use this tactic to improve your memory of facts, concepts and vocabulary. It can be helpful when learning a new language, a large list, or a large amount of information at once.

    Strategy: Practice testing

    What is it? Quizzing yourself on the material you are expected to know or demonstrate, using the format that the assessment will be.

    When do I use it? You can use this tactic to help you learn a variety of topics and subject matter. It can be used for long (essay), or short (one-word answer) questions. This tactic is effective when your goal is to remember, understand or apply key concepts and facts.

    Strategy: Concept mapping

    What is it? Creating a diagram to depict the relationship between terms, concepts or ideas.

    When do I use it? You can a create concept map to understand new material, or when you want to create a mental representation of an idea or selection of ideas. Concept maps can help you organize complex information and develop a deeper understanding of the material, which can help you analyze and evaluate the course material.

    Strategy: Summarization

    What is it? Writing summaries of content that you read, listen to, or cover in your readings or course lecture by condensing information into a shorter, more concise version while maintaining key points.

    When do I use it? This tactic is beneficial when you are trying connect ideas to each other or when trying to comprehend a text. It can help you practice identifying the main important points in a section of content. You can summarize via writing or talking aloud to yourself or someone else.

    Strategy: Elaboration

    What is it? Explaining how new information relates to known information, or explain in detail the steps taken to solve a problem or to complete a process.

    When do I use it? This tactic can be applied to almost any subject is effective when you are able to create connections between new information and information you already know. You can examine a piece of information in detail and connect it to prior learning, or discuss a subject as a whole with peers and gain new perspectives. Creating these connections about the information can enhance retrieval and lead to better understanding of a topic.

    Learning in your second language

    Connect with your community

    • Connect with others who are also learning in a second language. You can share your strategies for success and learn from each other!
    • The ISS Buddy Program can help with linguistic support, cultural guidance, and information about life at McGill.
    • The McGill International Student Network plans events and trips with a community and offers opportunities for language sharing.

    Use cooperative learning

    • Cooperative learning is when you work with others in a collaborative, supportive environment to practice language or other learning activities, give and receive feedback, and problem-solve together.
    • Peer tutoring: learn with the intent to teach others the material; you will help others with the material and understand it better yourself.
    • Jigsaw technique: split up into small groups or pairs where each member assumes responsibility for a task, then come back together to share what you have learned.

    Practice effective learning strategies

    • When you study individually, use active learning strategies to engage yourself in your learning process.
    • Questioning: ask yourself what/how/why questions about the material and answer them to confirm your understanding. Doing this supports your comprehension of the material.
    • Elaboration: Connect new knowledge to prior knowledge on the subject by talking through the material aloud or through writing; this supports longer-term retention of the material.


    Reference: Chamot, A. U., & Kupper, L. (1989). Learning Strategies in Foreign Language Instruction. Foreign Language Annals, 22(1), 13–22.

    The four stages of studying

    Use the four stages of studying to guide your learning


    • Gather and assess your resources like course lectures, notes, readings, space.
    • Use your course outline to identify learning outcomes, assignments, and deadlines to help you break down your tasks.
    • Make sure to attend class – it’s part of your preparation for studying!

    ​Goal Setting and Planning

    • Set SMART study goals and create a plan to achieve them.
    • SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Timely
      • Turn a regular goal:
      • I will get an A in my class.
      • Into a SMART goal:
      • I will use flashcards and self-testing to study for my course 4 days a week for 90 minutes each day for the month leading up to the final exam so that I can get above an 85%.
    • Create a study plan with a goal for each day of studying to turn your goals into reality.


    • Study according to your plan!
    • Use active learning study strategies like teaching others, quizzing yourself, or creating concept maps.
    • Divide materials into workable chunks and include breaks!

    ​Reflect and Adapt

    • Based on your overall experience of studying, make changes to improve future learning.
    • Check in with yourself regularly. This could be each week, after a midterm, and/or at the end of each semester to reevaluate what worked for your learning.
    • Ask yourself: What went well? Did you get distracted? Did you get stuck at certain parts? What could you have done better? What will you do again? What new things will you try?

    Looking for resources on study techniques? Check out tips from McGill students in How I Learn Best.

    Learning from lecture recordings

    Lecture recordings, which contain audio of the lecturer as well as either video or PowerPoint, are uploaded as a digital file to myCourses. They can be a powerful tool to enhance both your performance in the course and your overall learning.

    Benefits of lecture recordings

    • You can access course content in your own time, whether because you missed a class, were disrupted while in class, or have different needs
    • Lecture recordings can help you answer questions independently, especially in classes where part of the lecture time is devoted to solving sample problems.
    • You can revisit material as many times as you need to in reviewing for exams and writing assignments
    • While in class, you can focus on asking questions and engaging with the lecturer (by connecting material from previous lectures or from readings, for example, or by being part of class discussions), and use the lecture recordings to take notes on the content.

    Pro tip: Watching lecture recordings can be draining. Check out this resource on Managing Zoom Fatigue

    Getting the most of lecture recordings

    • Using lecture recordings to supplement your learning can be very advantageous. There are a few tricks that can be used to further maximize the benefits of lecture recordings.
    • Access to lecture recordings will be on the MyCourses page associated with your class.
    • If you are unsure or are having access issues, first consult the IT Knowledge Base.
    • Recordings are usually uploaded within 24 hours of the lecture, and can be streamed from myCourses or downloaded to your computer (if instructors allow them to be downloadable).
    • Research indicates that students who use lecture recordings to supplement class attendance instead of to replace it get the most out of the recordings, often improving their class grades and retaining information better.


    • Watching recordings within a few days of the original lecture to take notes or add to the notes you’ve already taken
    • Watching sections you had trouble understanding again, or sections you couldn’t catch in class
    • Walking through problem sets or other assignments along with the examples and instructions given in lectures
    • Watching recordings with a classmate and then discussing the material
    • Using recordings as part of your study strategy before exams

    Reading and notetaking

    Reading strategies

    Reading is an important activity that supports your learning. This resource outlines three strategies to make the most of your readings. Try them individually or as a holistic single strategy to help you stay focused, engaged, and motivated as you move through your readings.


    • What? Get a sense of the big picture of what to expect from the reading.
    • Why? This prepares your brain to process this information by familiarizing yourself with the general content and structure.
    • How? Scan through the reading to look at headings, images, bolded words, or the first line of each paragraph.


    • What? Create questions that the reading should answer for you.
    • Why? This will help your focus and motivation because in searching for the answers you are giving yourself a reason to read.
    • How? Turn keywords, charts, or images into questions to guide your reading.


    • What? Start reading – BUT break down the reading into manageable chunks by stopping regularly to paraphrase what you just read.
    • Why? By processing the reading and regularly putting it in your own words you will avoid false starts, like re-reading the same sentence over and over. This will foster a deeper understanding of the content.
    • How? After each paragraph stop and write or say aloud that information into your own words. Move on to the next paragraph and paraphrase, and also fold in information from the first paragraph. Repeat!

    Reference: McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

    Reading research articles

    Read, reflect, consolidate: This is a strategy to read and understand jargon heavy science and social science research articles.


    • Read: to understand broadly what the article is about.
    • Reflect: What do I expect this article to be about?


    • Read: to survey the contents of the article.
    • Reflect: Do I want to read the entire article, based on what I have learned in the abstract?

    Introduction and literature review

    • Read: to understand the goals of this study and what previous research exists.
    • Reflect: What was the gap in knowledge that the authors are trying to fill?


    • Read: to understand what the study is testing, and to assess the quality of the study.
    • Reflect: Are these methods valid, reproducible and reliable? Are the methods aligned with other methods for the current standard in the field? Who were the participants? What was the sample size? What is the theoretical foundation?


    • Read: to understand what the results are portraying, how the data is being analyzed and interpreted.
    • Reflect: What are the main findings? What conclusions can I draw?

    Discussion and conclusion

    • Read: to understand what conclusions were drawn from the results.
    • Reflect: What question are the authors trying to answer? Did you come to the same conclusions as the authors came to? What future research could be done?

    Additional reflection questions

    • How is the article relevant to course discussions?
    • How does it inform my own research?
    • What are my main takeaways?


    • Create a summary sheet of your readings with a few sentence about each of the sections. Doing this for multiple readings will also allow you to find trends, patterns, or various arguments in research.
    • These references can aid in constructing a literature review and will also help you to identify gaps in the literature that you may want to close with your own project.
    • For example: Prince et al. demonstrated x but were not able to explain y, while Sam et al demonstrated evidence for both x and y.


    Keshav, S. (2007). “How to read a paper” ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, 37(3), 83–84.

    Academic Learning Centre, University of Manitoba. (2020). “Reading Academic Journal Articles

    Notetaking methods

    Effective notes: Taking good notes helps you remember what you have learned through readings and lectures. Quality notes are a valuable tool to use while studying and preparing for exams.

    Selecting your method: Notetaking is personal! No single method will work for everyone, so try out a few of the methods below and figure out what works for you.

    Notetaking tips

    • Write in phrases, not sentences
    • Record key words
    • Summarize the material in your own words
    • Use abbreviations and symbols
    • Remove distractions such as your phone and choose a study location that will allow you to focus
    • Refer back to your notes regularly to incorporate new information
    • If possible, opt for taking notes by hand rather than typing

    Method: Outline

    The pdf has an example of Outline notes, where there is the text “This is your main topic” at the highest bullet point level, and then indentations below that are sub-topics and then examples of the main topic.

    Create a structure that starts with broader points, and then use indentations to add details for each topic.


    • Provides an easy to follow structure
    • Outlines content and hierarchical relationships
    • Limited editing is needed
    • Easy to review material


    • Can be too structured for some students
    • Can be difficult to show some types of ordered relationships or patterns
    • May not show comparisons or connections well

    Note: always add the date to your notes! This will help you find and refer to them later.

    Method: Cornell notes

    There is an example of Cornell notes, divided into four sections. A small section at the top has class title and date. A small section at the bottom, about 1/5 of the page, has “Summary: After class write a summary of the content on this page”. In the middle part of the page, the left third has “After class: Fill in this section with main topics, prompts, and questions.” The right two-thirds has “During class: write key pieces of information.”

    Divide the page into four sections. During class or while reading, fill in the right section. After your class or reading, go back to the left to add prompts, and summarize the whole page in the bottom section.


    • An organized system for writing and reviewing notes
    • Easy way to identify important topics and questions
    • Ready-made summaries of content


    • Takes time to set up the system
    • Limited space to record information on each page
    • Might be too rigid a structure for some learners

    Method: Charting

    There is an image example of charting, which creates a table that has three columns and seven rows, though in an actual chart it can contain as many columns and rows as is appropriate for the subject matter.

    Decide on categories to divide up the content you are learning. Fill each section with a summary of information for that category.


    • Helpful to compare and contrast information
    • Easily visualize relationships
    • Consolidate information from other notes
    • Pull out information quickly


    • Can be difficult to decide upon the categories
    • Limited space to record information in each section
    • Not well suited for fast-paced or unstructured lectures

    Method: Concept mapping

    There is an example of a concept map. In the middle of the page are the words “This is your main topic” in a circle, and then it links around it in all directions to subtopics, also in circles, and supporting information or examples off of those sub-topics.

    This is a visual way to demonstrate relationships between content. Begin in the center with a core topic, and then link out to nodes around that topic.


    • Easy to engage in self-study for exam prep
    • Creates a one-page representation of important ideas
    • Shows relationships between ideas
    • Can help create questions or identify points of confusion in material


    • Could become messy
    • can be hard to create during a lecture, may be better suited for review
    • There is limited space for notes or explanations

    Check out McGill Library’s guide to concept maps for more information on tools and examples!

    Method: Flow notes

    There is an example of flow notes that has “main topic” at the top of the main, then under and around it are arrows connecting to sub-topics or other information. The points below connect to one-another to show linkages between concepts.

    Organize information spatially, connecting with lines, arrows, or even images. Avoid transcribing the information and focus on creating a mental picture of the topics and how they connect.


    • Encourages very active engagement with the material
    • Flexible and adaptable
    • Can show relationships between ideas
    • Supports comprehension of material


    • Might be too messy for some
    • Lack of explicit structure
    • Potential for information overload

    Exam prep

    READY strategy for multiple choice questions

    The R.E.A.D.Y. strategy can be used to answer tough multiple-choice questions. Use each step to guide your reading and response to these questions in an exam setting. You may not need to use R.E.A.D.Y. for every question, but if you're finding a specific question particularly challenging, then this is a simple and effective technique, no matter the subject!


    • Read the entire question.
    • Identify key words:
      • Negatives: None, not, never, neither
      • Superlatives: Every, all, none, always, only
      • Qualifiers: Usually, often, generally, may, seldom
    • Use scratch paper, if you can/want, and write down important parts of the question or key words.
    • Ask yourself: Before analyzing the question further and looking at each alternative, can I guess the answer?


    • Understand what the stem is really asking.
    • Ask yourself: Some answers may be good, but can I find the best answer?


    • Alternatives are your options (e.g., A, B, C, D, etc.).
    • Consider which alternatives best answer the question posed.
    • Ask yourself: How does each individual alternative relate to the stem-question?


    • Eliminate the distractors, such as non-plausive choices or incorrect alternatives.
    • Use a scrap piece of paper to write A, B, C, D and cross out distractors.
    • Ask yourself: Which alternatives can I confidently eliminate?


    • Re-read the entire question and possible answers.
    • Review your selection and reflect on how it answers the question being asked.
    • Ask yourself: Did I miss anything? If not, move on to the next question!

    Preparing for an essay exam

    What is an essay exam?

    An essay exam tests your ability to answer the question set, make an argument, and omit unnecessary words. Essay exams commonly evaluate relationships between major concepts and themes in the course.

    Basic structure

    An essay exam is meant to follow the same conventions as a formal essay, which means it should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion that are structured cohesively as a response to the question. Unlike long/short-answer questions, essay exams typically require a thesis statement.


    The closed-book exam is where you do not know what the questions will be ahead of time.


    The open-book exam is where you have access to books and/or notes during the exam. You may even know the exam questions ahead of time.


    The take-home exam typically involves a short period of time to write and submit your essay online.


    Mind the deadlines and any potential overlap with other coursework and notify your instructor so they are aware of prior commitments!

    What to expect

    Essay exams often require you to write several essays in quite a short period of time. This might limit the level of detail, particularly if you are not allowed to bring notes or books into the examination room. You’ll find that you need to adjust your writing style when the clock is ticking.

    Essay exams assume a “think, then write” model. You are expected to discover, clarify, and organize ideas before writing.

    The continuous process of revision is lost in a timed exam setting. Timed essay exams can feel hasty and like an unrevised rough draft.

    Critically reflecting on how the exam went is necessary to move forward in the class and better prepare for the next exam.

    Other useful resources

    How to prepare for an essay exam

    Study course materials by creating structured outlines or concept maps for issues that cover the key authors and their main points. Who said what? What terms and concepts did they use? What arguments did they use to defend their positions?

    Make connections in advance. Review the course outline and make conceptual connections between topics. You can also create text-to-text connections and use your lived experience to make text-to-world connections (your arguments will be more convincing if you give creative and critical connections).

    Think critically about the arguments and topics. Practice arguing for and against a particular view by asking yourself, what is the author’s main claim? Identify evidence that supports or refutes this claim. Try arguing for and against a particular claim aloud. These steps will help you weigh arguments and decide which side is more convincing, and why.

    Write practice essays under exam conditions. You’ll find that you need to adjust your writing style when the clock is ticking.

    How to practice: practice makes progress!

    A useful strategy to prepare for an essay exam is to practice writing under exam conditions. You’ll find that you need to adjust your writing style when the clock is ticking. Here's how to practice with a friend:

    1. Collect specific practice questions
      • Write a practice exam question on the same concept with a friend. Use a specific concept that came up a lot in class or one you think might come up in the future.
    2. Set a timer for the allotted time
      • If you have done some timed essay writing before the exam, you will be aware of how quickly time moves and how important it is to focus your answer.
    3. Take your friend’s practice exam
      • Exchange questions and test each other! Try answering your friend’s question and then discuss. See if your question makes sense in context.
    4. Read your practice essay
      • After reading your practice essays back, ask yourself: Have I really answered the question set? Did I make a good case for the conclusion? And, have I omitted unnecessary words?

    Writing essay exams


    • Do set some time aside to visualize a successful exam. Build up a positive image of yourself writing the exam. Imagine (eyes closed helps!) you are relaxed yet alert as you turn over the exam paper.
    • Do examine your response to the prompt. Try to identify any personal beliefs or experiences that could inform your position. Can you use your lived experience to make your position more persuasive?
    • Do a quick essay plan. Outline the key points you want to make to support your position and the order in which you want to make them. What are the reasons you have taken a certain position?
    • Do add a brief summary of what you were going to say if you run out of time. A few short sentences or a list-like format will show the reader where you were going!
    • Do a self-assessment after the exam to move forward in the class and better prepare for next time. What can you learn from this exam? How did you feel? What can you improve? What did you do well?


    • Don't start writing without reading the exam questions fully. Ask yourself: What are the keywords in the question? What exactly does the question ask? (E.g., argue, explain, illustrate with examples?)
    • Don't write a thesis statement without taking a position first. Your thesis should be a one-sentence answer to the exam question.
    • Don't leave it up to your reader to guess! Keep your examples concise and related to your thesis. Always explain how an example supports your point.
    • Don't underestimate the power of legible handwriting. You can only write as fast as you can write legibly (not beautifully, but legibly!) If your reader cannot understand your handwriting, they will guess!
    • Don't compare your written work done under exam time to longer-term essay projects. Be kind to yourself and remember what the examiner is (and isn’t) looking for.

    Office hours

    Office hours 101

    Office hours refer to designated times when you can speak with your instructor or teaching assistant (TA) outside of class. Since every question might not be answered during class time, office hours provide you with the opportunity to ask for clarifications about course requirements, concepts, and assessments.

    Why should you attend office hours?

    It is not mandatory for students to attend office hours, but studies have illustrated a direct correlation between attendance in office hours and high academic performance (Guerrero & Rod, 2013). Regular communication with instructors during office hours increases students’ confidence and retention of content.

    Where can you find office hours?

    Most instructors will provide details about the timing of their office hours on the first day of class. Usually, information about office hours is also provided on the course outline.

    Some instructors and TAs have consistent office hours on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. In this case, you can drop by without scheduling an appointment. Others have office hours by appointment only. In this case, you need to send them an email to schedule a meeting.

    For regular office hours, you can drop by without scheduling an appointment, during the designated times they have outlined.

    What is expected of you?

    Before meeting with your instructor during office hours, it is helpful to prepare by reviewing your notes, skimming assigned readings, and checking other course materials. You should have a clear plan of the questions that you would like to ask to ensure that you are respectful of your instructor’s time.

    If you need to speak with your instructor about an issue that may take 30 min to 1 hour, it may be better to schedule a separate meeting with them outside of office hours. Similarly, if you would like to go office hours during a busy time of the semester, it is helpful to give your instructor a heads-up so they can give you an idea about the time they would be able to spend with you.

    Instructors may ask you questions to assess your level of comprehension and guide you towards answering your own questions about course content. If an instructor asks you a question, do not feel intimidated if you do not know the answer; to address your needs, instructors must gauge your understanding of a topic and asking questions helps them do just that!

    Many students attend office hours close to assessment deadlines and exam periods. During these times, instructor are often overwhelmed by students’ requests and questions, and they may not have enough time to address your concerns. If you would like to go to office hours during a busy period of the semester, it is helpful to give your instructor a heads-up. However, it's better not to wait till the last minute to ask your questions!

    If you are unable to meet your instructor for office hours in-person, you can also request to meet them virtually. McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services has a great video resource that you can refer to if you’d like some guidelines about how to write to instructors.

    Connecting with instructors

    How to connect with instructors on campus

    Communicating and building connections with your instructors may help you achieve desired levels of academic achievement and a stronger understanding of course content.

    Tips for connecting with instructors during on-campus learning:

    Find your seat

    • Think intentionally about where you would like to sit in class. If you sit in the first few rows of the class, this makes it easier for your instructor to see you.
    • If your class doesn’t have rows, try to find a space that allows you to participate to the extent you are comfortable. Sitting in a similar place for each class can help the instructor recognize you, especially in large classrooms.

    Give a short greeting

    • When you enter class, greet your instructor with a quick ‘Hi, how are you?'. Small talk is a great way for you to interact with your instructor in a more informal context.

    Attend office hours

    • Office hours provide you with an opportunity to speak with your instructor individually.

    You can use office hours to do the following:

    • Discuss an assignment
    • Ask for clarification on a concept or idea discussed in lecture
    • Express gratitude by thanking the instructor for their time and discussing what you appreciated in the course

    If you and a classmate have similar questions, consider going to office hours together


    • If your instructor encourages in-class interaction, try to participate at least once every class. If you ask for a reference letter later on, participating in class will give your instructor a stronger understanding of your skills, interests, and academic potential.

    Connecting with instructors online

    Build relationships with your instructors to develop a strong professional network and a sense of community, belonging, and trust.

    Tips for connecting with instructors during online learning

    • Be present and engaged
      • If your classes are occurring through a virtual platform like Zoom, consider turning your camera on. Many instructors appreciate it when students show their engagement and presence in class by opening their camera.
      • If you don’t feel comfortable turning your camera on, or don’t have the bandwidth, personalize your Zoom profile by adding a picture. This will help your instructor remember who you are!
    • Participate in class
      • Check with your instructor to understand their expectations for classroom participation and follow their guidelines on when to ask questions during class, when to share ideas, and how often to use the chat
      • If you don’t feel comfortable participating verbally, and if the chat is enabled, start by sharing your thoughts in the chat when your instructor asks a question. Remember, your instructors are there to support your learning; don’t feel intimidated!
      • Public speaking is a critical life skill and participating in a lower-stakes environment will help you develop the confidence to speak in front of larger audiences.
    • Attend office hours
      • Office hours provide you with an opportunity to connect with your instructor. Go with a purpose such as discussing an assignment, feedback from a recent assessment, or to ask specific questions about the course. You can also attend with a classmate!
    • Express gratitude
      • Email your instructor a thank you note at the end of the semester or consider submitting to Thank a Prof, a form that you can fill out to express your appreciation and gratitude to your instructors. Access the Thank a Prof form here. Remember, small acts of kindness go a long way!

    Maintaining connections with instructors

    Entering the professional world in your discipline of study for the first time can be intimidating. Maintaining connections with your instructors after graduation can help you navigate the job market and your instructors can be critical references for job applications.

    Tips for staying in touch with your instructors after you graduate:

    • Use professional networking platforms. Connect with your instructors on LinkedIn. You can comment on their posts and communicate on any professional matters. You don’t have to do this with all of your instructors.
      • Maintaining online connections on career networking platforms with instructors who have significant experience in your field will help you develop a strong support system that you can turn to in moments of difficulty or confusion.
    • Follow on ResearchGate and Google Scholar. If your instructor is not on LinkedIn, try to follow their work on ResearchGate or Google Scholar. This is a great way to stay up to date with their research. Plus, connecting with past instructors about articles they have written may help you find a research project that aligns with your interests.
    • Connect regularly
      • Email your instructors a quick message at a major holiday or at regular intervals throughout the year. Watch this video on tips for writing emails to instructors.
      • Many students only communicate with their instructors after graduation when they need a favour like a reference or some form of assistance with a job application. It is good to connect with your instructors to show that you appreciate their support and think of them even when you do not need their help
    • Catch-up!
      • Try to connect with your instructor in-person or over Zoom every so often. You can ask for advice on your professional endeavours and meet to have a quick catch up.

    Group work

    Getting started with group work

    Step 1: Introductions

    • Reach out to your group mates. Share your contact information and communication preferences.
    • Share your academic background, and any other information that may be relevant to the project or course.
    • Early introduction will help the group be more comfortable with each other and contribute to a positive group dynamic

    Step 2: Logistics

    • Create a preliminary project plan to keep the group on track. Start with important due dates and project milestones.
    • Identify what tools you’ll use to communicate and share files, how often you will meet, and discuss any time constraints for scheduling.
    • Possible tools: MS Teams, Outlook, OneDrive, myCourses, Zoom
      • Did you know? MS365 is free to all McGill students!

    Step 3: Roles

    • Divide the project tasks and assign roles and responsibilities to each group member.
    • Clarifying who will do what helps group members know what is expected of them for the duration of the project.
    • Try to align your roles and tasks with what you want to get out of the course. Be prepared to compromise.
      • Check out the Assigning Roles in Group Work document for more information!

    Assigning roles in group work

    Tips to help you start:

    When deciding on roles, keep in mind your interests and existing skills, as well as how you can take this opportunity to learn new skills.

    Your group may not always need one person in each role – work with what best fits the project requirements and guidelines.

    Collaborate as a team to assign roles early on and mutually decide on ways to hold each other accountable.

    • Driving: facilitates meetings, motivates, challenges ideas, provides constructive feedback, etc.
    • Interpersonal: Finds and works with external resources, communicates with instructor to TA, mediates conflicts
    • Quality assurance: Ensures adherence to the assignment guidelines/criteria, edits and revises drafts, formats slides or documents
    • Generalist: Supports any of the other roles
    • Organizational: Monitors division of work, schedules meeting times and spaces, takes notes, etc.
    • Technical: Make slides or shared documents, leads with coding, sound mixing, video editing, etc.


    Establishing a relationship

    Have you been assigned a supervisor?

    Have you met your supervisor?

    • Schedule a meeting right at the start of the semester.
    • Bring and complete your official Letter of Understanding.
    • Discuss and clarify what your role is and the expectations.
    • Schedule consistent check-ins to keep up-to-date with each other.

    Important issues you might want to discuss and/or clarify:

    • How do you work best?
    • What are you looking for out of this relationship?
    • What kind of feedback do they give?

    Tip: This is a professional relationship which you are one half of; claim your agency.

    Check out the Supervision workshops:

    • Getting started with supervision
    • Sustaining supervision
    • Getting the best out your supervisor

    Communicating with your supervisor


    Communicating efficiently with your supervisor is important. Remember this is a professional relationship, so try to actively listen and also claim your agency!

    Meeting tips:

    • Prepare an agenda
    • Take notes and send follow-up emails after discussions
    • Be clear about your level of understanding

    Building communication skills is a lifelong process that requires practice. This includes learning how to give and receive feedback.


    How you give and receive feedback is an important aspect of communication with your supervisor. Think about the feedback you want to receive.

    Reflect on questions like: What type of feedback will help you most? How often would you prefer feedback? How long do you expect to wait for feedback after submitting work?

    Think about your answers to these questions when giving feedback as well.

    When giving and receiving feedback, be aware of resistance strategies (like defensiveness).



    In your department: Supervisor --> GPD – Graduate Program Director --> Department Chair -->

    Outside your department: Faculty Associate Dean --> GPS Associate Dean --> GPS Dean

    Check out our workshops

    Defining expectations

    Clarifying and redefining your role as a grad student

    Explicit and implicit expectations

    Explicit expectations are above the surface, clear, and easy to navigate. They can be found in the Student Handbook, McGill policies, Program requirements, and your LOU.

    Check out our resource on LOUs

    Implicit expectations are often hidden beneath the surface, the unspoken expectations that exist between you and your supervisor that would benefit from open and honest conversation.

    Some expectations you could discuss are:

    • project timeline
    • project format​
    • skills development
    • professional development
    • meeting schedule​
    • communication

    Clarifying expectations can help you:

    • Plan rest and vacations into your schedule.
    • Communicate with your supervisor if you fall behind schedule.
    • Avoid potential misunderstandings, disappointments, and conflicts.
    • Organize your time to more efficiently reach your goals.

    Redefining expectations

    Conversations about expectations are ongoing! You can and should routinely discuss your expectations and your progress with your supervisor.

    Many things will change over the course of your degree and these changes can affect your expectations and abilities, such as:

    • family
    • health
    • motivation
    • academic interests
    • research goals
    • job market expectations

    Check out the Supervision workshops for more information and advice.

    Letter of understanding

    What is an LOU and how to get the most out of it

    1. What is it?

    • A Letter of Understanding (LOU) is a document that helps to structure and record a meeting with your supervisor about your relationship and mutual expectations.
    • Different departments have varying requirements and templates for LOUs. Ask your Graduate Program Director about them!
    1. What’s in it?

    An LOU will often have you asking questions like these:

    • When will we meet? How often?
    • How will we communicate?
    • What kind of feedback will I receive? How often? How fast?
    • What are my research responsibilities?
    • Are there options for further professional development?
    • What are my long-term goals for getting this degree?
    1. Why use it?

    • An LOU is required for all PhD students and must be uploaded to myProgress, it is also just great tool to clarify your role as Grad student and get off on the right foot! It is not required for Master's students, but highly suggested!
    • Check out this template from Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

    Check out our workshops



    Learning with Zoom

    What is Zoom?

    Zoom is a web conferencing tool. It allows instructors to easily convne online meetings with students, chat with or without video enabled, and deliver presentations while maintaining a good quality connection among all participants.

    What can I do on Zoom?

    • Attend live course sessions
    • Engage with your instructor through chat, audio, and video features
    • Participate in Breakout Rooms and polls
    • Host unlimited meetings with up to 300 participants
    • Hold 24-hour maximum group meetings
    • Record meetings
    • Screen share and more

    What do I need?

    • Computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone with a stable, high-speed internet connection (iOS and Android apps available)
    • Headphones, arbuds, and/or speakers
    • Microphone (a separate microphone can be better than your device's built-in one)
    • Web camera (optional, preferred for face-to-face connection)

    Getting oriented on Zoom

    Bottom bar of a Zoom screen from left to right the buttons are:

    • Mute/Unmute your audio. To avoid background noise, keep yourself muted unless you've been invited to speak
    • Start/Stop Video turns your video on and off.
    • As a host, Security allows you to "lock" the room and control participant functions.
    • Click to open the Participants window to see a list of participants and to rename yourself and change your profile picture.
      • You can also add your pronouns in the Profile section.
    • Chat opens the meeting's chat box.
    • Share Screen lets you share your desktop or just one window.
    • Reactions will show on your thumbnail

    Learning with Zoom: Breakout Rooms

    What are breakout rooms?

    Breakout Rooms allow participants to meet in smaller groups within the main Zoom meeting. McGill instructors may use this feature to assign students into groups for a short period of time so that they can hold a discussion. To learn about how to create and manage Breakout Rooms in your own meetings, consult the Managing Breakout Rooms resource article from the Zoom Help Center.

    How do I join a breakout room?

    • When the host (e.g., instructor or TA) initiates the Breakout Rooms, you'll get a notification inviting you to join your Breakout Room.
    • Click the Join Breakout Room pop-up notification to enter.

    How do I leave a breakout room?

    • When the host ends the Breakout Rooms, you'll get a notification to either return to the main meeting immediately or after 60 seconds.
    • Click Leave Breakout Room to return to the main meeting.

    Managing Zoom fatigue

    Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon where we feel fatigue from all our screen-time interactions.

    We can feel fatigued, emotionally drained, and have irritated eyes after video meetings. Some reasons for this are:

    • Our brains have to work harder to process non-verbal cues.
    • Delays and glitches can make the people we are interacting with seem less friendly or approachable and it can feel unnaturally quiet when everyone is muted.
    • We can see ourselves, so we are always "on."
    • We become hyper-aware of our appearance and feel the intensity of all eyes being on us.


    1. Take breaks: Schedule screen time breaks in your day. It helps to get outside and avoid back-to-back meetings as much as possible.
    2. Know that feeling self-conscious is normal: Zoom allows you to hide self-view and, when possible, turn your camera off.
    3. Keep it brief: You can say no to video meetings that seem unnecessary and opt for text or audio meetings. Having an agenda can help keep on task and shorten screen times.
    4. Avoid multi-tasking during meetings: Our cognitive ability is strained enough by attending meetings. Make things easier for yourself by focusing only on the meeting at hand.
    5. Protect your eyes: You can reduce eye strain by wearing blue light blocking glasses and following the 20-20-20 rule which suggests that after every twenty minutes of screen time, you should look at an object twenty feet away for twenty seconds.
    6. Keep it interesting: Environment affects workflow, so switch up your work space every so often.
    7. Be kind to yourself: Remember that it is okay to feel overwhelmed and tired from virtual meetings. Check in with yourself and talk with friends and family as often as you can.

    10 tips for students using Zoom

    Whether for classes with instructors or small group meetings with peers, these ten tips can help create a positive experience.

    1. Join on time
      • Aim to join your Zoom meetings a few minutes early so that the instructor can start class at the scheduled time.
    2. Mute yourself
      • Keep your microphone on mute to limit background noise during the meeting for all participants.
    3. Keep your camera at eye-level
      • If you're joining a meeting with your video enabled, try to position the camera at eye-level with a plain background and avoid backlighting. You might also consider using a virtual background to personalize your meeting experience or for privacy reasons. Once your camera is on, don't forget that other participants can see you until you turn it off or leave the meeting.
    4. Limit distractions
      • Limit your own distractions by closing unnecessary browser tabs, silencing your cellphone, and avoiding multi-tasking. Limit distractions to others by reducing movement or a background. Business
    5. Add your pronouns
      • Consider including your preferred pronouns so that other participants know how to refer to you. You can do this by clicking Profile and then Edit. If you're a teaching assistant, you might want to add "(TA)" after your name so the instructor and students can easily identify you from the participants list.
    6. Come prepared
      • Prepare for your class by completing homework, readings, assignments, or review beforehand.
    7. Be present
      • Pay attention and keep focused by taking notes by hand, if possible, and by using the many interactive features available in Zoom, e.g., chat, reactions.
    8. Raise your hand
      • Have a question? Use the Raise Hand button to signal to the meeting host that you would like to speak and get added to the spears list. This button is found in the Participants tab.
    9. Communicate respectfully
      • Keep communication respectful to ensure a positive learning environment for all and follow the instructor's guidelines for the use of Chat and other features like Reactions.
    10. Don’t stress
      • Be prepared to deal with the occasional technical issue. Check out some tips from IT Services about how to improve your internet connection, and know that pausing to troubleshoot is totally okay.


    McGill University is on land which has served and continues to serve as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. Teaching and Learning Services acknowledges and thanks the diverse Indigenous peoples whose footsteps mark this territory on which peoples of the world now gather. This land acknowledgement is shared as a starting point to provide context for further learning and action.

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