Essays, reading assignments, exams - get ready, there'll be a lot of them. And if you don't already
have good writing, studying and organization habits, it's time to learn some! Most students find it
takes some time to adjust to the academic demands of college and university. But there are some
strategies that can help.
Use the resources available to you
All colleges and universities have a variety of services offered to all students free of charge to help
them with their studies.
Learning/study skills centres
These centres offer a wide variety of resources and services:
- Assessment of your aptitude for a particular program or career path.
- Assessment of your learning style and help to develop strategies and skills to accommodate that style.
- Courses and tutorials in study skills, reading skills, writing skills.
- Tutors and academic coaching.
Assistive Technology Centres and Computer Labs
Some colleges and universities have special centres to help students with disabilities access computer
technology and software programs that can help them with their schoolwork. You can get advice and try
out products. Some institutions also have special computer labs for students with disabilities.
Researching and writing essays and papers is a new experience for most students going to college or
university. Often college and university libraries hold free workshops early in the semester to teach
students skills like how to use the library, how to research papers, and how to find things on the
internet. Make friends with the reference librarians. They can answer your questions and explain how
to find what you need.
Developing your skills
Doing well in school requires a lot of different skills, whether or not you have a disability. Spend
some time developing your skills in the following areas:
- Join a study group or create one yourself. A study group is a group of students that gets
together to review lecture notes or reading materials, work together on assignments and help
each other stay on top of course work.
- Find a class buddy who will share lecture notes if you miss a class, and who you can talk
to about assignments.
- Skim your lecture notes of the previous lecture before going to the next one.
- Summarize lecture and text notes using flash cards or rewriting notes on the computer.
- Break down your assignments and set small goals. For example, if you have to read a book,
set a goal of reading one or two chapters at a time.
- Work for a short period of time and then take a break and reward yourself.
- Decide which assignments are the priority and work on them first.
- Make sure you understand the assignment and what is required. Clarify with the instructor
or teaching assistant if you aren't clear.
- Give yourself plenty of time to do assignments. Try to complete them several days in advance
so you have time to proofread and polish them.
- Avoid studying in areas with lots of distractions that can affect your concentration (e.g.,
bad lighting, bad ventilation, loud noise/other people).
- Take advantage of quiet study locations, such as libraries, to escape the noise and stimulation
of residence. Many institutions now use wireless technology, so you may be able to connect to the
internet through your laptop from a variety of locations.
- If your medication affects your vision, or you have trouble concentrating, you may prefer to
listen to assigned readings. Text-to-voice software (e.g., Kurzweill 3000
allows you to scan pages of text. The computer then reads the pages out loud. If your instructor provides readings or notes online (e.g., for
distance education courses) - you can download the file and have your computer read it to you.
- Ask your teaching assistant or instructor if they are willing to look over your assignment/paper.
- Use the writing tutorial service if one is available at your school.
- A number of computer programs are available to help you with writing assignments. If your campus
has an Assistive Technology Centre or Computer Centre, you may be able to access them there:
- If you find it easier to think out loud rather than putting words on paper, try voice recognition
software that types text as you speak (e.g.,
- Brainstorming/mind-mapping software helps you to organize your ideas by creating a diagram using
colours and shapes. It then takes the diagram and creates an outline using headings and subheadings
so you can write your paper (e.g., Inspiration 7;
Mind Manager). Most word processing programs also have an "outline" feature which can be used to organize your thoughts.
- Trouble with grammar? Grammatical support programs monitor and correct your grammar as you
type (e.g., Grammar Expert Plus;
Check it out
The Adaptive Technology Resource Centre of the University of Toronto has an
online resource that
describes and compares the various software programs and technologies available.
Organization/time management tips
- Get course outlines well in advance so you can plan ahead for assignments and tests.
- Download lecture notes before the class if they are available on the internet.
- Plan out your work for the whole term. Start with the due dates and work backward.
For example, set dates for having the research completed for the paper and for completing
the first draft.
- Set earlier due dates for yourself so that you have extra time.
- Set up a weekly schedule for yourself - scheduling in study time, social time, etc.
- Stay on top of your homework and assignments. Workload and the stress that comes with
it usually increases as the term goes on. Don't leave things for the last minute.
- Get books and resources ahead of time so you have the time you need to do required reading.
- Avoid early morning classes if your illness or medication makes it hard to wake up or
concentrate in the morning. (Note: some times class schedules don't allow you that
- Consider doing advance reading during vacation breaks so you have a reduced
workload during semester.
- Use an agenda or palm pilot/organizer to schedule school work, personal activities
- Keep your workload realistic. Consider taking less than a full course load.
- Learn to prioritize.
- When you get stuck, try doing something else for a while and then come back to it.
- Organize yourself the night before so you know what you are doing and where you are
going before you start your day.
© 2004 Canadian Mental Health Association. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced
in any form without written permission of the Canadian Mental Health Association.