Skip to main content

Good academic practice

Developing good academic practices will help you to succeed at university—and provide the foundation for success after you graduate. Some tips may be 'common sense' but, when we get busy, it is surprising how often we forget those things that just make sense. Key to good academic practice and avoiding allegations of academic misconduct is honesty and integrity in all your academic work and activities. 

  • Go to class

    This sounds obvious (especially when you are paying so much in tuition), but it is easy to slip into the bad habit of missing class. Once you miss one class, it becomes easier to miss others. If a class runs for three hours once a week, there will only be about 13 classes; missing a few can have a big impact on your ability to do well. If you have to miss a class, make sure it is for a good reason. If you are ill, submit a doctor’s note on a Ontario Tech U medical certificate to the Academic Advising office. Don’t assume others in the class will give you their class notes or bring you up-to-date every week. Don’t email your instructor to ask what you missed - know that you missed a lot of information that can't be encapsulated in an email response. If you have to miss class on occasion, make a plan ahead of time. When you miss class, you miss the opportunity to ask questions, talk to your instructor and other members of the class, and learn important information. Depending on the structure of the class, you may lose grades if you are not in class to participate in activities.

  • Manage your time

    Sometimes, the busier you are, the more you can accomplish—but it takes planning. Everyone is busy with school, work, family, friends, and having fun. If you don’t keep yourself organized from the start of each semester, it is easy for something to slip through the cracks. Often, classes and assignments are what gets lost in the busy-ness of the term, so that all of a sudden, the end of term, final projects and exams are looming.

    Use a calendar (paper, electronic or whatever works for you) to note all your due dates and work schedule, then work backwards to map out the stages of each assignment, when you need to start studying and so on. You should receive the due dates of all assignments and tests during the term (although the final exam date will come later) when you get your syllabus for each course. Normally, there are about 13 weeks in a term. You need to do all the readings, participate in classes, accomplish all the assignments, and take several tests for four or five courses. You will want to see your family and friends. You will probably work at a job for a few hours per week. And you will want to have fun—and sleep! Plan a weekly schedule for your day-to-day activities (weekly readings, classes, work), add in time to work on assignments and to start studying early for exams, figure out when you will need to visit family (if you live away from home), and then decide which are the best days to go out and have fun. Plan time for fun and for sleep, but remember that if you are out late several nights per week and like to sleep in, your days will be very short and you will have trouble finishing all your work.

    If you put in minimal effort on assignments and coursework, your grades will most likely reflect that effort.

    See the Student Learning Centre website for workshops on time management skills.

  • Learn to read

    OK. You know how to read. But do you know how to read a 30-page academic article? Building your reading stamina is just like building the stamina to run or walk long distances. If you are not in the habit of reading for pleasure or for school, you will have to rebuild your ability to pay attention and stick with an article or book or lecture. Even when something seems boring, stick with it and keep an open mind. It helps to take notes because it will help you stay focused and to remember what you’ve read.

    See the Student Learning Centre website for workshops on reading strategies.

  • Take notes

    Unless you have a perfect photographic memory, you will not remember everything you read or hear in class. You can use paper and a pen or your computer or a tablet to take notes—whatever works for you. Some research suggests that handwriting your notes and then typing them up later is very effective at helping the memory process. This makes sense because you are going through everything at least twice. When should you take notes? In class, during group discussions, while reading articles for class, and when conducting research. There are lots of different note-taking techniques so you may want to experiment to find what works for you.

    See the Student Learning Centre website for workshops on note-taking.

  • Avoid plagiarism

    When you are researching and writing your assignments and essays, make sure you avoid plagiarizing. This means everything should be in your own words. If something is not your own idea, you must cite and reference where it came from; this is your research. If you plagiarize (or cheat in any way), you will face significant consequences.

  • Learn to write

    Depending on your program, many of the assessments used at university to measure your learning will be in a written format. You may do presentations, labs or multiple-choice tests, but eventually you will be writing essays or reports. And after you graduate, there will be cover letters and resumeés, reports and pitches, memos and letters, and so on. Developing your writing skills will be important to your success at university and after. At university, you demonstrate your knowledge to your instructors through your assignments—you are communicating your ideas, the connections you’ve made, and your conclusions or recommendations. If your reader cannot understand what you are trying to say, your ideas will be lost. If you need lots of help with your writing, consider taking a summer writing class at college or elsewhere. In addition, the university’s writing support centre can help.

  • Ask questions

    If it feels like there is a lot to know at university, you may feel overwhelmed. It can also feel intimidating being at university—so many people, such big classes, so much information! Don’t worry! There are lots of people around who are willing to help you. In class, your instructor and Teaching Assistants (TA) are willing to help—but do show that you’ve tried to find out the information before talking to them. They will have office hours or may be available before or after class. This will depend on their particular schedule. You can also speak with an Academic Advisor, Student Services, a research librarian, or a counsellor.

  • Find the Library - and use it!

    You pay for all the resources in the university library. They are available to you online and in the physical library. The Campus Libraries have specialist research librarians for each faculty and they provide many resources on conducting research, determining what sources are good ones, and so on. You will not have access to good quality academic sources if you do not use your library databases. If you only use the Google search engine or Wikipedia or similar things, you will not be able to do your best work. Visit the library early in your research process.

  • Learn to conduct research

    University-level research is much different from what you may have done in high school or college. You will need to use academic articles and books that you can only find through the library databases. Take the time to find good, reliable sources of information, take good notes, carefully record where the information came from (so you can cite and reference them in your essay or report), and then reflect on what these sources argue. Once you have enough sources (at least five to 10, but this number may be higher depending on the year level, type of course and expectations of your instructor), you will need to review the information, organize it, consider how it fits with your argument, how you will analyze it, and so on. Your final essay or report must be more than a patchwork of other people’s ideas; you must demonstrate to your instructor your analysis and understanding of the issue(s) you are addressing.

    • Visit the NOOL website.
    • Get research help from the Ontario Tech University Library.
  • Learn to cite and reference your research

    Academic research always builds on the work of previous researchers. This means you need to show where your information has come from using in-text citations in the body of your essay or report and a reference list at the end of your paper. Not doing so constitutes plagiarism. Remember that you must cite both paraphrased information and direct quotes. The exact form of these items will depend on the field of study you are in and the required style you have been told to use.

    • Visit the NOOL website. 
    • Get research help from the Ontario Tech University Library.
  • Meet your deadlines

    With good planning and time management, you can meet all your deadlines. Most instructors will deduct grades for late submissions; some may not accept late papers at all without a doctor’s note. Meeting your deadlines prevents the unnecessary loss of grades. If you become ill or have a family emergency, make sure to contact the Academic Advising office and your instructor as soon as possible. Your doctor’s note must be on a UOIT medical certificate. Working with the Academic Advising office when something unexpected occurs helps ensure there is no miscommunication and no documentation gets lost. Your advisor can also help co-ordinate with your instructors to arrange new due dates (if necessary).

  • Seek help

    If you feel overwhelmed, lost, confused, depressed or alone, ask for help. There are lots of resources for you to use on campus.

  • Collaborate - but don't collude!

    Good learning often happens when you work with others—by discussing, teaching, supporting, and so on. However, unless you are working on a group assignment, make sure you do your own work on assignments. Not only will you learn more, but you will also avoid any possibility of being accused of academic misconduct. Many students find working with a regular study group is helpful. Research demonstrates having friends and peer support helps students succeed in university.

  • Sleep, exercise and socialize

    Do make sure you take of yourself. Without good sleeping habits, breaks from work and regular exercise, none of the above advice will help as much. Keep a regular sleep schedule, but don’t sleep all the time; get out for fresh air and exercise every day. Go out with your friends—but don’t party too much! Find your balance.

  • Resources and tips