Keys to Success: The Take Home Exam

Take home exams can sound daunting, having to take time out of your designated study days to plan and write an exam can be stressful; however, with the right tools you will be able to master the art of take home exams!


There are many different ways to review your notes to make sense of the information that was provided to you throughout the term.  Burns and Sinfield (2004) state that “…unless we revise material that we encounter we forget 98% after just three weeks” (p. 160).  A term is twelve weeks long; therefore, in order to remember the information well once you get to the exam, you should review your notes every week or every month.

You may be thinking that take home exams are easier than in-class or written exams because in most cases you can use your lecture and reading notes from the term.  However, take home exams usually require more than just regurgitating information.

Therefore, you should study before you receive the take home exam, which will allow you to have a grasp on the main concepts in the course and any important information from the readings.  Then, when it comes time to writing the exam, it will be easier to write because you already know where the information is, and you can retrieve some of the information from memory.  Actively reviewing your notes will also give you an opportunity to test yourself on your knowledge to make sure you understand the information well.  This ensures that you are using the information in a meaningful way, which will increase your ability to recall the information later during the take home exam.


The Take Home Essay

One common type of take home exam is an essay.  Essays require you to examine all of the big concepts and important themes that have been discussed throughout the term, and synthesize that information into a coherent argument.

What to Focus On:

  • Major concepts, ideas, and terms.
  • Practice explaining, analyzing, applying those concepts and ideas.
  • How do the ideas in texts and notes relate to each other?
  • Anticipate possible test questions.
  • Write short essay outlines to practice ahead of time (thesis statement, supporting points, evidence).


Other Tips and Tricks:

  • Form a study or writing schedule for the exam in order to schedule small chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on writing the exam.
  • Eliminate ALL distractions- turn off your phone, block Facebook and Twitter, close your door to eliminate disruptions (electronics will survive without you).
  • Write the exam in a quiet and secluded study space, whichever space works for you in your home.
  • Review the instructions for the exam two or three times before you start planning and writing to ensure that you understand what is being asked.  Make sure that you are addressing everything that is being asked in the question.  In order to check that you are doing this, try to follow the order of the steps in the question in the same order in your writing.
  • What sources are you allowed using, if any?  If the instructions say to quote directly from the article, you should try to quote directly from the article, citing any information that is not your own.
  • If you do use direct quotations, ensure that you’re explaining them and linking them back to the main ideas of your exam.
  • When you are done writing, revise and edit multiple times, if you have time, before you submit the final copy.
  • In an in-class exam, you have maximum two hours to write the exam, and you don’t have a lot of time for revision.  Whereas at home, you have the time to revise your exam thoroughly; you might as well use it!


  • As with in-class exams, on take home exams you cannot ask others for help.  If you have questions let your professor know.
  • Unfortunately the Centre for Student Success cannot help you with take home exams without permission, as this would constitute as academic dishonesty.  The Centre for Student Success can only help if you have WRITTEN permission from your professor.  However, you can stop in to ask generalized questions.

Best of luck with your exams!

Rebecca Good

Peer Mentor


Burns, T., & Sinfield, S. (2004). How to promote effective revision and exam techniques. In Teaching, Learning & Study Skills: A Guide for Tutors. (pp. 156-170). London: A SAGE Publications Company.

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Putting the ‘I’ in Academic Writing : Discursive I and You

Without fail, whether it’s in a first year or a fourth year class a hand timidly goes up, followed by a voice asking: “are we allowed to use “I” in our essay?” That I-word! That’s what I have started thinking of “I”. Like a typical four-letter word, sometimes it’s a needed expression, contextually appropriate, useful …and sometimes it’s not. This anachronistic remnant of high-school English classes tends to rear its head to do battle with a student’s natural inclination in writing an academic paper. DON’T USE “I”. How many times can you remember being told that in high-school writing? Fast forward to university and here you are being asked to write academically, objectively AND somehow incorporate your analysis, your thoughts and opinions. Except no one has come out and said “…don’t use I.” In fact most professors don’t even mention it until that hand goes up and the question is asked.

This avoidance of ‘I’ in academic settings stems from the belief that research should be presented in a neutral, non-personal and rational manner (Hyland, 2002). The researcher and their written work is merely the vehicle through which knowledge flows…they are not the creator of this knowledge, your personal view is not relevant. Generally if ‘I’ is used, it is as a descriptive mechanism through which the reader is introduced to the writer/ researcher. In academic writing the simple “I” is transformed into what researchers call the discursive I (Giltrow, 2002, p. 235). Writers will introduce their discourse action e.g. “I want to focus on …I want to suggest …I will demonstrate…I conclude etc.” The use of ‘I’ is often limited to describing the actions of the writer and can easily be switched out with 3rd person variations e.g. this paper presents…the evidence suggest …findings demonstrate etc. This common perception of the legitimate and limited use of ‘I’ in academic writing relegates the writer to a passive role rather than active engagement with the subject matter.

To say that you should avoid the use of ‘I’ except in the most limited context when writing an academic paper would be to over-simply the complex relationship between you as a student-writer, and the choice and portrayal of the subject matter. Recent research has shown the diversity of forms that research, arguments, expressions and in-deed the very choice of words used to communicate with the reader are acts of identity (Giltrow, 2002; Hyland, 2002). Academic writing is not a homogenous body of work but rather a style of writing that varies across disciplines. Your choice of discipline is innately tied to your individuality . This situates you in a specific realm where your social experiences, political views and previous knowledge impact the types of subjects you study, the manner you gather information and your interpretation of that information.


In my opinion , to be a truly engaged student, it is critical that we are passionate about what we study. Even when the course is not of your choosing, it is always possible to find an angle on the topic that ties in with your interest to write on. And this is at the heart of what your professors want to see in your writing. At the undergraduate level , none of us are experts but we do have opinions. As we encounter new concepts , incorporate diverse perspectives, broaden our worldviews through our academic and non-academic interactions , we engage in reconstructing knowledge and making meaning of our world (Swaner, 2007).

When you write academically, the expectation is that you substantiate your opinions or thoughts with concrete proof evidenced by sound research. Engage with the subject matter and presented research. Question the information , reflect on the source and findings, how does it mesh with your own thoughts on the matter? Does it support your views? Does it change your mind ? Interpret the information, don’t summarize and present the findings. This is how you include ‘I’ in academic writing . What you produce is as unique as your individuality , don’t be afraid to let this show. At the same time, remember that when you write, you are communicating with your peers and professors within your discipline and as such your produced work must present your ideas in a way that makes sense to your readers. Sometimes using ‘I’ will be appropriate and sometimes the appropriate identity will require an erasure of your I-dentity.


Works Cited

Giltrow, J. (2002). Ch: 5 Scholarly Styles and the limits of knowledge. In J. Giltrow, Academic Writing : Writing & reading in the diciplines (pp. 233-320 ). Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd.

Hyland, K. (2002). Options of identity in academic writing. English Language Journal, 56(4), 351-358.

Swaner, L. E. (2007). Linking engaged learning and well-being, and civic : A review of the literature. Liberal Education , 16-25.

by: Aquisha Lewis

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Creating an Effective Study Environment

Studying – this is a term that many university students use when they are referring to exam preparation. The term is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject” (2015). Many students tend to overlook the “time and attention” portion of this definition when preparing for their exams. Although the methods that one uses to study are important to consider (ex. Re-writing notes, creating cue cards, self-testing, etc) the study environment itself is equally as important.

Of course, there is no ‘fix-all’ solution that will dramatically and instantly improve your study habits, but I have listed 5 key factors to consider in creating an effective study environment that can help you get there.

1. Location
2. Atmosphere
3. Private vs. Group Study
4. Distractions
5. Resources

1. Just like they say in Real Estate… Location, Location, Location!

Location is extremely important in determining the success of a study session. In order to study effectively, you must pick a location where you can focus. Some options could be your bedroom, the library, study rooms or quiet lounges in residences or university buildings, empty lecture halls and classrooms, or even a coffee shop.

2. Atmosphere! (Not to be confused with the protective layer of gases that surround Earth)

Working in conjunction with location, it is important to consider the factors that impact the atmosphere of your study space. Things like noise and lighting all play a role in how effective your study session can be. If you are a student that needs to have complete silence when you are studying, then it might not be wise to study in a high traffic location such as a coffee shop. Instead, you might want to try studying in a quiet space such as a library, or an empty classroom where there would be minimal interruptions. Another factor to consider could be the lighting available – Do you prefer bright lights of a large room, or the soft light of a lamp?

3. To Group Study, or not to Group Study? That is the question.

Studying in a group is a really good strategy to study effectively, but only when it is done properly. As one of my professors has said, “Our collective knowledge is vastly greater than the knowledge of the individual”. When preparing for a test, studying with a group can be extremely useful, especially if different people in the group know a concept better than others. This can create a dynamic where students can teach and challenge each other on concepts, and come to a greater understanding of the material together. However, there are a few things to be aware of:

– Who are you studying with? Will the group be able to stay on track?
– How many people are in the group?
o To keep things effective, you shouldn’t go over 4 people (unless of                                           course you are attending a study group run by a facilitator to keep                                             everyone on track).
– Make sure to take breaks and pack some snacks
– Be aware of the location and atmosphere! If you are studying close                                             to a restaurant, the group can get distracted and decide                                                                 that going out to eat is more important (this is why you should pack some food!)

4. Distrac- hey… I’m hungry.

Of course, even if you have picked a good location and have a good atmosphere to study in, you will not be successful unless you eliminate or at least minimize all possible distractions. Today, one of the biggest distractions that interfere with students’ study time is technology and social media. So, if you are going to study, be proactive and use some strategies to prevent yourself from getting distracted. For example, if you are glued to your phone, you can try putting it on silent, leaving it in your bag, turning it off completely, or even leaving it at home.

Here are some other distractions you might want to avoid:
– Listening to music or wearing headphones
          – Studying while watching a TV show
          – Trying to study with a friend who is not taking the same course, or who does                       not want to study

5. Resources (Last, but definitely not least!)

Okay, you have picked a location with a good atmosphere, you have decided whether or not you will study in a group, and you have minimalized your distractions. Excellent! Just one more thing to remember – be prepared! When you are getting ready to study, always make sure you have a collection of supplies readily available such as pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, etc. Forgetting these things can throw you off your game, and distract you from studying! This may seem like a small problem, but it can have a big impact – I never leave my house to go study without my ball point pens and a highlighter (and of course the textbooks and any reading material or previously written notes I have!)
So, there you have it. Next time you study, keep in mind these 5 keys factors, and you will be successful!

Happy Studying,

Mason Gomes
Senior Facilitated Study Group Leader


Ramsey, C., & Witter, A. (2010). Ideal study environments and factors that influence studying. Writing and Learning Commons. Western Carolina University. Retrieved from:

Advising and Learning Assistance Center. (2015). Effective Study Environments. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved from:

Oxford Dictionaries. (2015). Study. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from:

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Brainstorming Techniques: Getting an Early Start on your University Papers

Sometimes the starting point for writing university papers is the hardest; however, it’s a very important step.   Essentially, brainstorming helps you break down your overall topic and come up with a generic rough outline for your future paper. Through brainstorming you’ll be able to create a visual organization of your topic, find possible arguments, build ideas off of each other, and critically analyze your topic.

The good news is that there’s no “right” way to brainstorming ideas. Here are some useful ways to help you get started on your brainstorming process.

Mind Maps

                Mind Maps are a great way to brainstorm topics for university papers. By using mind maps you’ll be able to organize your thoughts, classify ideas, connect your main ideas to the central topic, and critically analyze your findings. Mind maps also allow you to identify the topic and how it impacts other areas related to it.

Steps to Creating a Mind Map

  1. Write your topic in the center of the page
  2. Add branches by creating subtopics/ideas of the central issue
  3. Add sub-branches from those newly created ideas by expanding on other relatable ideas. 1

Useful Sources/Apps

  1. Free Mind
  2. iThoughts
  3. Mind Node

Break Down the Topic into Levels

Sometimes people like to break down their topic into different levels in order to help organize their thoughts. For example:

The overall topic: The relationship between France and immigration to the New World

A topic question: “Why did French immigrants want to come to the New World?”

Supporting details that can support the argument:

  • Free passage and full paid dowries for the French women
  • Searching for safety and freedom
  • New opportunities and a better life for themselves and their families


When using this brainstorming method you’ll be able to consider your topic from multiple perspectives. Similar to the sides of a cube, your argument will identify six “sides” of your topic. When brainstorming using the cubing method, you’ll want to consider your topic and….

1. Describe it2

2. Compare it

3. Associate it

4. Analyze it

5. Apply it

6. Argue for and against it

After you have finished brainstorming the different ideas, reflect upon your responses to see if there’s a theme that is occurring. This will help you start to generalize your topic, create a thesis and find supporting details.

 Free writing

One of the first things that you should do when brainstorming is to free write for 5 or 10 minutes. By free writing, you’re writing anything that comes to your mind when you imagine the topic, even if it’s something small. After you’re finished with your free write, review what you’ve written and make a list or highlight all of the specific ideas mentioned. Afterwards, you can start to develop a topic sentence, focus points, and supporting details to the new narrowed topic.


  • Don’t worry about your grammar, spelling, or punctuation at  this 3stage. You’re just brainstorming!
  • Choosing a topic that interests you will be easier to brainstorm!

Good luck,


Peer Mentor

Works Cited

Allen, Roberta, and Marcia Mascolini. The Process of Writing: Composing through Critical       Thinking. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1997.

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Lessons from a Graduating Student

As a fifth year Concurrent Education student, this is sadly my last blog post for the Centre for Student Success. It’s hard to believe that my third year as a Peer Mentor is coming to an end. As a final adios I have reflected on my time here and have compiled a list of the most important lessons that I have learned.

  1. Get Involved                   

It took me until my third year at Laurier Brantford to actually Laurier_GOLD_rgb_SMget involved in something on campus (working at the Centre). Applying for this job was the best decision I made in my undergraduate career. The benefits of being part of a team and being involved on campus are endless. Working on campus has allowed for more opportunities to meet and have meaningful conversations with my peers and faculty. It has also made me feel more connected to the Laurier community.

For those of you who have not come in for an appointment or to attend a workshop I would advise you to absolutely do so. The staff at the Centre for Student Success includes some of the funniest and most caring individuals that I have met in my time at Laurier. They are the people I am going to miss the most when I have to leave campus as they have made my experiences and memories of Laurier ones that I do not want to forget.

  1. Access Available Resources

I have found that my own academic writing has improved immensely over the years. I credit this improvement to working at the Centre. I wish I had been more familiar with the services available to me as a student back in my first and second years. I am now much more confident with citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago Author-Date), how to write an effective thesis statement, paragraph development, writing with an active voice, how to use a semicolon, and how to write all different types of assignments (research proposal, annotated bibliography, literature review, etc.).

These are all skills that students at Laurier Brantford can acquire by accessing resources. Through individual appointments, handouts, and workshops, students can learn and practise all of these skills to help improve their own writing. If you find that you are not getting the grades that you hope for, or if you lack confidence in your writing ability, you should participate at the Centre in one way or another.

  1. Reflect on your own Learning

Metacognition. It’s my first day of training, starting my third year as a student, and our manager Jenna Olender brings up this word. I was stumped. Simplified, metacognition is our thinking about thinking.

I now understand this concept to mean that we need tometacognition think about our own learning and engage in personal reflection. The same strategies – such as note taking or studying strategies– do not work well for all students. There is no universal method to being a successful student. This means that we all need to individually look at how we learn best.

Prompting Questions to Engage in Metacognition:

– How do I study?

– Why does this strategy work for me? Why does it not?

– If this strategy didn’t produce the results I desired, how can I modify it and/or what other strategy can I try next time?

– What works best for me?

I like to think of this as trial and error. However, you don’t simply try, fail, and then give up. You have to take it the step further and think about why something didn’t work for you and critically engage in coming up with a new strategy for yourself. Once you figure out the strategies that work best for you, you don’t have to continue with trials. Find what works for you and then stick with it (modify as necessary). You will become a pro in strategies that WORK FOR YOU.

  1. Create Personal Goals

First year. Cramming for exams the day or two before. Trying to stuff as much knowledge into my tired brain as possible. Why didn’t this work?! I have become much more effective and efficient with my studying since then. This is largely due to taking the time to become organized and set goals before I even begin studying.

Weekly schedules with chunked out studying blocks and study goals has kept me on track with my studying. These study schedules ensure that I am not cramming the night before to compensate for spending too much time studying for one exam and forgetting about another one.

Creating small goals for yourself can keep you on track and motivate you to work hard to meet the standards and expectations you have set for yourself. Rather than simply putting on your schedule “Study for BF190,” be very specific about what you want to accomplish in that hour time slot. This will make studying seem less daunting and once you’ve completed your goal, you know that you deserve to reward yourself and take a break.

Example GoaSmart Goalsls:

-Read over lecture 1 and create study notes
-Create cue cards for chapters
-Make a practice test for the first half of the content-Take the practice test, mark it, and highlight which terms and concepts need further reviewing

Good luck with the rest of the term and have a great reading week!

Peer Mentor

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