Prepping for Final Exams: How to Effectively Use Your Time

It’s that dreaded time of year again…and no I’m not talking about trying to secure a summer job. Although exams can be a stressful time in the semester – especially for students that are new to the university environment – it doesn’t have to be!

One of the most stressful things about studying for exams is time management; how can there possibly be enough hours in the day to get through all of the material from all of the classes we are responsible for, and what’s more, to do it well?! Here are a few tips that will help you to effectively use your time in order to get the most out of exam prep!

The stressed-out student’s survival guide to exam prep:

  • Make a plan and set specific goals; know exactly what it is you want to accomplish before you set out to do so. (Weekly schedules may be a useful tool! Drop by the Centre for Student Success and we can help you make one.)


  • Be proactive! Identify any potential disruptions and try to eliminate or avoid them.
  • Practice your metacognitive skills! Consider times when you are most and least productive. If you are a “night person” don’t keep telling yourself that you’ll get up extra early squeeze some study time in, because chances are it won’t happen. It will not help you to plan study sessions that will never come to pass. So, plan your day accordingly and study when you’ll get the most out of it!

not gonna happen

  • Remember to always plan for more time than you think you need. Having some unexpected free time is always better than realizing you don’t have enough time.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks! Research suggests that students learn the most during the first and last 10 mins of study time. There’s nothing wrong with taking a quick break after 20 min-30 min intervals to get a snack or take a quick walk.
  • Prioritize! We are all busy people with a lot of things to do. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming. Make sure you give yourself the most time for the areas you feel are most important. When deciding where to begin, it is important to consider all of your courses, and plan study time according to the order of exams as well as the difficulty level of each. Start with the material you feel least confident about (“while you’re fresh and alert”). For instance you may find it most productive beginning with the hardest/more complicated subject matter, and ending with the easiest. Or perhaps designating more time and attention to the course that you feel most requires it. It might help to keep in mind how heavily each exam is weighted. Remember you are the best judge of your own strengths and weaknesses!

to do list

  • If there is a particular subject or concept that seems overwhelming, break it up into smaller and more manageable sections.
  • Sometimes, alternating between subjects is helpful (i.e. spend 30 mins on History, then 30 mins on English).
  • Long-distance vs. short-distance studying. Make sure you figure out which best works for you. Can you study for extended periods of time while still maintain productivity and attention? Most people find they cannot. If this is the case for you, remember to take breaks every 30-40 mins, or try alternating subjects. It will not help you to spend 3 hours studying BF190 only to realize that only about an hour of that time was spent productively.
  • Make sure that you’re not just wasting your time, and the greatest time saver is concentration! A way to do this is to consider active vs. passive learning. Research suggests that simply reading over information rarely works for students’ recall ability. You must therefore make your study time active! Some ways to do this include: organizing information according to headings and themes; summarizing important ideas in your own words; or even something as simple as really thinking about what it is you’re reading – make sure that you’re not thinking about other things while you read.

No one is saying that exam time isn’t stressful – exams are important, therefore, it’s only natural that you want to do well.  If you keep these tips in mind, it will hopefully be a little less daunting. Good luck and have a wonderful summer break; it’s well deserved!

All the best,


Peer Mentor



Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild, and Richard Zajchowski. Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students. 3rd Ed. Scarborough: Nelson Thomson Learning, 1999. Print.

Hay, Iain, Dianne Bochner, Carlo Dungey, and Nellie Perret. Making The Grade: A Guide to Study and Success. Candian Ed. Don Mills: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

O’Brien, Linda. How To Get Good Grades at a College or University. Canadian Ed. Dayton: Woodburn Press, 2009. Print.

Pauk, Walter. How to Study in College. 7th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.

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How to Write a Case Brief

Case briefs (also known as case notes) are a very beneficial resource for students undergoing law- or criminology-based programs for a number of reasons.  As a Law and Society student, I find that case briefs are useful because they pinpoint the most essential aspects of a case, making it much easier to produce the information; they outline the legal principles and rules that were established in a case; they place cases in context with other materials learned in a course; and really, they’re an excellent study tool.

What is a Case Brief?

A case brief is a written document that outlines and condenses a legal case, presenting the legal facts and rulings of that particular case.  In other words, a case brief is a complete summary of a legal decision.

Key Aspects of a Case Brief

After examining information regarding case briefs by Michael and John Makdisi (2009) and the Sydney Law School (2014), I have outlined five key aspects that you must include in order to write a proper case brief. No individual aspect is more important than the other!

  • The first step is the Style of Cause, which is essentially just a term used to describe the case name and citation. In this step, you would determine who was involved in the case and what year it took place.
  • The second step is Facts. This section provides an overview of the most critical facts of the case, including all of the relevant people, actions, locations and objects involved. In this step, you would determine what happened in the case.  This section also asks you about the procedural history of the case.  If applicable, you would need to answer which courts have heard the case already and what their decision was in prior trials.
  • The third step is Issues. This section outlines the main legal questions that the court was asked to answer. When completing this section, it is advised that you write each issue as a “yes/no” formatted question that summarizes what legal issues are being addressed by the case. In this step, you would determine what legal issues the court is required to decide.
  • The fourth step is the Holding, which is another word used to refer to the results of the case. In this step, you would determine what decision the judge made in the case.
  • The fifth and final step is Ratio Decidendi, or the reasons for the holding. The ratio identifies what is important about a case from a legal perspective and also what effect it might have on society. It is important because the legal precedents set by the Supreme Court of Canada are binding on lower courts and will therefore influence how they decide similar cases. This section includes the legal rules and precedents the court followed to make its decision and how it justified its application of the law in this particular case. In this step, you would determine what legal principle this decision stood for and what explanation the court gave for it.

There you have it! If you follow these five easy steps, you will have successfully written a case brief. I have also provided you with a case brief I wrote myself to give you an example to relate to.

All the best,

MattCase Brief Example


Makdisi, M., & Makdisi, J. (2009). How to write a case brief for law school. Introduction to the Study of Law: Cases and Materials (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Company.

University of Sydney. (2014, July 7). Case Notes. Retrieved from




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What I Love about Being a Peer Mentor

My time as a peer mentor is flying by and with hiring right around the corner, I thought I would share what I love about being a peer mentor.

Throughout my time here at Laurier, I have loved seeing students succeed. When I became a peer mentor, I started to be a small part of student success every week, which is an amazing feeling. What I love about the Centre for Student Success is that everything we do here is a collaborative effort. As peer mentors, we work as a second set of eyes to help students revise their own work. This is an awesome approach because the students’ success is their own. We help students make the changes they want to make and submit work that they are proud of.

During my time as a peer mentor, I have seen so many incredible perspectives and ideas, which has helped me grow tremendously as a writer. I was kind of expecting this, but what I was not expecting is how much working as a peer mentor would help me improve as a reader. This development is interesting to me because I always saw writing as a process, but reading as a skill that you acquired. My job here has shown me the evolution of a reader as well. As a peer mentor much of what we do is to take the role of the reader to help students see their work from another perspective. This has changed the way I read my own work as well as students’ work. It is all too easy to get caught up in stylistic differences between your work and someone else’s; something that I now approach much differently. I try not to get caught up in the little things and lose sight of the bigger picture. We all write differently, and this is something I have come to appreciate more and more during my time here working at the centre.

In all, I initially became a peer mentor to help people, but this position has helped me in ways I never expected. If you enjoy learning and want to help others, I highly suggest you check out the employment opportunities available at the centre. You never know how working as a Peer Mentor can also benefit you!

Chelsey Kerr
Peer Mentor



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Making the Most of Lectures


Don’t be a Bueller; attend your classes.

Lectures are one of the central aspects of attending university. Besides the fairly large sum that we pay to attend classes, we as students fulfill our most important purpose for coming to university while in lectures – to learn! And fortunately, we get to learn from a variety of brilliant and well-informed scholars who present us with engaging content and expert knowledge about a specific subject area. There are a number of ways to really make the most of your lectures. The following are some tips on how to do just that.

Before the Lecture:

  • Look at the course syllabus to see what the topic of the lecture is for that class (Fleet, Goodchild, & Zajchowski, 2006).
  • Complete the required readings, and make note of the key ideas, parts you found interesting, or questions that you have about the text.
  • Prepare your notebook or computer document for the notes that you will be taking during the lecture. Fleet et al. (2006) suggest that you purposefully mark off a margin on the side of your paper so that when you are reviewing your lectures in the future, you can make extra notes in that space. Also, be sure that you have all of your required materials with you for the class including textbooks, notebooks, electronics chargers, writing utensils, and so on.

cornellFor example:

The Cornell Note Taking system is a style of taking notes that involves dividing your page into three sections. The largest section on the right is where students take their in-class notes; the margin on the left is for review; and the bottom section is where students can summarize their notes. For more detailed instructions of Cornell Note Taking watch this video.

Other Tips:

  • Be alert, fully awake, and in a good mental state to learn when you attend class. You will not have as an effective class experience if you are tired, mentally or physically, while you are in class (Fleet et al., 2006).
  • While you are waiting for the lecture to begin, you can review the notes that you took from your last class to refresh yourself on the class material. Fleet et al.(2006) suggest that this is a good technique because “[t]his will help you with continuity of topics” (p. 54).

During the Lecture:

Listening Actively:

Believe it or not, listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is the passive act of simply taking in words but not really processing them. According to Hay et al. (2012), listening requires “concentrated effort” and is a skill that we must explicitly learn and practice to master effectively (p. 6). Listening is an active process where we take in words, think about their meaning, and reflect on them.

Things that Restrict Active Listening:

  • Boredom: When we are bored by a topic or we do not have an interest in a subject, we run the risk of becoming disengaged with the lecture (Hay et al., 2012).
  • Distractions: Anything that takes your attention away from the lecture and the professor’s lesson is a distraction (Hay et al., 2012).
  • Physical Environment: A lecture hall that has especially comfortable seating and relaxed lighting can be the perfect place for a student to take a nap. On the flip side, when the hall is uncomfortable, with harsh lighting, hard seating, inadequate temperature, and so on, the discomfort of the physical environment can impede learning as well.

Tips to Enhance Active Listening:

  • Ask Questions: Thinking of and asking the professor questions about the material are good ways to stay actively engaged in a lecture (Hay et al., 2012) and avoid boredom. Find an appropriate time in the lecture and pose your question to the professor. Your instructor will likely be happy that you asked your question and that you brought up an excellent opportunity for discussion!
  • Avoid Being Distracted by Devices: Although many students think that they may be really good at multi-tasking during lectures, for example by listening to the lecture while browsing the web at the same time, this is typically not the case. We have a please.pnglimited amount of attention, and multi-tasking can mean that we are giving many things a fraction of the attention that they need. To make the most of your lecture and to listen actively, you should avoid browsing websites, text messaging or communicating online on your cell phone or laptop because it is more than likely that these distractions will cause you to miss important things in the lecture. Besides, this can be very distracting for other students in the class as well.
  • Think about the Message of the Lecture: While the professor is lecturing, really try to think about the message of the lecture and the importance that it has to you, to the course, to the world, and so on. Also, you should think about evidence that you can use to connect with, to support, or even to contradict what the professor is saying (Hay et al., 2012). Being an active listener incorporates characteristics of being a critical thinker!

Take Good Notes:

As previously discussed, you will have already prepared your notebook or word document for the lecture. As a quick reminder, it also is helpful to date the page as well as give the note a title according to what will be discussed during the lecture.

Other Note Taking Tips:

Hay et al. (2012) have several suggestions to help improve your notes:

  • Differentiate within your notes between the informational parts of the lecture and the examples that the professor uses to support, and further explain, this information (p.11). You may do this by highlighting certain sections, colour coding, or underlining the different parts.
  • Develop abbreviations and symbols for terms and phrases that you use often in your notes (p.11). Some abbreviations that you could use include Eg or Ex for example, gov’t for government, Cdn for Canadian, for therefore, → for leads to, etc. (Fleet et al., 2006).

After the Lecture:

Directly after the lecture is when the new information that you have learned is going to be most fresh in your mind. Thus, it is beneficial to review material as soon as possible after your lecture so that you can help further solidify it in your memory.

Tips for after class:

  • Set aside about 15 minutes after class to go over your notes from the lecture, and to put key words in the margins that summarize the main points you have written about in your notes (Fleet et al., 2006).
  • As you are reviewing your notes, identify the sections that you still have some difficulty understanding. Perhaps you can consult the course textbook for better clarification, or you can speak to a friend who is also in the class for a better explanation. However, if neither of these strategies is useful, you could also use office hours or make an appointment with the professor to go over some of the material that is confusing.
  • Get together with other students who are also in the class and have a discussion with them about the lecture material. Talking about the content, explaining it to others, and sharing ideas will help you to better understand and remember the information (Fleet et al., 2006).

Lectures are one of the greatest opportunities to do some of the best learning in university. Most professors try their best to make the material as engaging and as interesting as possible in order to inspire a passion of learning and a passion for the subject in students. I hope that by using some of these tips you find that you are able to better make the most of your lectures!

Happy Learning!


Peer Mentor


Cornell Notes Image, Adapted from Baldwin County Public Schools. 2016. Retrieved from

Ferris Bueller Image, Adapted from First TV Drama. 2016. Retrieved from

Fleet, J., Goodchild, F., & Zajchowski, R. (2006). Learning for success: Effective strategies for students (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson.

Hay, I., Bochner, D., Dungey, C., & Perret, N. (2012). Making the grade: A guide to study and success (Canadian Ed.). Dons Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.  

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The Dreaded “M”: Midterms

Well Brantford campus, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but midterm season is upon us. Our campus is going to become quieter, students will begin to look more tired, and stress levels will heighten. So what can you do to prepare yourself?Study

In my house, midterms mean one thing: an infinite supply of baked goods. My roommates would tell you I’m crazy, but baking is my favourite way to de-stress.

While stress is definitely a huge part of midterms and finals for students, I like to think that this can be avoided with a few simple steps, starting at the beginning of the semester. For the sake of this blog post, I have lumped these into two categories: personal and academic.

Personal Steps

  • Stay positive!
  • Don’t let school take over your life
  • Be aware of academic help and mental health services available to you on campus

During midterm season, it is just as important to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, as it is to study. Make sure that you are taking breaks and taking the time to continue doing all of the things you love. You may not have the same amount of time to do these things, but make sure not to cut them out completely. If you find that you are unable to cope with the stress of midterms, make sure that you are aware of the many services on campus that can help you. Trust me when I say that you are not the only overwhelmed student out there. Reach out to a friend, book an appointment with the Centre for Student Success or the Wellness Centre, or simply have a chat with members of Peer Connect or the Mental Health Education Group. There are so many people on campus that would be more than happy to help you out if you’re feeling like you’re not able to balance school and life.

Academic Steps

  • Start studying early
  • Do your best not to fall behind on readings and course work
  • Find a system of organization that works for YOU
  • Study strategically

Developing good study skills early on in your university career will make all the difference. There are probably going to be times when you’re unable to keep up with all of your readings, or you find yourself having a week with a million things due, but being organized is the best solution. Developing a study schedule either on your own or with a Peer Mentor in the Centre for Student Success can definitely help with this. It is important to know how much time you have available to study in relation to your class, work, and other schedules. If this isn’t your thing, be sure to find a way to organize your time that will work for you. Some of my favourites include using both weekly and monthly planners, setting reminders to study in my phone, and setting out specific times to work on assignments.

My last tip for you is to change up your studying based on the type of exam you will be writing. One of the best ways to prepare, is to rehearse material in the form that you will be tested.  So, consider how you can add different study strategies to the way you study to ensure they  will be suitable for the format of your exam. If you’re writing a multiple-choice exam you could try to come up with some self-testing m/c questions, but for an exam that consists of two essays, you’ll more likely want to try outlining different answers to potential questions you can imagine.

All seriousness aside, your Netflix account could probably use a break. Take some time off from binge watching your favourite shows and study for those midterms, LB. You’ll thank me later.

Good luck,

Brittany Bartlett

Peer Mentor


Posted in Exams, Studying, Time Management | Leave a comment