What is Learning Development & Success?

Many universities offer this kind of support to their students. The goal of Western's Learning Development & Success team is to make good students even better students. The counsellors answer questions and provide advice on how to be successful at Western. They help students develop new skills or strengthen existing academic skills. Students can choose from a variety of services: they can make an individual appointment with a learning skills counsellor, attend learning development presentations, or drop by the PAL Centre. As well, information on important learning skills topics is available online.

Who uses this service?

Learning Development & Success is for all Western students. Each term students in all years and programs seek information and support to strengthen their skills and improve their grades. Some students want to meet with a counsellor just once, while other students want ongoing support. Students who may especially benefit from Learning Development are new students making the transition from secondary school to university, international students adjusting to a new learning environment, and students facing the new demands of graduate school or a professional program.

Why do students use Learning Development & Success?

There are many reasons why students use Learning Development. Any questions or concerns about school performance are appropriate. If you're unsure if we can help, submit your question by e-mail to learning@uwo.ca or come to the PAL Centre in Room 4139, Western Student Services Building, during hours of operation. If we can't answer your question, we probably know who can. Here are some typical concerns:

  • incomplete class notes: we can teach you how to take better notes
  • low grades: we can explore with you different strategies to increase grades
  • not keeping up with readings/coursework: we can show you approaches to managing time so that you'll be better prepared for classes
  • uncertainty about how to prepare for a test: we can explain to you effective ways of remembering information and studying for test formats such as multiple-choice

Other reasons why you may want to meet with us are:

  • you did well in high school and want to maintain or increase your average
  • you'd like the support of a knowledgable, friendly person to discuss learning issues as you fulfill your degree requirements at Western

Is it confidential? Is it free?

Yes, it is confidential. All information provided to the Learning Development counsellors is confidential. It will not be shared with family, university staff, course instructors, or others unless you provide written permission. It will not become part of your academic record at Western.

Yes, it is free. You will not be charged for services. A portion of your student fees covers the cost of these services and ensures that they are available to all students free of charge.

How do I access Learning Development & Success?

This varies depending on the service you wish to access:

  • To schedule a confidential individual appointment with a learning development professional, follow the instructions on our Individual Counselling page. 
  • You can also visit the virtual PAL Centre for one-on-one help with a senior student volunteer. You do not require an appointment; you just use the Zoom link to visit the PAL Centre when it's open.
  • You can register for Learning Development presentations or get information about the schedule or topics through this link.
  • To access learning strategy handouts click here.
  • Our Resource Library includes self-help learning skills books

Should I get a tutor?

Before paying for a tutor, in the Fall and Winter terms check out the PAL Centre or meet year-round with a learning counsellor. Get free assistance from counsellors who can help you determine if a tutor is advisable. Bring course materials in order to

  • discuss course issues in a friendly, supportive environment
  • learn about key strategies to deal with your specific concern
  • explore ways to improve your overall effectiveness as a student

How can I take better notes in class?

Taking effective lecture notes is very important as the material covered in class may not always be covered in readings. If your professor provides an outline of the lecture on the course website or at the beginning of the lecture, write it in your notes. Organize your notes during class under the titles and sub-titles given. It is not necessary to write down every word that the professor says. Listen for the main point(s) under each heading and write these in your notes.

At Learning Development & Success we can show Western students how to take effective lecture notes that will help them organize and learn their course material better. Students can bring their notes to the PAL Centre or meet individually with a professional in Learning Development to get ideas on how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their notes.

I have too many things to do and am behind with my coursework. What should I do?

Managing a large workload is an issue for all university students. As a start, try using a calendar to record due dates and a weekly schedule to write down the tasks that are most important to complete. Try to include some time each week for non-academic activities you enjoy, such as playing a sport or joining a club to meet new people.

Learning Development counsellors help students create time management plans. Students can meet with a counsellor by going to the PAL Centre or by booking an individual appointment.

My class has a participation mark. What do I need to do?

Asking or answering questions are good ways to start participating in class. Saying something early in the lecture is usually easier than waiting until later. Don't be afraid to share your ideas and opinions; it gets easier with practice. Even asking about something you did not understand in a reading may be viewed as a positive form of participation.

If you would like to discuss your class participation strategies, bring your course outline to the PAL Centre or book an individual appointment with a professional in Learning Skills.

Where can I get help with academic reading?

Academic reading is different from other types of reading, and it is useful to learn strategies which will help you identify and remember the most important information. Reading with some specific questions in mind will help improve your understanding and memory of the material.

For help with this strategy, meet with a counsellor in the PAL Centre or in an individual appointment. You can also register on-line for Learning Development presentations, including one on Effective Textbook Strategies.

My Prof hasn't said if the content on the final exam will be cumulative or not.  What should I study?

Review any emails from your professors or messages on your Owl Course Forum. If you cannot find this information, then contact your professor to clarify this as soon as possible. It’s important to know what course content will be covered on an exam and is testable.

What should we do if our wifi cuts out during an exam?

To be prepared for any tech failures, it is a good idea to:

• Check your Wi-Fi connection before you begin your exam.

• If you experience tech issues while using OWL, contact the helpdesk.

• If you experience tech issues while using Proctortrack, use the Western Exam Chat Support

• If you have had a history of difficulties with your wifi at home, alert your professor to this prior to writing the exam. It could help your professor understand if there are any time outs in your exam.

Where can I find help with my learning and academics? I feel stressed!

Learning Development & Success is offering appointments remotely to students. To book an appointment, please email learning@uwo.ca or follow these steps.

I’ve never taken an online exam before….any advice to help me prepare? Do I study the same way I would normally?

Probably the biggest misconception about online open-book exams is that there is no need to study. You should study just as you would for any other exam. Having books and notes to refer to might mean you don't have to memorize as much information, but you still need to be able to apply it effectively.

Consider making summary notes to capture key information from your lectures. In math and science courses, this could mean creating a summary sheet of key formulas needed for the exam or a summary of key chemical reactions and reaction mechanisms. By doing this, you are creating a ‘quick reference’ type guide that you can refer to if you get stuck on a question or concept.

If you choose to create a summary sheet it should be in addition to or as part of the preparation you do for the exam...you still need to prepare as you would for any other exam.

Click here for more information on Study Strategies.


What are some strategies to study for an essay exam?

Structure your class materials so that you can easily understand how concepts and information are related to one another. You can do this by creating a mind map that summarizes the concepts you’ve learned or develop a list of larger themes that you’ve learned in the course and break these themes down into smaller sub-themes. Arrange an online chat with a friend and teach them the material you’ve learned. These strategies are all examples of ways you can help to improve your understanding of the course material and will allow you to more effectively apply this course knowledge on the exam.

When reviewing the main concepts, attempt to predict likely test questions that you may be expected to answer on the exam. Sometimes, your professors will even give you hints about potential questions! Once you’ve accumulated a few questions, practice creating an essay outline that you would use to respond to the question.

Practice answering essay questions of the “apply”, “analyze”, “synthesize”, “compare/contrast” and “evaluate” type. Understand what these terms mean and reflect on questions that could be asked using these terms.

What are some things I can do to prepare for an open-book exam?

You need to study for open-book exams just as you would for any exam - structure your material, check for comprehension, and practice recalling and using the material. If you know your subject, you'll have a solid knowledge base to draw on. You will also understand how and why topics are linked. Other things you will want to do in advance of your online open-book exam include:

• Find out from your instructor exactly what you are allowed – and not allowed – to use on the exam, and make sure you follow the rules. • Find out if you need to cite sources in your answers.

• Organize your resources so that you can find the information you need efficiently, without wasting time during the exam. Please note that this does not mean that you rely on “finding” the answers during your exam, but instead you can use course materials to back up or clarify your understanding.

• Choose a quiet space to write your exam and minimize distractions/interruptions.

How long should I study for an exam?

This one is hard because it isn’t about the amount of time but the effectiveness/good use of time. You can “put in” 6 hours of studying ineffectively and not do as well as someone that puts in 3 hours of effective study time. Okay, maybe something like that is our response. This depends...how comfortable are you with the course material so far? Are you caught up in the course? If you have missed lectures or do not understand certain topics than you should plan to spend some time catching up on any missed or difficult material. Here are some things to consider: 

• Make sure you understand what course content is testable (is it cumulative?)

• Make a list of all of the topics that you need to study in order to be effectively be prepared for the exam.

• Consider what types of activities you are going to be doing when learning and reviewing the different course topics. What does active and effective studying look like? For more ideas on this, you can refer to Learning Development Resources Preparing for Exams.

• Then..think about how much time will it realistically take you to complete these learning and studying activities? Assign approximate time estimates to get a sense of long it might take you to work through all of course content. It’s always better to over-estimate how much time it will take along the way...things always take longer than we plan.

• Don’t forget to build in time to complete any needed practice problems/questions or past exams if they have been provided by your instructor.

Strategies that can help you make the most of your time: Improving Concentration.

There's so much going on. How can I stay motivated to do well on exams?

Plant your feet on the ground, take a nice, deep breath, and ask yourself, “What is my goal for this exam/course?” “What do I hope to achieve?” “Why did I sign up for this course?” Ideally, somewhere in your response to those questions, you can find your motivation to study and prepare for your exams. Other tips, find a great space to study in, remove distractions, and take breaks. There are additional resources on our website learning.uwo.ca regarding motivation that we encourage you to check out.

Click here for more information on Maintaining Motivation.

Check out some music or sounds that can help you focus while reading and studying, here's a popular option: 

I really need to do well on my exams. How can I overcome my test anxiety?

Great preparation is the best defense against test anxiety. Find out what you’re responsible to cover on the exam, set up a study schedule, and pace yourself as you work through the content. Giving yourself enough time is important; if you feel rushed, it’s hard to maintain a sense of calm and focus. Also, try to test yourself on the content so you can prove to yourself that you are really ready.

Try to maintain healthy habits in the days leading up to the exam – getting enough sleep and exercise, and staying well-nourished and hydrated will all help your body and mind to feel settled and prepared.

Try to think positively. What would you tell a friend who was worried about a test? Extend those same words of encouragement to yourself.

When you find your mind being distracted by other thoughts or worries, remind yourself that’s ok, it happens to everyone. Focus on what you can control rather than the things you can’t. Gently direct yourself back to your preparation and the exam.

Remember to “Take 5.” When you start to feel anxious, whether it’s while you’re studying or when you’re writing your exam, you can always take a quick break with a few deep breaths. Practice 5 cycles of deep inhales and exhales a few times throughout your study days, and whenever you need to relax during an exam.

Click here for more information on Managing Test Anxiety