Achieving Academic Success: Adapting to the Canadian Classroom

The Canadian approach to teaching and learning may be very different from what you have experienced in your home country. You may find it takes some time to get used to this new style of learning. Here are some things to consider:

Progressive Assessment

Rather than give you one exam that is worth 100% of your mark, most instructors will test you several times throughout the term. Testing may include essays, short quizzes, group projects, presentations, midterm tests, and final exams. You will need to manage your time well to produce these assignments and prepare for tests.

TIP: The Learning Centre provides great workshops on Time Management!

The Learning Centre offers workshops for all students on study skills, time management, exam anxiety, and much, much more.

However, you should plan this preparation time in advance when making your semester schedule.

Critical Thinking

You will be expected to analyze and carefully consider the material presented in a course, as opposed to simply memorizing information. Canadian university courses emphasize gaining a strong understanding of concepts and using this knowledge to solve problems in tests, assignments, and projects.

TIP: Try to maintain a "big picture" perspective on your material at all times. Think about where each topic in a course fits into the subject and how all of the different topics relate to each other.

Class Participation

Instructors will often encourage student participation by asking students questions, and by allowing students to ask questions. Asking/answering questions can be intimidating. However, there is no need to be afraid of answering or asking a question incorrectly; the important thing is that you are willing to participate.

Your participation shows your instructor that you are listening and thinking critically about the material. In some courses, part of your mark may be determined by your contributions in class.

An important part of participation is having the right tools in class. Make sure that you purchase required textbooks after your first class. Having the required texts and materials is an essential part of your class experience.

If you feel uncomfortable participating in class, or if you need more clarification about a topic, do not hesitate to approach your instructor after class, or take time to meet your instructor in his/her office. Instructors are available during scheduled office hours, which are listed on the course syllabus that you receive at the start of the term.

TIP: When you do your readings before class, prepare a few questions that you can ask your instructor in class.

Classroom Discussion

International students often have to adjust to the Canadian style of conversation in the classroom. Generally, it is considered acceptable to join a conversation when there is a pause in the discussion.

Students will often quietly raise their hand while someone is speaking so that the instructor can call on them for the next comment. It is important to remember that most Canadians are sensitive to interruptions and are generally not comfortable with more than one person talking at the same time.

TIP: Do not worry if you end up interrupting someone accidentally. This happens all the time in lively conversations. Simply apologize to your classmate and try to make your next comment during a break in the conversation.

Equality in the Classroom

The basic structure of a Canadian classroom is built around the principle of equality. Instructors are expected to give all students an equal chance to share their opinions and participate in classroom discussion. Similarly, students are expected to treat each other with the same sense of equality and respect.

TIP: If you feel that you are not being treated fairly in class by the instructor or a classmate, you should try to speak directly to that person to voice your concerns. If the issue is not resolved, then you should consult your instructor.

Group Work

Sometimes you may be asked to work on an assignment, presentation, or project with a partner or in a group with several of your classmates. Group work is meant to test your ability to communicate, share workload, and compromise with the other members of your team. Speak up, share your opinions, discuss any problems or issues you have encountered, and ensure that you take on an equal share of the responsibilities.

TIP: If your instructor does not assign you to a certain partner or group, you may ask the students around you if you can join their group, or you can ask the instructor to assign you to a group/partner.

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is about conducting your academic work with honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. All members of the KPU community have a responsibility to contribute to a culture of academic integrity.

You can demonstrate academic integrity by:

  • Acknowledging where the ideas you use come from
  • Learning about and following the university’s academic integrity policies
  • Respecting copyright laws
  • Making sure that the work you submit is your own
  • Doing the right thing even when faced with challenges

Academic integrity is important because:

  • Your academic achievements should reflect your own learning and work
  • Learning with integrity will ensure that you get the most out of your education and that you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed not only in your studies but also in your career
  • It is a way of showing respect for the hard work of your instructors and other students
  • It ensures that KPU degrees and credentials reflect a high quality of education because all graduates will have achieved the necessary learning outcomes
  • Breaches of academic integrity can have serious consequences

Requirements and ideas around academic integrity can vary among different universities, cultures, and languages. At KPU, we have specific rules and procedures for academic integrity.

Your instructors will also have specific requirements related to academic integrity. For example, your instructor may tell you to use a specific reference and citation style in your writing to give credit to the authors whose ideas you write about. Your instructors will also have rules about when you can work on a project with someone else and when you need to do the work by yourself. If you are unsure, it is important to ask your instructor about these expectations.

Unhappy with your grades? Please see the handout below: 

[1] International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). (2021). The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity. (3rd ed.)

TIP: KPU’s Introduction to Academic Integrity Tutorial and Academic Integrity website provides an overview of what academic integrity means at KPU and how to avoid academic misconduct. It is very important that you complete this tutorial early in the term, before any other assignment is due. The tutorial will also cover where you can go for help. For example, the Library’s Citation Style Guides are a great resource. If you are unsure whether you are referencing sources correctly, ask your instructor. For more information, read KPU’s Academic Integrity Policy.

Classroom Etiquette

Respectful behaviour plays an important role in the Canadian learning environment. You should always make sure that you arrive at class on time. In Canada, “on time” means arriving 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the class. If you are late, enter the classroom as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the class in session, and apologize to the instructor after class. Repeated lateness will negatively impact your grades.

While class is in session, it is important to be attentive and listen to what the instructor is saying. Doing things to distract yourself or others around you such as talking to your classmates in the middle of a lecture, looking at your electronic device, listening to a music player, or reading a book is considered rude and should be avoided.

TIP: Many students use laptops to take notes during class. Although wireless Internet access is available campus-wide, it is important not to surf the web or check emails during class. Each of your instructors will have their own classroom policies about technological devices.

No Scents

In Canada, 15-20% of the population has breathing problems. The chemicals found in scented products can adversely affect conditions such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and allergies. Most classrooms, and many university offices, request that you refrain from using any perfumes, colognes or scented aftershaves when going to class/work. Soap, deodorant, and other personal hygiene products are acceptable.

Throughout your degree program

Develop Relationships with your Instructors and your International Academic Advisor

Both instructors and academic advisors can help you decide on a major and provide information about different careers related to your program. Take some time to visit your instructors after class and during office hours, so they can get to know you better. Instructors are an excellent resource for getting insight about your program. Instructors help you with understanding material from class.

Check Your Immigration Documents

At the start of each term, remember to check your documents to make sure they have not expired. Your International Academic Advisor can help you in renewing your study permit, work permit, temporary resident visas and more. The Study Permit is the official document issued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that allows you to study in Canada. Remember to apply to extend your study permit within 3 months (90 days) before it expires and be sure your passport is valid (your application cannot be processed if your passport has expired or will be expiring within 31 days of submitting your application). Applying for these documents can be a lengthy process, so be aware of the deadlines and the time it takes to process applications.

TIP: Immigration regulations change frequently. Check with IRCC to prevent any problems with deadlines and regulations. Visit the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website for the most up-to-date information:

You may contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada at 1-888-242-2100.


Volunteering is a very rewarding way to contribute to your local community and meet new people, and it is something that employers and graduate programs look at when evaluating your application. If you have a specific career path in mind, volunteering at an organization related to this career is also a very useful way to gain experience. Keep up to date on news and current events in the international student community.

Staying Safe and Finding

Help KPU is a learning community committed to providing a safe and civil environment which is respectful of the rights, responsibilities, well-being and dignity of all its members. Additionally, Canadian Universities have strict guidelines around sexual violence and misconduct. It is important for you to become familiar with your rights and responsibilities as a student. The Student Rights and Responsibilities Office (SRRO) provides students with accurate, consistent and balanced information on University policies and procedures. For support and services, and to make a report of your own, the Student Rights and Responsibilities site offers a number of resources. You may also speak directly to your instructors, who will listen and direct you to help and services. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, immediately contact 9-1-1 and campus security.

Adapting to the culture

Here are some aspects of Canadian culture that may take some getting used to.

Indigenous People and Territories

Canada is located on the traditional territories of many Indigenous Nations. You may notice Indigenous names throughout the community such as Kwantlen. Our university is named after Kwantlen First Nation. Our campuses are in a region south of the Fraser River which overlaps with the unceded (meaning un-surrendered) traditional and ancestral lands of the Kwantlen, Musqueam, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, Qayqayt and Kwikwetlem peoples.

Canadian Politeness

Canadians have a reputation for being very polite, but at the same time they are very reserved. This is a duality that is difficult to understand at first. Generally, Canadians will be very polite in their mannerisms, language, and behavior if approached, but they will take longer to develop a sense of personal connection with a new person they meet.

Metric System

Canada uses the metric system for the most part, although Canadians refer to their height in feet and inches and their weight in pounds. This is because Canada's conversion to the metric system began in the 1970s, and as such there are still some generations that are more used to the imperial system of measurement.

Language Tips

Certain words have Canadian spellings that are different from those found in the United States. Some examples of United States vs. Canadian spellings include: color and colour, favor and favour, check and cheque, center and centre. You may want to familiarize yourself with the following Canadian slang terms:

Nanaimo Bars: A chocolate and coconut dessert with butter icing, named after the city of Nanaimo, BC.

Loonie: A term for the Canadian one-dollar coin, which is gold-coloured and has a bird known as a loon on one side.

Toonie: The Canadian two-dollar coin. It is gold coloured and silver-coloured ring around the outside. It gets its name from the one-dollar coin, the loonie, and adds its value, two, to form "two-nie" or, more easily read, "toonie". A polar bear is on one side of this coin.

Keener: Someone who is enthusiastic or eager to please. "John is such a keener when it comes to school."

Pop: A general term for soft drinks (eg. Coca-Cola).

Poutine: A specialty food of the province of Quebec, it is French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Kraft Dinner/KD: A brand of macaroni and cheese that is popular among Canadian students.

Lineup: A line of people. "There was a really long lineup for tickets to last night's hockey game."

Toque: A kind of knitted wintertime hat.

"The States": A phrase referring to The United States of America. Canadians dislike referring to the United States as "America" because Canadians are just as much (North) American as citizens of the United States are.

Zed: Canadians pronounce "z", the last letter of the alphabet, this way and not "zee" as people in the United States do.

Eh: Canadians often end sentences with "eh" and many studies have looked into this phenomenon. It is generally agreed that Canadians do it because they are polite. The "eh" is an invitation for the listener to participate in the conversation as opposed to the speaker simply stating fact after fact.

Weather Conversations: Virtually all conversation will include a brief discussion of the weather because it is such a dominant force in the lives of Canadians.