Passing a Class in College

No one ever really asks me how to succeed in a college class. They usually want to know how to “get an A,” as opposed how to learn something. Well, I decided to answer the question I wish students asked me: How do I learn as much as possible in college? Here is my answer (at least my answer at the moment.) Part of getting the “A” is doing well with the minutia of class. The following tips will help you succeed in a class. My college defines success as a “C” or better. More importantly, these tips will help you get the most out of your college class. You will learn more and retain more after you leave.

I always tell students they should question the qualifications of the article they are reading. So, here are mine: I’m a college professor, and I’m grading students. I see what students are successful in my class, and I see which ones are not successful. Some students get a C or better with out doing all of these. Students who earn the As and Bs seem to do all of these.

So here they are, my top ten tips for succeeding in college:

1) Go to class! You are in college, no one is making you go. Sure every class has attendance policies, and you should pay attention to them. But going to class is more important than just those policies! Even if teachers just seem like they are reiterating what is in the text book, the lecture is more focused (and more likely to be on the test.) Unlike a text book, if you are confused you can ask the teacher a question – and they will answer. Also regular attendance can make the difference if you are borderline on a grade. Teachers who see the effort are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt about weather to round up to the “A” or down to the “B”

2) Be on time! Most classrooms are not set up to allow students to sneak into class late. Yes, it happens on occasion: Bad weather, traffic, late bus, etc. But it if happens to you regularly, you need to make some adjustments in your schedule. Professors know who is coming in late. They don’t like it. It will hurt your grade.

3) Participate! Sitting in class like a lump on a log doesn’t help your learning or your grade. Answer questions when the instructor asks. Ask questions when you don’t understand. It isn’t a bad idea to try to force yourself to speak in class at least once each session.

4) Read the syllabus! Most teachers take a lot of time putting important information in the syllabus. Details of assignments, grading systems, lecture topics etc. can usually be found in the syllabus. Take the time to read and understand it. If you don’t understand something, ask! Also, before you ask the teacher a question that might be on the syllabus, check the syllabus. Instructors are annoyed  if you ask a question that could have been found by reading the syllabus.  Oh and if you lost your syllabus, check the class’s web page or blackboard site, it is probably there.   In fact, check to see if your class has a web page, or facebook page or whatever.  There is probably good stuff there.  Take advantage of it!

5) Be prepared! Before you can participate in class, you need to know what is going to be going on. Complete the reading and homework assignments before you come to class. That means more than skimming the chapters five minutes before class. It means reading the material closely, taking notes, and especially discovering what you don’t understand. Write down what confuses you. Things that confuse you make great questions to ask in class (which helps you have something to say when you participate!) On a full length semester class, you are generally expected to put in three hours of work for each unit the class is worth per week! Therefore if you have a three unit class, that meets for three hours a week, you will need to do 6 hours of homework to put in enough time (3 hours in class + 6 hours of homework = 9hours). The school and the teachers expect you are doing that much work. That is what it takes to be prepared. (If the class is offered in a compressed schedule you may be expected to spend even more time out of class)

6) Get a calendar! I love Google calendar because my phone can access it, I can get it on line, and I can print it out if I need a hard copy. You don’t have to use Google. A calendar in your phone, or a free web application, or even an old fashioned paper calendar will help. Write on your calendar every class session you have to attend. Schedule when you are going to do your homework, when study groups are meeting, when you have to work, etc. Write down everything, including (and not unimportantly) when you are going to sleep. You only get a social life around those scheduled events.

7) Find a friend in each class. If you miss class (even for a very good reason), the instructor doesn’t want to repeat everything they said in class in an email to you. Find a good friend who will agree to take notes for you if you aren’t there, and of course you will do the same for them! This is also a great person to study with, and even work on assignments with, and partner up with for that group project every instructor seems to assign.

8) Take advantage of office hours. Most instructors hold 3 to 5 office hours a week. This is when the instructor is sitting in their office waiting for a student to come by and see them. You can get personalized one on one tutoring here. Don’t understand something? Go to the office hour! Want extra help with a concept? Go to the office hour. Showing up to office hours also makes it look like you care, which can give you that extra boost if you are on the cusp. If your class schedule doesn’t work with a professor’s office hours, ask if they can make time for you. They probably will. A quick note: if the professor’s syllabus asks you to make an appointment for the office hour instead of just dropping by, follow the syllabus’ suggestion. Also, check and see if your professor has virtual/on-line office hours, then you don’t have to get yourself to campus.

9) Read the books (even the extra stuff). Instructor’s rarely assign reading that they don’t think you should read. Read it. If you can’t afford the text book, see if it is available used, or as an E-Book, or in the library (many professors put their books on reserve in the library). If all of those fail, talk to the instructor, he or she might let you borrow their copy of the book during office hours. If the instructors list additional, optional, or supplementary texts try to read those as well. While you won’t be tested on it specifically, this material will make the other material easier to understand.

10) Know your instructors. Spend some time trying to find out about your instructor in advance. Ask others who have taken a class with the instructor. What does the instructor expect? How do they run their classroom? Also, do a quick google search. Has the instructor written books or articles about topics that will be covered in class? If so, get your hands on them and read them! Even if the instructor didn’t assign his or her own texts, they will be a valuable resource for the class.

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