What’s a Syllabus?

During the first week of the semester – or even on the first day – each of your professors handed out a course syllabus.  Then, as a class, you probably reviewed it page by page so that everyone knew what to expect for the next 16 weeks.

Well, here’s the first tip on what to do with that syllabus:  KEEP IT! 

Do not use it to make paper airplanes, do not doodle, scribble, or draw all over it, and do not mistakenly, accidentally, or even intentionally throw it in the garbage!  Your syllabus should be neatly tucked into a binder free of crinkles and stains.

Here’s the second tip:  READ IT!

The syllabus is an important document that you will refer to throughout the semester…it will contain details such as contact information, office hours, required textbooks and classroom materials, homework assignments or projects, exam dates, chapter readings, absence/lateness policy, and the grading system.

And, lastly, here’s the third tip:  REVIEW IT REGULARLY!

Unless you have super memorization skills and can remember every word on that syllabus, you will want to review it regularly so that you know ahead of time what is going to happen.  The syllabus will also outline what you need to do to succeed in the class.

NOTE:  If you happen to misplace your syllabus, please reprint another copy if it’s posted on the class D2L page, ask your instructor politely for another copy, or borrow a classmate’s copy to make your own copy.  Whatever you do, do NOT go through the semester without one!

Here is what to look for in a syllabus:

Contact information – Your syllabus will give you information on how to contact your professor by email, office location, and phone number.  Make sure that you know your professor’s first and last name so that you know who to contact in case you miss a class meeting.

Office hours – Aside from the actual lecture or lab time, your professor will offer additional hours outside of class to assist students.  Take advantage of this and schedule a meeting with your professor to review your progress, to ask questions, to gather more information about a project or assignment, and/or to discuss strategies to succeed in class.

Required textbooks and classroom material – Unless you are taking a dance or fitness class, most likely, you will be required to purchase a textbook that has been specifically selected by your professor.  Be aware that not everyone uses the same textbook, so the Psychology textbook that your best friend purchased last semester may not be what you need.  Aside from the textbook, there may be additional materials or supplies that you will need.  For example, if you are enrolled in Elementary Drawing, you will be required to purchase your own art supplies such as pencils and paper.

Dates of homework assignments or projects – If you have a full load of classes, it will be important for you to keep track of what needs to be done and when.  The semester may start off slow, but once you enter the 3rd week, things start to change…and this happens fast!  It will not be unusual for you to have an English essay due on Monday, a Math exam to prepare for on Tuesday, three chapters to read in Philosophy before Wednesday, and a presentation on Thursday in Public Speaking.  It will be important for you to keep track of all your assignments so that you are not overwhelmed.

Also, before you start a homework assignment or project, make sure that you know the details and that you are clear on what is expected from you.  Writing a fantastic 10-page essay won’t help you earn an “A” if you turn it in 3 days late.

Exams – Yes, OF COURSE, you will be tested on the materials discussed and learned in class!  Exams are a great way to show your professor that you understand the materials, are keeping up with the readings, and staying engaged in the class.  Be aware of exam dates and be prepared ahead of time.  And just because you don’t have another exam until a month later, that doesn’t mean that you can’t review and study every day.

Chapter readings – Your books probably cost you over $200, so READ THEM!  The best way to participate in class is to read the chapters ahead of time so that you understand the discussion and can ask questions if needed.  Unfortunately, no one is going to read the books to you as you lay comfortably on your bed.  It is up to you to read the chapters and to take notes.  And sometimes you may have to read the chapters twice so find a nice, quiet place for study time.

Absences/lateness policy – Be prepared to attend every class meeting – but, if you have to miss a day, find out what the absence policy is.  After a certain number of absences, you may be dropped from the class…and when this happens, you may not be able to get back in.  Also, some professors view lateness the same as absences.  Being even a minute late can be distracting and disrespectful to your classmates and professor.

Grading system – Showing up to class for every meeting doesn’t guarantee you an “A” grade…you still have to successfully complete homework assignments, pass exams, and participate actively in class.  As you complete projects and exams, keep your own tally of your progress in class and keep all of your assignments until the end of the semester.