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It’s “syllabus day,” arguably the best day of the semester. It’s the day you probably don’t have to take notes or listen to lectures. The day where your only responsibility is to collect your syllabus, and then stuff it somewhere into the black hole of papers we like to call a backpack. But, this wonderful first day of classes has the potential to either make or break your entire semester. How you choose to handle your syllabus ultimately determines your future stress levels and your final grades.
Taking the syllabus seriously is a lot easier than you think, and it can make your life easier, too. So, here is a list of tips to help to start your semester off on the right foot.
If you don’t have an agenda yet, stop reading, go buy one, and then come back for the rest of the tips. An agenda is probably the most crucial part of staying organized. If you prefer to go paperless, your phone or computer will work just as well. There is no way you can remember all those due dates without an organizer! You can also get a visual of what your semester and finals week actually look like and plan your studying accordingly.
Right after you write a date in your agenda, flip the page back to the week before and write yourself a reminder. Motivational reminders like “Start working on final paper!” can help you avoid mastering the art of procrastination, and turn things in on time instead.
In the front of your agenda, in the note section, write down all the names, contact information, and office hours of your professors. When the day you have a question arrives, you will be glad you did. BUT, before sending an e-mail or visiting an office, double-check that your question is not already answered somewhere in the syllabus. Odds are that it is. Asking a question that already has an answer is an instructor pet peeve!
Professors can widely differ on how they monitor attendance. Some take role every class, while others give random quizzes. Take note of each policy so that you can maximize the amount of attendance points. When you do miss a class, mark it down so you can keep track of how many you miss!
The amount of effort you put into each class can significantly help or hurt you. Some teachers place a lot of emphasis on participation. If the syllabus shows that a high percentage of your grade relies on participating, you can make it a goal to raise your hand every class.
Different professors use different grading systems, as well. Syllabi often outline grading scales and requirements so that you can see exactly what the professors are looking for in that ten-page essay or group project.
Opportunities to earn extra credit are often unspoken or briefly mentioned. Check the small print to see if there is anything else you can do outside of class that the teacher never stated.
A list of materials is generally provided somewhere in that sea of words. Make sure to list all books and materials to buy before the next class begins. However, some classes end up not even touching the textbook. It may be wise to talk to the professor after class and see which books will really be used, but be careful how you approach that conversation, because most professors don’t take kindly to begrudging queries like, “Do I actually have to read the book?”
When professors provide a schedule on a class-by-class basis, use it to your advantage. A noteworthy idea is to write down the topic for the next class period. Then, you can prepare and review the material beforehand so you will know exactly what is going on. That way you can work ahead, in order to not be left behind!
Syllabi pack a mean punch of information, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep every syllabus! Consider putting every syllabus you receive on the first day of classes into one folder or with each binder. Whenever you’re in doubt - whether it is about a test, paper or your grade - you can refer back to the syllabus to clarify things. Remember to check the syllabus first, because it usually has the answer! So, moral of the story is: take advantage of your syllabi, so you can stress less!