Decode your college syllabus for a higher grade

The syllabus is a map to guide you through an entire semester in a particular class with a particular professor. If you will notice the length of most syllabi, you can tell that professors take the time to prepare these. They make sure that every detail their students may need is there. Not to mention, they discuss every detail on the first day of class. Yet, most students do not know what to do with their syllabi after the first day of class. Well, here is a pro tip: your syllabus can help you get ahead in class, or at least make the semester less stressful.

Here is what you should do with your syllabus:

1. Read it and highlight important rules and details.

Admit it, you do not always read your syllabi. But you really should. Your syllabi contain details about the goals of the class, as well as the professor’s expectations. It will give you an impression of what the semester will be like. Does this professor prefer exams or papers? Does this professor expect heavy class participation? Are they lenient with tardiness? How and where do they want you to submit papers? Do they prefer MLA, APA, or Chicago? Most importantly, take note of their late homework policy. 

2. Your professor’s contact details and office hours

Highlight or take note of your professor’s contact details, as well as their office hours. You never know when these will come in handy. Stricter professors may even have a process for scheduling consultation. You do not want to be that student asking them when you can consult when all these have been detailed in the syllabus. Take note of these even when you think you do not need them as consultations are sometimes necessary for homework or projects. 

Even if you are not the type of student to consult your professor outside of class hours, you may want to keep these in case of emergency. You never know when you need to consult with them. 

On a related note, you probably should take advantage of your professors’ willingness to consult with you regarding important requirements. These will definitely help you pull up your grade as they can give you valuable insight or advice. Who knows? You might even develop a friendship with them.

3. Highlight and take note of important dates

Take note of requirements and significant dates so you can plan your study schedule and avoid being overwhelmed when papers pile up. You can practically plan your entire semester with just your class syllabi. Professors layout the class’s schedule for the semester so students can also plan theirs, and make adjustments early on.

If you are the type to keep a planner, write down the requirements and their deadlines on your planner early on. If, on the other hand, you do not keep a planner, highlight these significant days. This way, you will not forget any of the requirements.

Tips to increase your productivity for a higher grade.

4. Plan extra-curricular activities and vacations

The number one complaint of students is not having enough time for extracurricular activities and being at a loss after winter or thanksgiving break. With a syllabus at hand, you can plan what you will do and study during your vacation. Your studies do not need to interfere with your vacation, of course. You can prioritize the assignments that will be passed or study only for exams or quizzes that are scheduled for the first week of your return to class.

5. Grade breakdown

You do not need to compute your grades every time you submit a paper or take an exam in your classes—though you can if that helps you—but at least knowing which requirements are weightier in the grade computation will give you an idea on which requirements to prioritize. So, on top of their deadlines, take note of each requirement’s weight in the grading system. 

6. Required textbooks

Professors typically list down all the books and other reading materials that will be used for class. You are expected to have your own copy of these and to have read them in advance. In college you are no longer expected to be passive receivers of knowledge, you are expected to engage in discourse with your professor and the entire class. Always come to class prepared—with your syllabus, there is no excuse not to know what will be discussed or done in class.

7. Further reading

Professors always include a “further reading” list on the off-chance that one of their students wants to go beyond what can be taught in the classroom. You can assure that these materials were read by your professors, and even though they are not strictly part of the curriculum, they offer valuable insight into the topic. Your professor will not list those down if they were not all useful to them at some point. Surely, these will help you, too. 

Doing further reading is tedious—we understand that, but it is the best way to get an A in class. There are insights that may not be offered in traditional textbooks that other authors can, and you can use that in your learning. Even better, you can use these in your academic essays

8. Weekly class topics

Some professors list down topics for the week. Although they are rarely followed, they still tell you the chronology in which you will discuss topics in class. If you want an A for that class, study ahead of time using this information. Check which chapter in your textbook or reading materials will be used in class and read them. You will be able to engage in your class and leave a good impression on your professor and learn more. If you ever wonder how your smart classmates seem to always know the answer, this is their secret: they study the materials ahead of time.

If, on the other hand, your professor requires you to read a chapter before class, take a step ahead and read (or skim through if you are pressed for time) additional reading materials.

9. Plan your essays ahead of time

Some professors indicate the topic of essays in the syllabus. At times, this is only to inform the students, but other times it is because they simply expect the class to submit their essays on the indicated date. These professors do not remind the class about deadlines, nor do they give further explanations. In any case, it always pays to plan your essays ahead of time. Plan your essays a week or two ahead so you have ample time to research, prepare an outline, and edit them before submission.

Follow this step-by-step process on how to write an essay efficiently.

Treat your syllabus as a kind of cheat sheet for the semester. You should not go in to any class blindsided, especially not when your professor prepares a detailed document telling you exactly what needs to be done.

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