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Cross-country road trips can be a blast, but without a good GPS or road map to guide you through parts unknown, you could easily find yourself lost in a hurry.
The same thing goes for your college courses. That’s why professors take the time to write out a solid plan of attack for you in the form of course syllabi.
Some syllabi might be more detailed than others, but a good one will include the following crucial information:
- Instructor contact information and office hours
- Course description and objectives
- Due dates for all assignments
- Textbooks, readings, and other supplies necessary
- Grading and classroom policies
Florence C. Magree, a retired vice principal from Montebello, California, notes, “The syllabus sets the organizational structure and pace of the class.”
Don’t be surprised if a professor even asks you to sign a copy, just like a contract, thereby showing that you’ve read it and agree to do your best to meet all of its stated requirements.
Find Your Syllabus
Most professors provide a syllabus at the start of the semester. If you can’t find yours, check out the class Web page or contact your professor or teaching assistant.
Leslie Andersen, a librarian and former instructor at California State University, Long Beach, says, “The syllabus serves as the roadmap regarding expectations and how assignments [are] graded. Knowing [this] always seems to be the most important part for [students].”
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, almost 80 percent of students said they received syllabi in all of their classes.
Anthony V., a second-year student at California State University, Long Beach, shares, “Syllabi are like cheat sheets to help me figure out what a teacher is like and might be prone toward, but also, almost more importantly, what they don’t like.”
Kimberly C, a senior at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland, explains, “After I read a syllabus I understand the course better and [know] when assignments and tests will take place. I also feel a sense of calm about the class from preparing early.”
- First, read the syllabus thoroughly to understand your professor’s expectations. Reread it whenever you have a question and before assignments are due.
- Use the information you find to develop a “backwards plan” in your written or electronic calendar.
What’s this? Start with the date of your final exam or project and working backward, plan out incremental dates for preparation.
Also write in all the smaller assignments that will be due. Keep going until you get to the present day.
- Estimate how much time you’ll need to prepare for each assignment. Write down dates to start working on them.
- Note test dates and times, especially for your final exam and how this relates to your other finals. The timing will affect how you fit in study time for all of them, and may also have an effect on other end-of-semester plans, like travel.
If there are conflicts in your schedule of finals, contact your professors right away to come up with a solution.
- Use the syllabus’s tone to gain insight into your professor’s personality. That can make communication easier, whether during class or office hours.
- Pay attention to essential grading policies for things like tests, assignments, participation, extra credit, and late work.
Chart Your Courses
Having all the information you need for your entire semester in one place, instead of using several separate syllabi, can help keep you focused and organized.
Create a course chart with the requirements of all your classes in one place. This will offer a visual way to get the info you need at a glance.
Once created, post your chart on a bulletin board or your computer desktop. Also consider creating a smaller version to refer to electronically or in your planner. This can help you stay on top of your daily assignments throughout the week.
Brian C, a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, says, “The syllabus helps me remain focused, and answers most of my questions. It also helps me to manage when things are due.”
No matter how you choose to keep track of the information in your course syllabi, just don’t stuff them away in a drawer. Instead, refer to them regularly and you’ll stay on top of your game.
One sample course chart and ideas for creating yours:
- Gather all of your semester syllabi together.
- Create a chart similar to the one on the next slide or draw your own.
- Be sure all of the important dates from individual course syllabi (tests, papers, projects, etc.) are listed on your chart. But keep your syllabi as well, for individual reference when needed.
- Update the chart as necessary, for example, if a due date changes or you learn about a new policy.
- Post your completed chart prominently where you’ll see it every day.
- Carefully read your syllabi.
- Create a master chart with the essentials for each course.
- If something is unclear, ask for clarification, but always check the syllabus before contacting a professor with a question.
- At the end of each day, make note of upcoming assignments and plan accordingly.
Get help or find out more
Carnegie Mellon University, Design & Teach a Course, Write the Syllabus
Niagara University, The Syllabus Portland State University, The importance of the syllabus
Lincoln Land Community College, Learning Lab, Syllabus Reading 101