Top Twelve Tips for Success in the College Classroom
Ann Pond, PhD
Whether you attend a large university or a small college, whether your first classes are in an auditorium with 100 students or in a traditional classroom with 30, and whether you are taught by a full professor or a young graduate student, your success in the classroom depends on the same factors.
1. Showing INTEREST and RESPECT are the keys to success. Show interest: Let your professor know who you are. Let him/her know you take your studies seriously and that you are there to LEARN, not just to get the grade. Show respect: Do not try to be a friend to your professor, even if you have a young graduate student in a freshman course. Do not communicate casually in verbal or written communication.
2. Do not believe that your grade is determined strictly by numbers. Your grade is determined by your professor, period. Some students are there because they truly enjoy learning, absorbing new information, while others are there to get a passing grade and get out. How your professor perceives you as a student can make a big difference.
3. Do not ask if you have “homework.” Your homework is to study at least as many hours outside of the class as you do inside of the class and to re-read the material covered in class every day. Make sure your professor believes that you study every night instead of cramming for exams at the last minute. Remember: you always have “homework.”
4. Never ask for “extra credit” to bring up a low grade. No extra work can take the place of the basics of the course. Without knowing the basic required material, you should not get credit for the course. Extra work should only be for students who are already doing well and want to learn even more.
5. Sit up front and be early, never late. Your professor will immediately consider those in front and those who arrive early to be eager and interested, those in the back to be hiding and hoping to get through this as quickly as possible.
6. Do not miss classes. Follow your instructor’s policies, but generally when you do miss a class it is best to tell your professor. If you have to miss a class, never ask “are we going to do anything important today?” Every class is important, or it wouldn’t be worth your professor’s time. Even asking “what are we covering today” is unacceptable, as an hour lecture can not be summarized in one sentence. Make your professor aware that you are concerned about your absence and do whatever you can on your own to make up the missed material. No matter what the reason for your absence, it is your responsibility, not that of your professor, to make up for anything you miss.
7. Do not discuss individual issues , such as your grades, in the classroom. Email or speak with your professor during his/her office hours. If you must speak with your professor in the classroom, make it after class, never before.
8. Understand you’re professor’s role within the college system and address him/her properly. If you’re not sure, look to see how he/she is identified on the syllabus.
9. Your syllabus is your contract. You are expected to read it carefully. When you have questions about policies, refer to te syllabus before you ask your professor. Generally, the answers to your questions will be found there. Often your syllabus and assignments will be posted online. It takes time for your professor to make this available to you so use your online resources as much as possible.
10. If you get behind or miss a class most professors will be willing to help you if you communicate and if your setbacks are few and far between. Just don’t make a habit of it and don’t offer excuses or go into too much detail about personal issues. Remember: your college classes are your job. When you miss something important at work your boss won’t care why, and he/she certainly won’t care if you have a doctor’s note! Approach the college classroom professionally. All that matters is whether you are there and getting the work done or not. When you miss a class or get behind, let you professor know what you’ve missed, no details necessary, and that you will try not to let that happen again.
11. Never challenge your professor’s authority. This means never ask when papers will be returned and never challenge a grade, except in extreme circumstances. If you have genuine questions or concerns about a grade (not just rushing for results or frustrated that you didn’t do well), speak privately with your professor about it. If you are questioning a grade, do not imply that your professor was at fault, simply that you would like more information about how you could have answered correctly and how you can do better next time.
12. Pay attention in class and take good notes. If you are sitting in the back and whisper now and then to the person beside you, you may believe that your professor can not see what you are doing. However, even the slightest movements can be disturbing to someone giving a lecture. Remember that every move you make is noticed and can also be disruptive to those around you trying to concentrate. You should also be taking good notes. Don’t rely on your memory. Many of the facts and concepts covered in your freshman year will be familiar from high school. However, you will be slowly building on that knowledge and the amount of new material will become overwhelming by test time if you have not written everything down. Don’t rely on your memory. This is important both for notes and assignments and due dates.
Ann Pond has been in the college classroom for over 20 years, teaching primarily Western Civilization and U.S. History courses. She can be reached at [email protected]