The Course Syllabus, Your Best Friend

What’s the definition of a “best friend?” syllabus Typically a best friend is there to support and help guide you through whatever comes your way. But did you know that at the beginning of the semester, your professor places a new BEST friend right in your hands?

The syllabus should be #1 on anyone’s contact list; it helps support and guide students through the semester.  It’s full of reminders and tips that help you get the most out of each class.

The objective section of the syllabus is a guide of what topics will be highlighted throughout the course.  You should get to know your objectives for each class before the semester gets into full swing, because they show you everything you are expected to know by the end of the semester.  It is helpful to look back at the objectives throughout the semester and see which objectives you have mastered and which ones still need work.  You don’t want to get to mid semester with no objectives crossed off the list.

Within the syllabus, the professor lays out a schedule that tells you what each class session will be about, when assignments are due and when you have quizzes and tests.  In order to do well in all of your classes, you need to pace yourself—which means DON’T PROCRASTINATE.

Those deadlines and due dates are always closer than they appear.  But by taking all of your syllabi and setting up a calendar that includes your school schedule, work schedule, free time, etc., you will be able to complete assignments efficiently and correctly—you know the old saying, “haste makes waste.” Your professors know when you rush to get an assignment done, it’s not worth it.  Give yourself breathing room – time to review and make changes before the deadline.

Help yourself out by taking advantage of the calendar in the syllabus.  You’ll feel organized and relaxed rather than stressed and over-worked.

“I believe so much that understanding what’s in the syllabus is vital to a student’s success that my 1st in class quiz is based on the content of my syllabus.” –Frank Mullen Adjunct Faculty Political Science

Grading scales vary from professor to professor; get to know the scheme for each of your professors.  One popular system is the point system, where homework, quizzes, exams, etc. add up to a certain number of points.  If your professor uses this style, you can keep track of your grade by simply adding up the points you earn as graded assignments are returned.  Then to get your final score you divide your total points earned by the total points possible, and viola you have your final grade!

Another possible grading system is based off of percentages; this one is a little bit trickier to calculate.  You still need to keep track of your grades throughout the semester, but it involves more work on your end to calculate.  You will need to get the average percentage of each grading category (homework, quizzes, etc.).  This is done by adding up your scores for each category then dividing it by the number of assignments in that category.  You then multiply this number by the percent in decimal form that that category is worth and then add the categories together. That total is your final grade.

Also know your professors’ grading scale, because each professor’s scale is unique.  Some professors have an A stop at 93%, 92%, or even 90%, make sure you know the grading scale from the  beginning so you know what letter grade you will be getting.

It is important to understand your professors’ grading styles, so get to know each one and be sure to ask questions if anything is unclear.

Hang out with your course assignments…no, seriously. Take time to identify the requirements for each assignment, method for turning it in, and the consequences for turning it in late.  Use the information as a planning tool to prioritize heavy assignments and tasks.   For example, assignments that require several pages of writing or problems from multiple text chapters are saying to you, “hang out with me a lot before its due”.  Reviewing your assignments now will minimize any surprises later.

Identify your professor’s primary method of communicating.  Find out how your professor will share handouts, class updates, and any other important information to help you succeed.  It’s best not to assume that all of your professors use Blackboard because they don’t.  Some use a separate website, others prefer traditional email, and others may not have any electronic form of communication.  Bookmark the link and check it regularly for updates.

In conclusion, make a few new best friends this semester –your syllabi!  Use your syllabi to pace yourself this semester.   Need additional guidance?  Sign up online to work with an academic coach.  AAC coaches work 1:1 with students to help with many different topics, such as planning, study strategies, understanding your syllabi, and more!

Jay Greene
Undergraduate Student & Staff Writer

Jennifer Wendt & Jeremy Boettinger
Learning Specialist
Academic Achievement Center


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One thought on “The Course Syllabus, Your Best Friend

  1. AAC February 3, 2014 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Great post!

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