Scholarly Advice for Academic Mastery
A collection of insights and advice from some of the most successful university, graduate, and professional students and scholars.
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Something that is very easy to do that will help you and your grades a lot is to look over your class syllabus and schedule your first week. It helps to know what is required of you throughout the course of the semester and to know your deadlines before they surprise you. Some assignments require more thought, time, research, and planning than others and it helps to know about these assignments further than a day in advance. Also , some professors are not as good at warning you about upcoming assignments and events and still expect you to have your work in on time-- and they will not be very lenient with late submissions, giving point penalties for each day late. So get a planner and put big assignments on the calendar. You may also find that you have 3 big exams or papers due the same day or week. If you know this at the beginning of the semester, some professors will be more likely to let you request more time or alternate submission dates. Even if you are a big procrastinator, spending 1 hour at the beginning of the semester going over dates and deadlines will save you from a ton of stress, will help you avoid late assignments, and will help you submit stronger work on time.
Kelly Laura Hocutt
At the start of the semester, study the syllabus and outline for each course that you plan to do for the semester. Ensure that the courses you choose are essential for your major and or interest. I believe that if you are interested in a course, you are likely to perform much better than if no interest exists.
The syllabus and course outline shows the weightings of the grades for the particular course. The weightings on homework assignments, tests, group-work, presentations and projects will give you an idea of the work that will be required of you throughout the semester. This allows for better mental preparation for the course. For example, some courses may have four (4) equally distributed tests for the semester, in which each test worth 25% of the overall grade; other courses may have a grade distribution such as homework - 50 %, group-work - 20%, presentation – 20% and test - 10%. The strategy to excel in each of these courses would be different. For the former, one has to be prepared to be studying for a test every three (3) or four (4) weeks during the semester. For the latter, there is not a strong emphasis on the final test, but a significant emphasis on homework.
Florida State University
The number of students who pay little or no attention to a course's syllabus is surprising. On the first day of class, get a copy of the syllabus and dissect it carefully. How much are tests worth? When will the tests be? Is homework graded or just suggested? Answers to these questions will help a student know how much effort needs to be expended to optimize their grade. If homework is only worth 5% of the final grade and a test is worth 45%, then it should be evident HOW MUCH more important the test is over the homework. And knowing when tests will be given is important in planning. Look at all your classes and write down the test dates on a master calendar. If you'll have three tests in the same week, at least you'll be aware of it and can plan accordingly. A master calendar will allow for such a "big picture" view. The syllabus is one of the only written agreements between a teacher and the students; therefore, it should be treated with the appropriate attention.
Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
University of West Florida
In college, the amount of material for which you're responsible isn't broken down into homework assignments. You have to organize your own time. One of the first things you should do is make a mini calendar for yourself and then go through your syllabuses and write in all the major assignments for the semester. There won't be as many as you might think. I suggest putting midterms, finals, and exams in one color; projects and presentations in another; and essays in a third. In this visual layout, it's much easier to count down how many weekends you have left before things are due, and it's easy to foresee difficult stretches so you can prepare ahead of time.
I have so much faith in this kind of organization that I do it in a week-by-week format, deciding what I had to get down every week and assigning myself days to do it. I have different categories for written work, studying, reading, and research, and I try to split them up for myself so I’m not reading three books one day and writing ten pages the next. You’re very unlikely to ever forget an assignment and if you procrastinate, at least it’s ordered procrastination. Also, if you’re one of those people who suffers from vaguely anxious unease at the staggering amount of work you have to do, this kind of format is visual proof that you’re getting stuff done and will finish on time. It helped me to relax a little more.
Scott E. Olmsted
Most colleges or universities give students agendas at the beginning of the school year, for free. My advice: use it! (Okay, so maybe your school doesn't give out agendas; go to the grocery store and buy yourself a planner.) If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. During the first week of classes each semester, professors each hand out a detailed syllabus, which usually includes a course calendar. Take the course calendar with your agenda and write in all assignment due dates, quizzes or tests, etc. It's not a bad idea either to write in which chapters are to be read for that book. Use different colors, pens, stickers, or highlighters to organize the assignments by course. For example, if you see blue you know there's a math assignment coming up. Staying organized and on top of your schedule saves a lot of stressing over due dates and assignments.
Mary Elizabeth Burr
Florida State University
Creating a “Master Deadline Document” for
each semester, digesting syllabi:
Professors expect you to read, save, and consult their course syllabus regularly during the semester. The syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, what is due, when it is due, and how your will be graded. Many faculty think of syllabi as an informal learning contract between the student and themselves. The problem is EVERY course had a syllabus, and it can be confusing and overwhelming to keep track of them all.
Something that helped me deal with the piles of syllabus pages was to make a “master deadline document” at the beginning of every semester to keep track of my assignments, exams, quizzes, and overall due dates. You should have time at the beginning of the semester to do this as the first day in most classes is known as “syllabus day” where not as much can be accomplished or assigned quite yet. “Syllabus day” is a good day for you to prepare a master deadline document since all of this information is still fresh in your mind. I would organize the document by class with due dates, assignment descriptions, and grading weight assigned to each task. This way I could refer to my document at any point in the semester and know what is due for EVERY class in any given week and focus my attention accordingly.
I did not put everything needed to be done for everyday, as this was not a good use of my time and could prove to be overwhelming if it all stared at me at once! I would certainly have weekly readings to do, which would not be included. I accepted these daily tasks as “a given” and would do those regularly without having to refer to deadlines as much. If you have classes that require readings or review, then those are routine tasks that you will be doing normally anyway. This document is intended for the graded items that are turned in sporadically throughout the semester that tend to creep up on you unless you read ahead on the syllabus.
Think of the “master deadline document” as having the critical grade-intensive items all in one place. It’s sort of like having 5 syllabi in one document. This way you can leave off the other “noise” on the syllabus that take up space and pages of paper like the professor’s contact info, the academic rules/regulations, the course objective, the names of the textbooks, classroom management, etc. You should NOT throw away or replace the syllabus at all. You need to know those other pieces of information of course, but just not continuously. You don’t need to shuffle through those things on a daily or weekly basis, just “as needed.” You will use your syllabus most for identifying your readings in your texts and for checking deadlines. This “master deadline document” allows all the deadlines to be in one place to simplify things for you and allow you to sort your tasks week by week without having to shuffle so much paper and so many notebooks.
With such a document I also could set and manage my own deadlines for those projects which had flexible due dates (such as final project and papers that just need to be turned in “just sometime before the end of the semester”). If you look at when all the final projects are due for the 4-5 classes you are taking at once, you can stagger the work much more easily and decide to finish a paper a few weeks before final exams and other deadlines occur.
As assignments are turned in I use a big black marker to cross out that item off the list for that class. This helped me see what I had finished, and identify what was left without getting distracted. It also helped give me a sense of encouragement and progress during times of stress. If I could see that I had already marked off over 75% of the graded item required for the class, it gave me the needed energy to persevere through the end of the semester and not feel so buried. Realize that some classes will allow you finish you graded requirements earlier that others and use this document as a tool in those cases. Focus on the “top heavy” and “bottom heavy” courses first. The “top heavy” courses load the work up front, while the “bottom heavy” courses make everything due towards the end. By balancing “top heavy” and “bottom heavy” courses together, you can easily make progress and have something to work on each week as the semester go onward and take satisfaction at having an easily workload during finals week than most other students.
Tiffany Sanford Jenson
University of Oklahoma
My greatest advice for students is get a date planner/ calendar. As soon as you receive the syllabus from your professor, write all assignments, etc. on your planner. This is especially important if you have several classes. At the beginning of each and every week, check your planner/date book for assignments due that week. Cross them off as you complete them. Do not wait until the very last minute to complete assignments - take the time to do your best work. You get out of it what you put into it! Little effort yields bad grade! Big effort yields knowledge and great G.P.A.!
Masters, Special Education
One of the most effective steps I took was to get organized by setting a study schedule. At the beginning of each semester I would take a thorough look at all of my syllabi to get a sense of the expectations each of the professors had throughout the term. Knowing that my professors were not liable to stray from their syllabus, I marked my calendar with all the papers, exams, presentations, etc. that were scheduled. By doing this, I was able to check my calendar regularly so to prepare for multiple assignments in advance, which decreased the unnecessary stress of trying to remember everything for the upcoming weeks. After marking my calendar, I would try to anticipate each assignment by giving myself ample time to prepare for them. So if there was a lengthy term paper to write or mid-term to study for, I would check my calendar and begin researching, outlining, drafting and/or studying about two weeks prior to the end date. Giving myself this time dramatically increased the likelihood of my producing quality work or better comprehending course material. By following this timetable, I found that I had less anxiety and more confidence with the papers I produced or the exams I completed. This was especially critical during those very stressful mid-term and final periods when grades are weighed more heavily. While this method of preparing two weeks in advance worked for me, other people might feel they need more or less time. I would recommend that each person adjust themselves according to their particular need. Some classes may require less time than others; it all depends on the individual. Nevertheless, I feel it is essential that students mark up their calendars and make up a study schedule and stick to it. If indeed they do follow this routine, I believe that it will most likely improve their GPA.. It worked for me and I think it will for others too.
Anne Marie Skalecki
University of Dayton
The most important thing that contributes to my success in school is organization. Each semester presents new challenges and cannot be approached in the same ways as the previous semester. Once I have a copy of a syllabus from each of my classes, I take the time to review each one individually and then compile them all into my day planer. I keep the copies as a reference with the materials for each class; but, once everything is written in my day planner, I no longer need to look at each one individually on a daily basis. Having all the information in one place allows me to plan for papers, tests, and homework assignments accordingly. I am able to flip to the week ahead and know what assignments will be due. Each night, I look to the day ahead and know exactly what will be covered in class the next day. Looking ahead keeps me from falling behind; therefore, when I enter the classroom, I am not scrambling to find my page in the book and the material is already familiar to me. Also, I review the notes taken in class on the same day. This helps the information to really sink in. Some instructors teach super fast and my notes are not always the neatest. So, by reviewing the notes the same day as class, I am able to rewrite or look up anything that is unclear. I also use sticky notes in my book and notebook for questions that are still unclear after my review. The next class period, I make a point to ask the instructor for clarification either during class or office hours.
Amanda Carter Rorrer
University of North Carolina
What has always helped me was to keep a calendar. Set it up as soon as you get your syllabus and update it as needed throughout the semester. Write down all assignments and tests and their due dates on your calendar. For term papers and other written assignments, give yourself a "rough draft" date in advance of the due date so you can have ample time to edit and revise if you need. Mark down any in-school and out-of-school activities or commitments as well. A good habit to develop is on Sunday, before the start of the week, prepare a weekly schedule.
- Record your daily classes
- Write down things to be done that week from your semester calendar
- Add in any activities/appointments
- Schedule in times for finishing assignments working on projects and studying for tests (including nights + weekends)
- Place a check mark next to things as you accomplish them
Master of Science in Nursing
West Chester University
If you are interested in a course, but not sure, I recommend searching for the teacher’s or the course syllabus from previous semesters, and that should give you a better idea of what you would be doing in a class. You can search by looking on your school’s website, Google, or e-mailing a teacher requesting a past syllabus.
Understanding the course syllabus is very important. It is the professors’ way of letting students know what is expected of them. It usually has an outline of the semester including due dates for assignments and perhaps descriptions of assignments. The syllabus will tell you how you will be graded and policies on attendance and class work. If you read through the syllabus, you will know more about the class and what you will be doing. You can always refer back to the syllabus if it describes assignments and due dates.
Arizona State University
A syllabus is essentially a contract between a professor and his or her
students. When you receive such a document on the first day of class, you
will be given a short description of what you will learn as well as what is
required of students. When you are hired for a job, you may also be
presented with a contract which lists your responsibilities as well as what
the employer will do for you. At the time that you receive a work contract
or a course syllabus, you can either agree/disagree to work at the site or
stay/withdraw from the course.
I have learned over the years that receiving a course syllabus and weighing my options (i.e. withdrawing or staying in the course) should be done right away. Many times we are convinced that we can handle the course requirements; however, sometimes a decision must be made to withdraw from the course mid-way through the semester due to various reasons. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed on the first day of class after receiving a syllabus, the best advice that I can give you is to meet with the professor during his or her office hours and discuss your concerns. I have met with many of my professors during the first couple of weeks of class in order to discuss the class requirements and I am glad that I did. Most of the time, I walked away feeling relieved because the professor was able to explain what was required in a way that made me feel less overwhelmed. It is also important to tell yourself that the workload that you see is not required in one sitting; but rather over a course of the semester. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when looking at the amount of work that a course requires; however, my best advice is to take one day at a time and to plan your schedule accordingly.
Sean Michael Kenney
Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling
University of Massachusetts-Boston