How to Ace a College Introductory Class
Most “101” college introductory, beginner or survey classes share one goal: cover only the most salient concepts of the given field whether accounting classes, psychology classes, biology or literature. Some classes will require heavier reading; others will demand more problem-solving. But as introductory courses, they’re all bound to introduce a broad range of the discipline’s basics in a finite amount of time. As a student, this is to your advantage. You will not be required to learn in great depth, and the structure of what you need to know should be easy to find and absorb. There is no silver bullet to getting that 4.0, you will need to work. There are many resources on how to study and how to study for colleges classes, introductory or survey courses, however, are somewhat different. Follow these few simple steps, and that 4.0 should be easy to achieve.
- Learn the course syllabus like the back of your hand. Don’t simply browse through it once. Make an extra copy so you don’t lose track of assignments or expectations. If you care about your grade, you cannot afford any surprises you missed the first time through. Determine how the professor or instructor apportions the weighting of grades. Some will have virtually all of the weight on a midterm and final. Others will use papers and mix class participation into the sum. Do the math. Ask yourself questions like, can you get less than 95% on the two big tests and still get a 4.0?
- Find out about your professor. Take anything you’ve heard from classmates or online rating groups like RateMyProfessor.com with a grain of salt, but a few minutes on this may reveal a trend. Will an absence be harshly punished? More reliable sources are the college or university’s departmental information on him or her in the college catalog or online. Just knowing about your instructor’s publications or areas of expertise will help you spot what will likely be emphasized in class.
- Prime yourself for the class. For all classes you should perform a thorough perusal of the texts: read the introductions, prefaces and scan the table of contents. A quick reading of a Wikipedia article or two on the topic may pay back in diamonds should you say, drop a term in class (hint, hint).
- Terminology tends to be the staple of these classes. Look for terms or phrases in the glossary of your texts or in any handouts and devote most of your energy to knowing them. You can’t go wrong here. If your memory for new terms isn’t great, start early and focus on distinctions between similar concepts. Cramming to memorize a list of words you barely understand doesn’t work well, especially if your instructor gives you a multiple choice test where the potential answers share the same format, but a word or two is swapped out.
- Don’t botch the easy stuff. Students garner ill will from the professors when they try to “game” tests. Don’t badger the professor over whether this term or that term will be on a test. You needn’t play that game, but pay attention to the answers from others that do. Don’t squander points by careless reading of assignments. For instance, if you only answer half of a two-part question or turn in a paper that doesn’t meet the required format (e.g. MLA style).
- You don’t have to be a monk to make major gains in study habits. Students who sit in the front row(s) generally perform much better. If at all possible, show up early, get a good seat and spend those extra minutes reviewing your readings or assignments.
- Most of your requirements will come from a syllabus, if not, email your professor with a list of questions. Don’t ask during class, the professor will appreciate sparing class time. If you’re using an APA, MLA, or Chicago Style handbook, make sure you have one well before you start assembling a paper.
- If you find yourself overwhelmed by a difficult concept or a disappointing result on an assignment or test, ask the instructor about it and express your concern. Most teachers want you to succeed and enjoy seeing the light bulbs go on in their students. They are likely to offer useful advice.
Why All the Effort for Intro Classes?
You may already know that you don't want to be a psychologist or an English teacher. You may believe you’ll only have to really work at courses in your major, but a solid foundation from that introduction to psychology class and that English writing class will give you more opportunities later in your college career. You may even decide to pursue a second major or minor in a field you hadn’t considered. You’ll only get out of your education what you put into it, so why not make the most of every class.
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