How to Use Your Syllabus
What Is A Syllabus & Why Should I Read It?
A syllabus is a document written by your instructor to guide you throughout the course. The syllabus is often found on the left side menu in Canvas, or at the top of the modules section. It is something that professors frequently mention in the first week of class.
Each syllabus is filled with tons of critical information! With the excitement and apprehension that comes with a new semester, you may be tempted to skim your syllabus or skip reading it entirely. The syllabus is beneficial throughout the semester, not just at the beginning. Think of your syllabus as a map guiding you through the semester. It helps you know what the class offers, what to expect from the professor, and what the professor expects from you. Just like a contract, it is a helpful resource you should understand thoroughly and reference often.
How Should I Use My Syllabus?
The way students use their syllabus varies depending on students’ personal preferences. Some choose to download and save the document to their computer whereas others prefer to print it out in a paper form. Either way, be sure you are able to highlight or mark the most important sections. This will make it easier to find the information you need quickly.
Get in the habit of reviewing each syllabus regularly. This could be monthly or before each exam. It can become confusing keeping track of policies for multiple classes, especially at the beginning of the semester or in online classes. You may think you’ll remember all the nitty-gritty information, but it may surprise you how quickly it can be forgotten or confused with another course.
What information should I look for?
Introduction to the Professor
This includes any titles, names, or pronouns the instructor prefers. It is important to address your instructor in the way they are most comfortable with, so keep this in mind as you attend class or reach out to the professor with questions or concerns.
Professor’s Contact Information
Pay close attention to the preferred method since professors can be reached in various ways. For example, using the email function on Canvas is different from emailing your professor through Weber State Gmail. Professors give you this contact information in order for you to be able to reach out to them, so use it when necessary! However, respect the boundaries they have set. The instructor will also likely state the expected time for them to respond to inquiries. Typically, it is 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, but check to be sure and plan accordingly. Each professor is unique in their preferences, so marking this information is key!
You should be aware of not only the times the professor has set aside for office hours but also whether you need to schedule a time in advance or simply drop in. Some professors hold office hours in person on campus at a set location while other professors hold office hours via a telephone call or even virtually via Zoom. It’s important to know what to expect and to have these details on hand for when you need help.
Course Description and Course Objectives
This section gives you the overall purpose of the course and lets you know what the professor’s goals are in teaching you.
This could be face-to-face, online, virtual, or hybrid. See our blog post for more details on each format. If the class is face-to-face, virtual, or hybrid, you should look for assigned days and times when the class will meet as well as where physical classes will be held including the campus and classroom number. If the class is virtual or hybrid, you should be familiar with where to find the Zoom link. For online classes, get familiar with Canvas.
You should also be aware of any textbooks or software needed for class. Sometimes professors will even advise students on the best place to purchase required materials or which editions to look for or avoid. These are all good things to know and have ready to go early on.
It is crucial to know when quizzes, exams, group projects, research papers, and other large assignments are due in order to plan ahead. Some syllabi even include a weekly rundown of chapters, modules, and assignments due. Organize these dates on a calendar. I like to color-code my calendar by class. It also helps to break larger assignments up into smaller bite-size pieces. Some prefer paper planners while others would rather have one digitally. (See our blog post for details on using Google Calendar).
The syllabus should clearly state not only the due dates for quizzes and exams but also where (and how) you’ll take them. Will the exams be given at a testing center, through Proctorio, through Chi Tester, or through different means? The professor may include other helpful information like if the exams are timed or if they are comprehensive. Your syllabus may also share what format exams will be in, such as multiple choice or essay.
Late Work Policy
It is crucial to know the professor’s late work expectations ahead of time. Be sure to know whether late work is accepted and what penalties are given. Knowing the late-work policies for each individual course can help you prioritize your assignments when emergencies happen. If you do find yourself in a tough spot, reach out to your professor as soon as you can. There is always a chance they may be able to help, but it’s better to ask before the deadline.
Know ahead of time if your professor grades on a curve, drop the lowest score, allows for make-up work, or if some assignments are weighted more heavily than others. Another thing to look for is if the professor offers any extra credit opportunities.
Also near the end of your syllabus, you might find information to help you be successful in your coursework. These resources may include options such as tutoring, Supplemental Instruction (SI), and coaching. Knowing what resources are available to you and using them can make a huge difference, so don’t ignore this section of your syllabus.
Other Policies and Procedures
Don’t forget to read and understand the statements about plagiarism, core beliefs, accommodations, inclusivity, discrimination, and harassment. While many skip over these paragraphs, they really are important and could prove helpful. Anytime you agree to something, you should know exactly what it is you are agreeing to.
Personally, I do not start any actual coursework until I have thoroughly read the syllabus, input important dates on my planner, and have highlighted the most important information. It really helps to have the syllabus readily available for when I need to remember key information. By referencing the syllabus throughout the semester, I stay on track and my anxiety is reduced. Remember, if you have questions or concerns about a class, check your syllabus first; if you don’t find the information you need there, ask your professor.
For more tips, resources, or to schedule a session with a coach, check out our Academic Peer Coaching Blog Homepage. Happy syllabus reading!
About The Author
Rachel is a senior pursuing her degree in communication here at Weber State University.
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