5 tips from a prof to succeed in your courses
Whenever I start a new semester at UBC, I promise myself that I will be better: I’ll study harder, get better grades, and succeed in my classes.
I often find that these promises can be hard to keep if I don’t have a well thought-out plan in mind. So, I sat down with Dr. Neil Armitage, Sociology professor at UBC and Learning Strategist at the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, for some helpful tips on how students can perform better in the classroom and succeed academically.
1. Follow instructions (a.k.a. read the syllabus)
You know that burning question you have in the first week of class that you just need to ask the professor about? Odds are you can find the answer in the syllabus. Asking these questions wastes your and your prof’s time.
Try cracking open that syllabus that your prof spent all summer writing and note down assignment due dates and classroom expectations.
Pay attention to the language and messaging used in the syllabus - this can provide clues as to where your prof might place emphasis in their expectations and grading of the course.
Do this syllabus planning before the add/drop deadline so you can map out when things are due in all your classes. If you find that in the second week of October you have 5 assignments due and 3 midterms, maybe reconsider one or two of those courses… You’ll have time to rearrange your schedule if you do this early enough.
2. Ask questions
This is an impactful way to stimulate classroom learning, and create an impression on your professor.
If you’re getting the sense that you and most of the class is finding it hard to understand what the prof is saying, take the hit: ask the question that everyone is thinking and you’ll help the rest of the class out - your prof will appreciate it. Waiting for someone else to ask a question is being an academic bystander - which won’t help you stand out or succeed in class.
If the idea of asking questions in class makes you nervous, attend office hours and ask your questions there. You’ll still be able to make an impression on your prof without the stress.
3. Create plans for your assignments
By planning your assignments out ahead of time, you can avoid what Neil calls the “Word Count Countdown” (when you’re writing an assignment and waiting to hit the minimum word count with no real plan in place).
If you have an outline to follow you can also bring it to your professor for guidance: they will be much more willing to provide some basic feedback on your assignment if you’re not just bringing them a rough draft.
Your prof is not going to copy-edit for you, but they will most likely be happy to provide feedback on your outline, and help you narrow the scope of your assignment.
4. Respond to assignment feedback
This is a big one: when you get a paper back from your professor, there will probably be notes and feedback written in the margins and the backs of pages.
If you’re not happy with your mark and you want to discuss your paper with your professor, respond to the actual feedback they gave you. Ask how you could have gained more marks, instead of asking where you lost marks.
Your prof put a lot of work into responding to the points in your paper and coming up with a fair grade, so don’t come to your prof in anger. Instead, wait 24 hours, think of what you’re going to say, and don’t go in expecting to get a better grade.
Go in with the attitude that you’d like to improve for next time and your prof will appreciate it. As Neil says, “Don’t grade grub, and don’t grade grumble.”
5. Schedule study breaks
Your time at UBC does not have to be purely academic. Find what works for you and make time to do something that makes you happy - whether that be a hike with friends, a night out, or spending time with your family.
School-life balance is crucial, and will put you in a good position to not burn out in your future career. Take care of yourself.