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Students sitting in a lecture
October 22, 2019
3 mins read

A quick and dirty guide to participating in class

Now that we're halfway through Term 1, there’s a way to boost your final marks that you may not have been thinking of: participation.

Because it's October, you’re probably focused on midterms, writing papers, and keeping up with readings. I’m here to remind you that participation can count for a lot in some classes, and a good participation mark can be the difference between one grade and the next.

If you haven’t participated much yet this term, you still have time to squeeze in those extra coveted marks. Here is a quick and dirty guide to participating in class:

Tips to get you started

Do the readings

Pick a class or a week’s worth of readings and give them a close read—taking meticulous notes, highlighting quotes, the whole shabang. The worst part about speaking up in class is not feeling confident in what you’re saying, so if you hone in on a select number of readings, it can help to boost your confidence when it comes to contributing to discussion.

Ask questions (or even just one)

This is an easy way to show that you’ve engaged with the course material, while also stimulating further conversation. When you do the readings, make note of any sections that you’re unsure about, and craft a question from this to bring to class. Odds are you won’t be the only one who has that same question.

Student writing at desk
Photo credit: Paul H. Joseph / UBC Brand & Marketing

Go for it—and do it early

If you’ve put the work into prepping for a discussion, then the next step is raising your hand when the time comes and sharing what you prepared—which can sometimes be the hardest part. So, try to be the first one to speak up and get what you came to say over and done with early. This will give you less time to overthink things. When it goes well, you may even be encouraged to participate more in that class, and add on to what other people say.

Use participating in class as practice for the real world

At every job you have in the future, and at every interview you attend to get these future jobs, people will take notice if you are able to speak up, share your ideas, and show those around you that you have something valuable to contribute. Use this opportunity as practice for the real world by speaking up in at least one of your classes, just to see how it goes.

Being able to vocalize your thoughts and opinions is a necessary skill, and this is your chance to hone that skill. Even if it seems daunting right now, it’s worth giving it a shot—after all, you can’t get better at something if you don’t try!

But what if you’re just feeling too nervous?

If this just isn’t the right time for you to try participating in class, don’t stress. Instead...

Don’t be too hard on yourself

If speaking up in class is not your forté, don’t beat yourself up. Take this opportunity to watch what your fellow students do and listen to what they’re saying in class. You may just find a way to participate that works for you, and that you can try out next term.

Remember that people are good at different things, and just because people are more vocal than you in class does not mean that they’re smarter than you. You may shine more in research papers or group projects, and that’s totally cool.

Approach the professor outside of class

By attending office hours, or speaking to your professors before or after class, you can ask any questions you have in a less public space, and show your prof that you’re engaged with the class materials. You can even let them know that actively participating is not your strong suit, and ask if they have any advice for you.

I was having some trouble contributing to a class outside my major earlier this term (where participation was 20% of my grade!), and I decided to approach my professor after class for some advice. He recommended some additional readings for me, and a supplementary assignment I could complete.

I was met with a great deal of empathy and willingness to help—a welcome reminder that your instructors want you to succeed, and they'll be more likely than not to want to help in whatever way they can.

Even just getting to know my prof a bit has helped me be more comfortable in class, and I've become a more active participant because of it.

Student with prof at white board
Photo credit: Paul H. Joseph / UBC Brand & Marketing

Whether or not you try out actively participating in the next few weeks, you can still learn something by observing how other people participate and finding a way that works for you. 

Best of luck this midterm season!