In every course that I have ever taken or taught, the students are given a syllabus for the course in their first class. Most students passively listen to the instructor explain what is in the syllabus and then put the syllabus away and forget about it. However, understanding the syllabus and creating a plan of action from the syllabus can dramatically improve a student's grade.

Syllabus Structure

The syllabus usually contains three basic areas. It will indicate the resources being used by the course (textbooks, web sites, etc.). It will indicate the material being taught. And the syllabus will include a grading policy. This last section is what we can use to create a plan of action for a good grade.

The grading policy will indicate the different submissions for the course and the importance of each one. A good syllabus will indicate the nature of the different submissions, but even the name of the submission can be of help. If a student is unclear what a submission is like, they can ask the instructor to clarify.

Creating a Plan

To take advantage of the syllabus, the student is looking at two things. First, which submissions are more important? This can be determined by the weight given to the different submissions. If, for example, the syllabus says that weekly journal entries are worth 35% and the research paper is worth 20%, then the student can see that the weekly journal entries are almost twice as valuable as the research paper.

Second, the student needs to determine where they are strong. Is the student good at making quick little writings, or are they good at reading and putting together a more complete project? By looking at the syllabus, the student can determine which submissions will be easier and stronger.

The goal is get the desired grade. To determine the expected grade, the student should rate their strength in that area as a percentage. Then, multiply their strength by the weight of the submission and add the results. This will give an expected grade. If that is satisfactory, then the student is ready to start the work. If it is not, the student then needs to determine where they want to put their effort to improve the results.

Let me show you what I mean. For an example, let me say the syllabus says there will be four submissions: weekly quizzes worth 30%, two tests worth 20%, homework assignments worth 35%, and a final exam worth 15%. Joe, a student of this course, feels good about the quizzes, with a strength of 85%, and the homework, with a strength of 80%. However, he feels his test taking is weak, about 50% for both the tests and the exam. Based on this, he can expect a grade based on the following: quizzes 27% (85% of 30%), homework 28% (80% of 35%), tests 10% (50% of 20%), and exam 8% (50% of 15%), for a grade of 73%. If this is good enough, then Joe is ready to start the course. However, if he wants a better grade, he can start making plans to improve one of the grades. For example, Joe could make a commitment to do better on the homework, raising his grade to 90%, and that would raise his course grade to 77%.

Once the student has determined what needs to be done for the desired grade, they should make a note on the syllabus next to each submission. Then they can monitor their results, seeing if their expectations are matched by their results.

This process can help a student reach a desired grade with much less stress. Having a plan like this allows the student to use their strengths and manage their weaknesses, which is a success strategy in any field.

Author's Bio: 

John Steely has been teaching mathematics, study skills, and habits of success for over 25 years. You can access a number of free resources he has found and made at Steely Services