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At some point in a given semester, you may already be drowning in coursework. There can be any number of reasons for this: poor preparation, too much partying, working too much, illness, a family emergency, a major falling out in your love life, to name a few. You may be feeling like you are barely treading water, and that your ability to pass one or several of the courses you are taking is in the balance. Not good!
I) Put out some fires ASAP. Is there is one course in particular that is causing you problems? Perhaps the volume of work or reading is unusually high and you are falling behind, or you underestimated how difficult the course is, or you are having trouble embracing the concepts being taught, or an outside stressor is now affecting you, or…? Regardless of the reason, if the likelihood of scoring even a B in the course is now pretty uncertain, then it is time for a definitive step. Either a) drop the course if you still can–like, right now!–or, if you can’t, then b) ask for help in as many ways as possible–like, right now!
Start with the professor, or a department tutor, or even a school counselor–they all actually do want you to succeed, so DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK. It is amazing how many people are actually either intimidated or too embarrassed to ask for help–do not let this be you! The next steps will include scheduling regular extra time to get the study time needed to get through–you better have some to give, otherwise you are back to plan (a).
Of course, you should always have a clear idea before you start the semester when the last day that you can safely withdraw from a given class without academic penalty, so that you shouldn’t ever need to put out an academic fire. If need be, mark that date clearly on your calendar. And remember that, even if you dropped a course that seemed too tough for you the first time, the next time you try it, you will be much better prepared, since you will have had exposure to at least some of the course materials before, and you will have much more time to digest what part of the course you didn’t get to.
II) Know the course outline. A second common problem that students have in losing marks unnecessarily is that they do not spend enough time understanding the course syllabus–the course outline. Virtually all professors have planned out an entire semester’s worth of work for you before it even starts. They will have also clearly defined how you will be graded. This includes what percentage of your total grade each component of your course work is worth, bit it midterms, quizzes, assignments, attendance, participation, course submissions, and presentations. This document is the most important roadmap to a great mark in every course you take, since it usually spells out how much priority you should give each segment of the course. It may also readily explain in detail what exactly is expected for each of these assessments. If a midterm covers chapter X, Y, and Z, then you know what to study; If a presentation is marked on your proper use of terminology, your ability to present clear ideas, provide good answers to questions, and give a quality PowerPoint presentation, then again you should know what to focus on. This is not rocket science, but many students do not read these guidelines in a timely manner, thereby missing some potentially easy marks. Can you imagine if a professor states clearly that 20% of your mark is based on attendance, and you missed half a dozen classes because you didn’t read the course outline? Would it be any wonder that you would be in line for a mediocre grade that could have been easily prevented?
III) Look for the gimmes. Which brings me to the third point: On reading the course marking outline, take a hard look at which marks are mostly giveaways. Attendance would be one. Class participation is another. Homework and handed-in assignments as a result of open bookwork done at home should be no-brainers. Your goal should be to try, as best as you can, to get 100% on all the work that is relatively easy and accessible. One way to be sure that you will get 100% on homework is to discuss your work well ahead of the deadline with your professor or tutorial leader, as a kind of screening technique to confirm that you are on the right track. And even better, you may be able to do some of this work even before the semester starts!
What these tips amount to is conscientiousness. Knowing exactly what is expected of you in the classroom is a critical skill, since it will also help you to effectively understand future work expectations in your career. It is also a life skill for everyday relationships, and that goes hand in hand with maturity and a commitment to both personal and interpersonal responsibility. Are you Ready to rock?