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Understanding a Syllabus

A syllabus is a document that you will receive on the first day of class from each instructor.  It includes important information you will need for the entire semester.  Keep it and read it as it will include all or some of the following:

  • Instructor Contact Information
  • Course Policies
    These could include:
    1. Attendance policies
    2. Late assignment policies
    3. Classroom etiquette (electronic devices, respecting others, etc.)
  • Grading Policies
    These will show you what is included in your final grade and how much each item impacts your final grade. See the examples below:

    Example 1

    Mid-term    30%   
    Final    40%   
    Group project    20%   
    Participation    10%   

    In the example above, there are only four items impacting your final grade. Since the mid-term is worth 30 percent of the final grade, it has a big impact. If you get a D on your mid-term, the highest grade you can earn in the class is a 72 percent (C-), and this is only if you earn a 100 percent (A+) on everything else.

    Example 2

    Weekly journal    100 points   
    Five page essay    500 points   
    Term paper    1000 points   
    Two tests    1000 points (500 points each)   
    Final exam    900 points   
    Total    3500 points   

    In the second example you need to understand the overall impact of each assignment. 100 points for the journal may seem like a lot, but it is actually just under 3 percent of the final grade. The items that impact your grade the most are the term paper (worth nearly 30% of the final grade) and the final exam (worth just over 25 percent of the final grade).

    Why is this important? It is not so that you can think that the journal is unimportant (you would not be asked to do the journal unless it was important and helped you to be more successful. It is important to note because having an A on the journal does not necessarily mean you are close to having an A in the class.

    Here is an example of how you could think you have earned a B but actually have a C+ for the course:

    Weekly journal    100 points    A-    (90) = 90 points   
    Five page essay    500 points    B    (85) = 425 points   
    Term paper    1000 points    C-    (70) = 700 points   
    Test one    500 points    B    (85) = 425 points   
    Test two    500 points    B    (85) = 425 points   
    Final exam    900 points    C    (75) = 675 points   

    This is 2740 out of a possible 3500 points which is a 78 percent C+ final grade.  In this example a C+ is earned even though there were only two C's earned on individual assignments.
  • Reading Assignments and Weekly Topics
    If your instructor lists this information on the syllabus, then it is not their responsibility to tell you the weekly assignments during class. You need to consult the syllabus to keep track for yourself.
  • Test and Project Due Dates
    If your instructor lists this information on the syllabus, then it is not their responsibility to remind you of due dates. You need to consult the syllabus to keep track for yourself.
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