Thursday, August 18, 2005

Making the most of your course outline: University 1

In the first year of my undergraduate degree, I didn’t place a great deal of importance on my course outlines or syllabi. I mean, after I had marked the most important tests or assignment dates in my agenda, what did I really need the course outline for? Unless I had a due date that I couldn’t meet and I had to contact the prof. for an extension, I didn’t really see the point of referring back to the course outline during the semester.

As a result, I did some of the readings in my first year but certainly not many of the readings. I spent a lot of time working backwards by reading and studying only the topics or chapters that my professor told me were important and would likely “be on the exam”. Admittedly, I was pretty stressed out any time a test or assignment date got close.

After taking numerous university courses (I’ve lost count) and eventually taking on an instructor position at the university, I’ve come to realize the value of a course outline. Just as some students find “To Do” lists or grocery check lists useful to get short-term things done, a course outline is a kind of “To Do” list or check-list which your professor has made for you to reach your goals in a particular course.

Still not sure? Think of it this way; if you went to the supermarket with an incomplete list of foods for your breakfast the next morning, you could wake up to find you have five kinds of cereal and no milk. The same is true if you pick and choose the readings (or assignments) to complete from your course outline; you most likely won’t be prepared to face the (test) day and in the end you’ll probably be hungry for a better result in the course.

For me, completing all (or at least the majority) of my course readings led to less stress and better grades at any stage of my university education. Now as an instructor, I tell my students to (aim to) read and review material regularly so that they will be less likely to have holes or gaps in their knowledge of a subject, something critical for many future careers after university.


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