Sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to overlook.
Be sure you are making full use of the class resources available to you as a Northwestern undergrad. Read on for advice:
Get help from instructorsWhile it’s easy to feel intimidated at the prospect of seeking help from faculty members or teaching assistants, remember that they are there to help you. Faculty and TAs are accessible in the following ways:
- Faculty office hours (see Communicating Effectively with Faculty for tips on visiting faculty office hours)
- TA office hours
- Discussion sections
- Private appointments with faculty or TAs
Faculty members can also make you aware of outside resources designed to help you succeed in the course — and throughout your careers at Northwestern. See Academic Resources on Campus for more information.
Effectively read the syllabusBelieve it or not, many students do not carefully read their course syllabi. As most faculty devote a great deal of time to crafting syllabi that help students succeed, it's worth your time to read your syllabus carefully – beyond simply the required texts and exam dates. Some suggestions:
- Look for specific advice provided by the instructor. He or she may provide information about how to study for the course, whether readings are to be done before or after the class they pertain to, when to start assignments, approved forms of collaboration, etc.
- Know the evaluation and grading policy. The syllabus usually lists a breakdown of grade components and an explanation of the instructor’s grading policies (e.g., weighting of grades, curves, extra-credit options, the possibility of dropping the lowest grade).
- Note what is due when, and what you need to do in advance of the deadline, in your own calendar. Don't rely on the instructor to remind you.
Take good class notesMost college students know from experience that not all notes are equally effective. Research has shown that well-organized notes can lead to better grades and higher-quality learning. Some suggestions:
- Find the structure that works for you. There is the traditional outline/numbering system, but also graphic ways of recording notes, like concept maps.
- Try to make sense of the material as you are taking notes, rather than just “getting it all down.” Paraphrase rather than noting verbatim (the obvious exceptions are formulas, direct quotations, etc.). Draw connections between related ideas, and add your own thoughts and questions. For instance, if a comment by the professor reminds you of something else you’ve heard or read, jot it down. Studies have shown that the more you make the notes your own, the better you’ll learn the material.
- Don’t try to get down every word. Watch and listen for clues from the instructor about what material is important. These can include
- Material written on the blackboard, repetition, emphasis by tone of voice and gesture, emphasis by the amount of time the instructor spends on points and the number of examples he or she uses.
- Word signals (e.g. "There are two points of view on . . . " "The third reason is . . . " " In conclusion . . . ")
- Summaries given at the end of class.
- Reviews given at the beginning of class.
- Be concise. Use abbreviations and diagrams — but be sure that you’ll be able to decode them later.
- Don't get distracted by what you don't hear. If you miss a statement, write key words, skip spaces, and get the information later.
- Don't try to use every space on the page. Leave room for adding comments later.
- Keep organized! Date your notes, and number the pages.
- After class, go back and review your notes. Rework them to make better sense of the ideas, and elaborate where you can. Ideally, do this with others in the class. Look for areas you are confused about, and seek clarification by visiting office hours or tutoring hours, reviewing the reading, or talking with classmates.
Finally, remember that note-taking is not as much about absorbing everything the instructor presents as it is about you, the student, making sense of the material presented.
To learn more:Students’ note-taking as a knowledge-construction tool