Dissecting the Course Syllabus

6 Sep

So, let’s be real here—when my teachers in high school handed me a syllabus on the first day of class, it didn’t last a week in my memory. It would either find a cozy spot at the bottom of my trashcan, or get lost in that one notebook that became a folder for all my loose papers throughout the year.

The Struggle was very real in high school...

The Struggle was very real in high school…

However, if there is one thing we all learned from Dorothy, besides how to envy her immaculate blush, it’s that we aren’t in Kansas anymore… which clearly means that we aren’t in high school anymore either…


What I mean to say is this: Course syllabi rule the campus and no one can deny their power.

Every class that you will take now until completion of your degree will present a syllabus that holds the answer to most of your inquiries about the course. Perhaps, the Wizard to your Oz?

Think about it: syllabi are so important that your professors most likely dedicated the entire first class to discussing it. But trust me, that syllabus gains more importance as you continue throughout the course.

Whether you are taking Math 113, GER 412, or ECON 150, the syllabi are going to have a very similar format and should give you roughly the same amount of information about the course as any other.

I’m going to give you a review of how I dissect my course syllabi every semester. The way in which I go about things may not match up with the way that best fits you, but it could give you some fresh ideas for attacking the omniscient being that is: the Syllabi.

Who do I talk to about…?

I take note of how many TA’s (graduate students) or Preceptors (usually, undergrad students) I have for the course. In my experience, if I have a burning question, I don’t have the patience to wait until my specific TA has office hours. Instead, I ask whichever TA is available at the time. However, just remember that they have a set group of students they deal with in regards to grading purposes, and they probably won’t be able to explain the grading process of another individual.

*HINT: If there is more than one, find out which one you will go to. It is probably determined by your last name or by the discussion section you belong to.

Wait, what’s this class about again?

I’m definitely reading that course description just to remind myself of what content I have to look forward to throughout the semester. Typically, I’d skim through it and look for words like “presentations,” “primary themes,” or “discussion.” These key words give me context clues as to what might be coming up next.


How much money do I have to spend?

I’m not going to lie, I can spend a couple racks at the UA Bookstore any given semester… and I’m proud of it. However, I don’t enjoy spending money on things I won’t use, so make sure you pay attention to this section and get the right stuff.

What are my priority DD’s?

Dates and Deadlines 2

Yes, I am forever redefining the abbreviation “DD.” My dates and deadlines are, perhaps, the most important part of any syllabus. I really appreciate it when professors have a calendar of dates attached to the syllabus. But, not all of them make it easy on us. In either case, I usually take about 15-20 minutes to “map out” how my deadlines coincide with other classes, work, clubs, and leisure. This is extremely helpful for me because once I have an idea of when finals take place, I immediately start looking for plane tickets to visit my folks back home! (Guess where: Red Sox, Patriots, and the Bruins.)

dates and deadlines final exam

Final and Calendar

CAUTION: Do not make the mistake of booking a flight that departs 30 minutes after a final begins. Give yourself enough time to complete the final exam, run back to your house to pick up anything you forgot, and comfortably drive to the airport. I’ve never taken a CHEM final, but I’m sure I wouldn’t want to try to catch a flight at the same time. NO BUENO.

Final thoughts

Follow the yellow brick road to success. And if you get lost, reference back to your course syllabus — the Wizard — and it will guide you to a successful semester at the best university in Arizona!

Bear Down!

–Ciara Lowe

2 Responses to “Dissecting the Course Syllabus”


  1. Ready, Set, Study: Tips for First Exams | Student Affairs Outreach - September 6, 2013

    […] all the important dates for your courses in it so you are always planning ahead. You can reference Ciara’s blog for tips on how to read your […]

  2. Monday Morning Mentor – 9/26 | An Academic's Life - September 9, 2013

    […] Dissecting the Course Syllabus (catsconnect.wordpress.com) […]

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