1. Participation counts (sometimes).In-class participation can count for a substantial portion of your grade. Not only will your syllabus tell you if participation matters, but also what is considered “participation” and to what extent you can afford to shirk it. Skipping the syllabus can mean not realizing that your silence in class is dragging your grade down.
2. Unexcused absences policies.Unexcused absences are not always unlimited. Included in your syllabus is the number of unexcused absences you’re allowed before they detract from your grade, and how to ensure that an unavoidable absence—i.e. due to illness or a family emergency—is excused.
3. Some textbooks are recommended, but not required.You know what I mean—that professor who mentions at the end of class that the textbook everyone has already purchased for one hundred and fifty dollars is a “recommendation” but not a “requirement.” Many online lists categorize all class materials as “required,” regardless of how necessary they really are, so hold off on buying anything before you’ve read through the syllabus to see which purchases you can skip.
4. The laptop question.Professors have varying policies on laptop use in class. If they don’t want you using a laptop in class, or have specific requests for when and how laptops can be used, they’ll likely mention it in the syllabus.
5. Important dates and class information.Plan ahead. Your syllabus will include a schedule of assignments and lecture topics. Skimming this schedule at the start of the semester will give you an idea of how extensive your note-taking should be, depending on whether your mid-term and final will be papers or exams and on what topics these will focus. It can also prevent you from accidentally scheduling travel during an exam, quiz or other vital dates.
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