Monday, 22 September 2014

Scoring maximum points in assessable class participation

University isn't just about acing your exams and carving a career path. It’s important you don’t forget the here and now, and that includes participation in your weekly classes – an important contributing factor in most university curriculums. 

Believe it or not, there once was a time when students at tertiary institutions would meet regularly with their professors on a one-to-one basis or, at most, with just one or two of their classmates. After tutorial groups expanded to accommodate anywhere up to 20 people, tertiary institutions were forced to find a way to encourage everyone in these groups to prepare for and participate in discussions. They did this by setting aside a certain amount of marks for ‘classroom participation’.

Here are five tips that will help you earn maximum marks for this part of your course assessment.

1. Show up

It sounds straightforward enough, but with the demands of other courses, work and personal commitments, it can be very tempting to skip a tutorial here and there. Avoid that temptation as participation is impossible if you’re not present. Also, show your classmates and teachers you take tutorials seriously by turning up on time, staying until the end and switching off your phone.

2. Prepare

Do the required readings and any homework that’s been assigned. Think about the issues that are likely to be discussed and anticipate the kind of questions that might be asked and how you would respond to them.

3. Fake it ’til you make it

It’s well recognised that contributing to discussions is easier for some groups than others. Extroverts are much more comfortable sharing their thoughts than introverts. Historically, it’s been much more accepted for men to express strong opinions than women. And those from Western backgrounds are typically more comfortable debating with an authority figure such as a teacher than those from Asian backgrounds. Nevertheless, in school – as in the workplace – you’re going to need to learn to speak up, even if you initially find it unfamiliar and uncomfortable to do so.

4. Play well with others

Your mark isn’t determined by the total amount of time you spend speaking, so don’t dominate the discussion. Make your observations succinctly and respond maturely if your classmates or teachers disagree with you. Also don’t put down other people or respond to their contributions with condescending remarks.

5. To be seen as extraordinary, contribute something extra

Everyone has done (or should have done) the background reading, so they’re not going to be particularly interested in you simply repeating something you’ve read. Instead, provide an individual analysis of the material everyone has consumed and raise an issue or make an argument that will take the discussion in a new and interesting direction. Trust us, even if your classmates don’t appreciate it, the (no longer bored) teacher who’s handing out marks for classroom participation will.

As esoteric as the discussions you may be having are, rest assured that being ‘encouraged’ to take part in them via marks for classroom participation is to your ultimate benefit. Learning how to formulate a compelling case, distinguish between strong and weak arguments and analyse data will stand you in good stead throughout your career, as well as all other aspects of your life.

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