University isn't just about acing your exams and carving out a career path. Don’t forget the ‘here and now’, which includes participation in weekly classes – an important element in most university curriculums.
Believe it or not, there once was a time when students at tertiary institutions would meet regularly with their lecturers on a one-to-one basis or, at most, alongside just one or two classmates. After tutorial groups expanded to accommodate anywhere up to 20 people, universities looked for ways to encourage everyone in these groups to prepare for and participate in discussions. They did this by setting aside a certain allocation 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. However, with the demands of other courses, work and personal commitments, it can be tempting to skip a tutorial here and there.
Avoid that temptation, as participation is impossible if you’re not there. Also, show your classmates and teachers you take tutorials seriously by turning up on time, switching off your phone, and staying until the end.
Complete all the required readings and any homework assigned.
Think about the issues that are likely to be discussed and anticipate the types of questions that may be asked and how you would respond to them.
3. Fake it till you make it
Contributing to discussions is easier for some people than for others.
Extroverts, for example, are much more comfortable sharing their thoughts than introverts. Historically, it’s been 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, at university – as in the workplace – you need to learn to speak up, even if you initially find it unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
4. Play well with others
Your class participation 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 condescension.
5. To be seen as extraordinary, contribute something extra
Everyone has completed (or should have completed) 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. Even if your classmates don’t appreciate it, the (no longer bored) teacher will.
As esoteric as the discussions you may have are, being ‘encouraged’ to take part in them with 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 help your career, and other aspects of your life.
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