The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall: The Secret to Big College Classes

Even in the midst of thousands of flowers, one blossom can still stand out. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Even in the midst of thousands of flowers, one blossom can still stand out.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Sometimes, it can feel intimidating to sign up for a class with over 100 seats available on the roster when you’re used to classes that have no more than 30-something students in them. With a huge lecture, you might think that you won’t be able to get the attention that you need from the professor in order to do well (let alone get an “A”) in the class. Or maybe being surrounded by over 100 strangers makes you worried about how you can stand out in a class or how you’ll even have enough oxygen in the cramped classroom to breathe. Well, let me assure you that there will be enough oxygen—tainted with germs, yes, but it’s still oxygen. For the rest of your worries, I’ve compiled a list of how to deal with big college lectures and why you shouldn’t be intimidated to sign up for these massive classes.

1. Don’t expect the instructors to remember your name. I don’t know why, but some people advise that you introduce yourself to the professor the first day of class. One of my professors put it best when he was met with a barrage of students wanting to introduce themselves on the first day: “I’m not going to remember any of your names, so don’t expect me to.” He was a jerk, but he was right. The professors are not going to remember your name at the beginning. Sometimes, this is because the instructor is an egotist (see above). Other times, it’s simply because, unless you’re a genius, no one can possibly remember every student’s name in a class of over 100 kids. Many instructors will try and remember names by requiring one-on-one conferences and by asking students to identify themselves each time they answer a question during lecture. However, this takes time. Be patient, and don’t get offended. Unless your instructor is like that professor I described. If that’s the case, then you can be as offended as you want because he/she is probably a self-aggrandizing narcissist who will earn your disdain as the semester progresses.

2. Go to class. It’s tempting to skip class when you feel like you’re just another student in a sea of faces. However, just because a professor doesn’t remember your name in the beginning of the semester doesn’t mean that she won’t recognize your missing face. Humans are hardwired for facial recognition. If you miss several classes and then show up to your professor’s office hours asking for help, the instructor may help you, but she’ll be much more reticent than if she recognizes your face from seeing you in class each lecture.

3. The teaching assistants (TAs) are some of your best resources. TAs tend to be fairly young, so they still remember what it’s like to be a student. Many of them genuinely want to help students, and they will often put in the time to do so if you go to their office hours. They’re particularly helpful around test time. After all, they are the ones grading the tests. Go to any study session they may offer for exams, because they often give hints to students regarding what concepts will and won’t be tested.

4. Participate in lectures. This means that you’re going to have to talk in class. Shocker, I know! Do the reading (or at least try to), pay attention to what the instructor says, and (at least sometimes) participate when prompted. If you get a question wrong, I promise that you will survive. If you get questions right and/or make compelling, logical, and succinct (short) arguments, you’re going to stand out as a star. That being said though . . . .

Participate in class!  Who knows, your input may blossom into something grand.  Ha ha, see what I did there? Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Participate in class! Your input may blossom into something. Ha ha, see what I did there?
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

5. Don’t always have to say something. It’s okay, and even preferable, if you don’t say something on every question or discussion prompt that the professor presents to the class. Students who always have to put their two cents in are annoying. To this always-have-to-comment student: the rest of your classmates probably want you to hush. If you make getting out early from a class impossible because you still have something to say and you just have to be heard by the entire class, then all I have to say is be prepared for glares, stares, and perhaps swears from your classmates. But, that being said . . . .

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Concepts can be confusing. Instructors can be confusing. Assignments can be confusing. Ask questions either during lecture when the professor asks if anyone has any questions, after class, at the instructor’s office hours, or through e-mail. Just because it’s a big class does not mean that individual questions can’t be answered. If your question has to do with an assignment though, first consult the syllabus. Which leads us to . . . .

7. Pay attention to the syllabus. For huge classes, professors often have all of the assignments, tests, rubrics, and pretty much everything you need to know laid out in the syllabus. Why? Because it’s easier to manage 100 students with a transparent class structure than with a format that students can’t directly see and refer back to throughout the semester.  They typically don’t like to change the syllabus (including assignment and reading schedules) throughout the semester because it’s a formula that they’ve probably successfully used before. Use this to your advantage and plan your entire study schedule (your other classes included) with your giant class’s syllabus in mind. For instance, let’s say that you have a major paper due in your English class the week of October 20th. Look at your big class’s syllabus and do the reading and assignment for the big class ahead of time. When it finally rolls around to the week of October 20th, you’ll have already prepared for your big class and you’ll be able to focus on that English paper that you’ve procrastinated doing. This is a classic case of “you’ll thank yourself later.”

8. E-mails and one-on-one conferences are the best ways to interact with your professors. If you’ve consulted your syllabus and you still have a question on something, it’s best to meet with your professor during his office hours or e-mail him unless he states otherwise. Always identify yourself in e-mails. Remember, your class is essentially the size of a small village. So, your professor is going to need you to give him your name, you class’s title, and you’re class’s section number and/or letter. Also, be professional in the e-mail by formally addressing your professor (Ex. Dear Dr. Who), using professional language (no skateboarding lingo), and by signing off in an appropriate manner (Ex. Sincerely, Jenny Flint).

9. Get there early on test day and bring extra Scantrons and testing booklets. Big classes have an odd phenomenon. The first week is jam-packed with students. As the semester progresses, more and more students disappear. Then, on exam day, the room once again becomes like a sardine can packed with one too many fish. Arrive to class at least fifteen minutes early on exam day in order to secure a seat. Otherwise, you might be stuck with the seat that doesn’t have a table attached to it and be forced to write on your lap. I’ve seen it happen. Also, bring extra Scantrons and testing booklets. You’d be surprised how many seem to disappear come test day, and, who knows, maybe you can do your good deed for that day by giving an extra testing booklet or Scantron to someone who forgot theirs and obviously didn’t read my blog entry about bringing extra Scantrons and testing booklets.

10. Make a friend. Big classes can make you feel like you’re alone in a sea of people. However, large lectures are the perfect opportunities to make new friends. These friends then can give you copies of their notes should you ever have to miss class. They can also save you a seat on exam day and lend you Scantrons and testing booklets if you don’t follow #9 of this list.

So go forth, my friends, and be not afraid when a class has enough people to earn its own zip code. Big lectures are certainly their own experiences, but they’re part of the “college” experience and they’re pretty much unavoidable. If you follow my advice, I believe that you’ll do just fine and you’ll be closer to improving your grades and achieving that perfect GPA.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂


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