Helpful Hints for Improving Performance in General Education 110

These suggestions are based on a good deal of past experience and feedback from students in my sections.

The great majority of the students in this class report doing one hour or less of homework for each hour of class. Less than a quarter report doing two hours (the recommended minimum) or more. Clearly more time working on the difficult aspects of the course should produce higher grades.

In item 27 of the Academic Regulations, you will note that the official expectation of WSU is that students will spend 45 hours a week minimum in and out of class studying, given a typical 15-credit load. That means you should be doing at least 30 hours of homework per week. Because you are spending much less time in class than in high school, we expect you to spend much more time on homework.

Some people find it difficult to get down descriptions of images in class because they go by so fast. That's the problem the Web syllabus is designed to solve. Sit down with your study guide at a Web-connected computer and look for pictures that you can use in your test answers. Remember that you do not need to write about every image, but you do need to write about some. During lectures, pick out especially striking images to take notes on, four or five per class. Be sure to take enough notes. If two or three minutes has gone by and you haven't taken a note, you probably aren't writing down enough information. If you have trouble deciding what to take notes on, check the lecture outline and study questions for today to identify the important topics.
These are the sorts of essay questions I am most likely to ask on examinations:

These are obviously the topics on which you should take plenty of notes. Remember: this is not a conventional history course, and you will rarely be asked about specific dates, politics, or wars.

Remember that Reading About the World is your core text, and should receive a great deal of attention. Most students especially enjoy reading the stories and poems in the reader, but others find the readings difficult to understand. Dealing with original texts such as these, even in translation, needs a good deal of work. A rapid read-through won't do it. You may need to read a selection several times, constantly trying to see if you can understand what it is in the assigned passages that is being talked about in the introductions and notes. Don't go by first impressions. Try to make sense of the whole passage, not just the part which contains the answer to a study question. Context is crucial.

Note that a hymn to a god can also be called a prayer, that an "image" in a piece of literature consists of a word or words describing something which usually is symbolic or metaphorical. For instance in the line "my love is like a red, red, rose," the image is of a rose, and its meaning is that the woman the writer loves is beautiful, like a rose. Most literature requires you to go beyond literal meanings, to interpret the meanings behind the images being used. See the introduction to Reading About the World for more help in understanding how to read the selections. It has lots of useful tips.

When you don't understand words, look them up in a dictionary. When you are unfamiliar with concepts, you may need to read about them in an encyclopedia. A good one-volume desk encyclopedia or a CD-ROM encyclopedia like Encarta is a good investment for any college student, but WSU students also have free access to the vastly superior Encyclopedia Britannica online at http://www.eb.com:180/. (Note: the link to the Britannica works only for those who connect through WSU's site. If you are an AOL customer or are using some other service provider, you will need to create a user ID and password on Griffin, or just use http://www.britannica.com/.) It often helps to read the selections, particularly the poetry, aloud. Make sure you always understand the literal meaning of what is being said before attempting an interpretation.

Poor students look for the answers only to the asterisked questions when studying and pretty much ignore the rest. Because contextual understanding is essential to intelligently answer the questions, in the long run this backfires and leaves them unprepared for the next exam. The other study questions are there to help you. They are especially useful in pointing you toward what you need to study when preparing for exams.

When studying for essay exam questions, be sure to read the instructions very carefully. Focus on each part of multi-part questions to make sure you are dealing with all of them. You will lose more points for failing to answer one part of the question than you will for not knowing every possible aspect of the answer to a single part. If the question asks you to use examples from Reading about the World and images shown in class, be very careful to prepare specific examples ahead of time.

It is usually a mistake to try to guess which study questions will be on the exam. You are expected to be able to answer all of them. On the first exam (1a) in particular, you will not be able to choose which essay question you will answer, so you have to work on both.

Most students find that it helps more than anything else to write out sample answers to each question ahead of time, at least in outline form. But best of all is testing yourself with a timer. You should be able to give a fully adequate answer to an essay question in twenty minutes. If you are unable to fill a page of a bluebook with relevant ideas in five minutes, you need to practice more.

Occasionally students feel that they have lost points on quizzes because of differences of interpretation. It is important to talk to the teaching assistant in any such case, since the TA is the one who grades the quizzes. Perhaps you can get the TA to share your view or the TA can help you see what is invalid about your interpretation. If you have questions about the grading of essay exam questions, please talk to me. You should never have to guess why you got the grade you did.

To improve your writing, consult my Web site "Common Errors in English" at http://www/wsu.edu/~brians/errors/. You can also get help at the WSU Writing Lab, located upstairs in the Center for Undergraduate Education or in the Online Writing Lab at http://owl.wsu.edu/.

The Student Advising and Learning Center also offers excellent short, free workshops on subjects like note taking and test taking which can help you improve your performance. See their schedule on the Web at http://salc.wsu.edu/acad_assist/.

Back to syllabus