Friday, October 9, 2009
Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- I am a college freshmen reviewing the course catalog.
Unfortunately, most classes available to me are introductory courses that meet in large lecture halls and have hundreds of students. The problem is, I don't like big classes and I don't want to end up being just another number. Any tips on solving this problem? -- Jason
Jason -- If you are a pre-med student or considering a major in the life sciences, you might not have much choice. Introductory classes in large lecture halls are a fact of life at most colleges. Introductory classes are required before taking most upper-division courses and cannot easily be avoided.
One possible solution is to search the catalog for a smaller class that will fulfill the introductory requirements -- but don't count on finding one. Most departments discourage any deviation from the sequence.
I pointed out in my last column how one introductory class may be used to satisfy the requirements of a double major. But again, that doesn't solve the problem of large size.
Another long shot is to find a class geared to students with a limited exposure to the subject but that will satisfy the intro requirements. These classes tend to be smaller in size if you are lucky enough to find one.
Be sure to have it pre-approved if you do. The problem is that most upper-division classes rarely review material that professors assume was mastered at the intro level.
I have another suggestion. If you still can't find a suitable substitute, take the big lecture class and take a page from law school -- form a small study group.
Get together with five or six students and meet at least once a week to share notes. Have everyone make copies so each member has the benefit of everyone's thinking. Break down the study group into specialty areas; law students do this all the time.
The first assignment should be to research the professor and find out about his grading system. Chances are someone in the group will know a student who took the class before and can pass along valuable knowledge.
Remember, most professors allow notes to be used during exams. So insist that all notes are written in clear English and revised after each meeting.
A study group can help students in another way; it keeps you motivated.
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