4 Successful students go to class

There is just no better way to be successful then to go to class. Plan to be at every single class. It is in class that you will receive the direction and guidance you need to be successful. By attending every class, you will not miss important material, you will also think more clearly about course topics and be better prepared for tests. You will also benefit in many ways from class interaction, including becoming more actively engaging in learning, developing a network with other students, and forming a relationship with the professor.


People sitting in rows taking notes.
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You will not be able to rely only on notes from your professors’ lectures. You will be responsible for material beyond what is presented in class as most lectures and activities are intended to highlight important material but not cover it in depth. You should prepare for class by keeping up with required readings and completing self-study between classes on the materials covered. There is an expectation that you will also bring your questions to class and participate in discussions and activities to confirm and deepen your understanding. Being in class and participating in class will help you build your knowledge base, ensure you are study the right materials and will reduce stress and reduce confusion.

It is important to understand your personal learning strengths and use it well in classes, while also making the effort to learn in new ways and work with other students for a more effective overall learning experience. If your learning preferences do not match the professor’s teaching style, adapt your learning strategies and study with other students to stay actively engaged. It is up to you to make the most of your class time.

The Importance Of Going To Class

Make it your goal to attend every class—don’t even think about not going.

Going to class is the first step in engaging in your education by interacting with the professor and other students. Here are some reasons why it’s important to attend every class:

  • Miss a class and you’ll miss something, even if you never know it. Even if a friend gives you notes for the class, they cannot contain everything said or shown by the professor, written on the board for emphasis, questioned or commented on by other students. What you miss might affect your grade or your enthusiasm for the course.
    People meeting in a room.
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  • While some students may say that you don’t have to go to every class to do well on a test; that is very often a myth. Do you want to take that risk?
  • Your final grade often reflects how you think about course concepts, and you will think more often and more clearly when engaged in class discussions and hearing the comments of other students. You can’t get this by borrowing class notes from a friend.
  • Research shows there is a correlation between absences from class and lower grades. It may be that missing classes causes lower grades or that students with lower grades miss more classes. Either way, missing classes and lower grades can be intertwined in a downward spiral of achievement.
  • Your professor will note your absences—even in a large class. In addition to making a poor impression, you reduce your opportunities for future interactions. You might not ask a question the next class because of the potential embarrassment of the professor saying that was covered in the last class, which you apparently missed. Nothing is more insulting to a professor than when you skip a class and then show up to ask, “Did I miss anything important?”
  • You might be tempted to skip a class because the professor is “boring,” but it’s more likely that you found the class boring because you weren’t very attentive or didn’t appreciate how the professor was teaching.
  • You paid a lot of money for your tuition. Get your money’s worth!

Professor’s Teaching Style versus Your Learning Strengths

Most professors tend to develop their own teaching style and you will encounter different teaching styles in different courses. When the professor’s teaching style matches your learning strengths, you are usually more attentive in class and may seem to learn better. But what happens if your professor has a style very different from your own?

Man at blackboard writing a math calculation.
Photo by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash

Let’s say, for example, that your professor primarily lectures, speaks rapidly, and seldom uses visuals. This professor also talks mostly on the level of large abstract ideas and almost never gives examples. Let’s say that you, in contrast, are more a visual learner, that you learn more effectively with visual aids and visualizing concrete examples of ideas. Therefore, perhaps you are having some difficulty paying attention in class and following the lectures.

What can you do?

  • Capitalize on your learning strengths. For example, you could use a visual style of note taking, such as concept maps, while listening to the lecture. If the professor does not give examples for abstract ideas in the lecture, see if you can supply examples in your own thoughts as you listen.
  • Form a study group with other students. A variety of students will likely involve a variety of learning strengths, and when going over course material with other students, such as when studying for a test, you can gain what they have learned through their styles while you contribute what you have learned through yours.
  • Use ancillary study materials. Many textbooks point students to online resource centers or you can search the internet for additional learning materials. Such ancillary materials usually offer an opportunity to review course material in ways that may better fit your learning strengths.
  • Communicate with your professor to bridge the gap between their teaching style and your learning strengths. If the professor is speaking in abstractions and general ideas you don’t understand, ask the professor for an example.

Finally, take heart that a mismatch between a student’s learning strengths and a professor’s teaching style is not correlated with lower grades.

The Value of Interaction in Class

As noted earlier, there are many good reasons to attend every class. But it’s not enough just to be there, you need to interact with the professor and other students to enjoy a full educational experience.

Participating in class discussions is a good way to start meeting other students with whom you share an interest. You may form a study group, borrow class notes if you miss a class, or team up with other students on a group project. You may meet students with whom you form a lasting relationship, developing your network of contacts for other benefits in the future, such as learning about internships or jobs.

Asking the professor questions, answering the professor’s questions in class, and responding to other students’ comments is a good way to make an impression on your professor. The professor will remember you as an engaged student—and this matters if you later need extra help or even a potential mentor.

Paying close attention and thinking critically about what a professor is saying can dramatically improve your enjoyment of the class. You’ll notice things you’d miss if you’re feeling bored and may discover your professor is much more interesting than you first thought.

Students actively engaged in their class learn more and thus get better grades. When you speak out in class and answer the professor’s questions, you are more likely to remember the discussion.

Participating in Class – Preparing

Smaller classes generally favor discussion, but often professors in large lecture classes also make some room for participation. A concern or fear about speaking in public is one of the most common fears. If you feel afraid to speak out in class, take comfort from the fact that many others do as well and that anyone can learn how to speak in class without much difficulty. Class participation is actually an impromptu, informal type of public speaking, and the same principles will get you through both: preparing and communicating.

• Set yourself up for success by coming to class fully prepared. Complete reading assignments. Review your notes on the reading and previous class to get yourself in the right mind-set. If there is something you don’t understand well, start formulating your question now.

• Sit where you can have a good view of the professor, board or screen, and other visual aids. In a lecture hall, this will help you hear better, pay better attention, and make a good impression on the professor. Don’t sit with friends—socializing isn’t what you’re there for.

• Remember that your body language communicates as much as anything you say. Sit up and look alert, with a pleasant expression on your face, and make good eye contact with the professor. Show some enthusiasm.

• Pay attention to the professor’s body language, which can communicate much more than just their words. How the professor moves and gestures, and the looks on their face, will add meaning to the words and will also cue you when it’s a good time to ask a question or stay silent.

• Pay attention to the professor’s thinking style. Does this professor emphasize theory more than facts, wide perspectives over specific ideas, abstractions more than concrete experience? Take a cue from your professor’s approach and try to think in similar terms when participating in class.

• Take good notes, but don’t write obsessively and never page through your textbook (or browse on a laptop). Don’t eat or play with your cell phone. Except when writing brief notes, keep your eyes on the professor.

Participating in Class – Communicating

How you communicate in class can be as important as the content you want to convey:

• Pay attention to your communication style. Use standard English when you ask or answer a question, not slang. Avoid sarcasm and joking around. Be assertive when you participate in class, showing confidence in your ideas while being respectful of the ideas of others, but avoid an aggressive style that attacks the ideas of others or is strongly emotional.

• Follow class protocol for making comments and asking questions. In a small class, the professor may encourage students to ask questions at any time, while in some large lecture classes the professor may ask for questions at the end of the lecture. In this case, jot your questions in your notes so that you don’t forget them later.

• Don’t say or ask anything just to try to impress your professor. Most professors have been teaching long enough to immediately recognize insincere flattery—and the impression this makes is just the opposite of what you want.

• It’s fine to disagree with your professor when you ask or answer a question. Many professors invite challenges. Before speaking up, however, be sure you can explain why you disagree and give supporting evidence or reasons. Be respectful.

Questions in Class

Wood wall with signs in black and white with the words who, what, why, when, how, and where.
Image by geralt on Pixabay.

When your professor asks a question to the class:

  • Raise your hand and make eye contact, but don’t call out or wave your hand all around trying to catch their attention.
  • Before speaking, take a moment to gather your thoughts and take a deep breath. Don’t just blurt it out—speak calmly and clearly.

When your professor asks you a question directly:

  • Be honest and admit it if you don’t know the answer or are not sure. Don’t try to fake it or make excuses. With a question that involves a reasoned opinion more than a fact, it’s fine to explain why you haven’t decided yet, such as when weighing two opposing ideas or actions; your comment may stimulate further discussion.
  • Organize your thoughts to give a sufficient answer. Professors seldom want a yes or no answer. Give your answer and provide reasons or evidence in support.

When you want to ask the professor a question:

  • Don’t ever feel a question is “stupid.” If you have been paying attention in class and have done the reading and you still don’t understand something, you have every right to ask.
  • Ask at the appropriate time. Don’t interrupt the professor or jump ahead and ask a question about something the professor may be starting to explain. Wait for a natural pause and a good moment to ask. On the other hand, unless the professor asks students to hold all question until the end of class, don’t let too much time go by, or you may forget the question or its relevance to the topic.
  • Don’t ask just because you weren’t paying attention. If you drift off during the first half of class and then realize in the second half that you don’t really understand what the professor is talking about now, don’t ask a question about something that was already covered.
  • Don’t ask a question that is really a complaint. You may be thinking, “Why would so-and-so believe that? That’s just crazy!” Take a moment to think about what you might gain from asking the question. It’s better to say, “I’m having some difficulty understanding what so-and-so is saying here. What evidence did he use to argue for that position?”
  • Avoid dominating a discussion. It may be appropriate in some cases to make a follow-up comment after the professor answers your question, but don’t try to turn the class into a one-on-one conversation between you and the professor.

Online Courses

Most colleges now offer some online courses or regular courses with an online component. You experience an online course via a computer rather than a classroom. Many different variations exist, but all online courses share certain characteristics, such as working independently and communicating with the professor (and sometimes other students) primarily through written computer messages. If you have never taken an online course, carefully consider what’s involved to ensure you will succeed in the course.

Working on a laptop with video of a teacher explaining a graph on the screen.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Online courses have a number of practical benefits but also pose special issues, primarily related to how students interact with other students and the professor. Some online courses do involve “face time” or live audio connections with the professor and other students, via Webcasts or Webinars, but many are self-paced and asynchronous, meaning that you experience the course on your own time and communicate with others via messages back and forth rather than communicating in real time. All online courses include opportunities for interacting with the professor, typically through e-mail or a bulletin board where you may see comments and questions from other students as well.

Many educators argue that online courses can involve more interaction between students and the professor than in a large lecture class, not less. But two important differences affect how that interaction occurs and how successful it is for engaging students in learning. Most communication is written, with no or limited opportunity to ask questions face to face or during office hours, and students must take the initiative to interact beyond the requirements of online assignments.

Many students enjoy online courses, in part for the practical benefit of scheduling your own time. Some students who are reluctant to speak in class communicate more easily in writing. But other students may have less confidence in their writing skills or may never initiate interaction at all and end up feeling lost. Depending on your learning strengths, an online course may feel natural to you (if you learn well independently and through language skills) or more difficult (if you are a more visual or kinesthetic learner). Online courses have higher drop-out and failure rates due to some students feeling isolated and unmotivated.


Success in an online course requires commitment and motivation. Follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have the technology. If you’re not comfortable reading and writing on a computer, don’t rush into an online course. If you have limited access to a computer or high-speed Internet connection, or have to arrange your schedule to use a computer elsewhere, you may have difficulty with the course.
  • Accept that you’ll have to motivate yourself and take responsibility for your learning. It’s actually harder for some people to sit down at the computer on their own than to show up at a set time. Be sure you have enough time in your week for all course activities and try to schedule regular times online and for assignments. Evaluate the course requirements carefully before signing up.
  • Work on your writing skills. If you are not comfortable writing, you may want to defer taking online courses until you have had more experience with college-level writing. When communicating with the professor of an online course, follow the guidelines for effective e-mail outlined elsewhere in this text.
  • Use critical thinking skills. Most online courses involve assignments requiring problem solving and critical thinking. It’s not as simple as watching video lectures and taking multiple-choice tests. You need to actively engage with the course material.
  • Take the initiative to ask questions and seek help. Remember, your professor can’t see you to know if you’re confused or feeling frustrated understanding a lecture or reading. You must take the first step to communicate your questions.
  • Be patient. When you ask a question or seek help with an assignment, you have to wait for a reply from your professor. You may need to continue with a reading or writing assignment before you receive a reply. If the professor is online at scheduled times for direct contact, take advantage of those times for immediate feedback and answers.
  • Use any opportunity to interact with other students in the course. If you can interact with other students online, do it. Ask questions of other students and monitor their communications. If you know another person taking the same course, try to synchronize your schedules so that you can study together and talk over assignments. Students who feel they are part of a learning community always do better than those who feel isolated and on their own.

Key Takeaways

  • Attend and participate in every class.
  • Your professor’s teaching style may not fit your learning strengths, it is up to you to adapt.
  • Participating in class is a good way to meet other students, impress your professor, improve your enjoyment and increase your engagement; this leads to more learning and better grades.
  • Speaking up in class can be a concern for some students. By being prepared for class, paying attention to class protocols and asking and responding to questions, you can become more comfortable participating in class.
  • Online courses require you to motivate yourself to remain involved and up to date. Maintaining regular contact and participating in discussions is just as important in online courses.



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A Guide for Successful Students Copyright © 2019 by St. Clair College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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