Sometimes earning your participation grade is as easy as showing face. Some teachers want you to make insightful comments every single class period. Other times it requires raising your hand in a lecture of over 200 people, which can be more than terrifying. Either way, a pesky participation grade can be the 10 percent between you and an A. Now approaching the end of the semester, it’s time to put our hands in the air—and I’m not talking about on the dance floor. Use these tips to out-participate your peers without your entire class wanting to kill you at 8 a.m.
1. Close Your Computer
Note-taking on a computer comes in clutch in a large lecture, but discussion-based classes tend to keep it old school: the college-ruled notebook. “If you sit in the back of the class with your computer open, it doesn’t signal well. Maybe you’re paying attention, but I have no way to know that,” said Dr. Kalyani Chadha, University of Maryland Journalism Assistant Professor and Media Scholars Director. Fight it as much as you want, but you know the temptation to open your social media often gets the better of you. If you’re in a small class typing away on a computer, professors might assume you’re hitting up Facebook or online shopping. And hey, they’re probs right.
2. Agree to Disagree
Everyone walks into class with different opinions and striking up class convos offer a stellar way to broaden your horizons while also bumping up your grade. It’s tempting to attack the one classmate who spews nonsense or quotes Trump, but try to resist, my friend. Make sure not to come off as a jerk when disagreeing with someone. “Disagree with the position but not the person,”said Dr. Chadha. Instead of leading with, “That is so off” or “Where are you getting your information, bro,” try “I understand your opinion, but I have to disagree.” You’ll look totally mature while showing off your impeccable intelligence with class, of course.
3. Unrest that Bitch Face
Expressions communicate louder than words. If you’re sporting a sour puss, you could send your professor into a spiral of insecurity, making them question their teaching skills, their wardrobe and probably their entire life purpose. Your teacher wants approval just as much as you do, so show her a smile that lets her know you want to be there. Last semester I took an 8 a.m. and needless to say, I walked into class cranky and occasionally caught myself glaring at the instructor. I didn’t get called on very often, as you might have guessed. Lesson learned: Look happy or at least neutral even during the earliest of classes.
4. Ask questions about assigned readings
Ask questions about the reading to let the professor know you did the reading without sounding braggy. Easy enough, right? Teachers love a student who actually does the reading and questions the text. Not only does it scream responsibility and intelligence, but you may engage the whole class in a great discussion. Chances are, your peers probably have the same questions as you, and they’ll be thankful you had the courage to pipe up before they did. Kudos!
5. Let Your Professor know if you have problems speaking in class
Dr. Chadha suggested meeting with a professor within the first week of classes to discuss any issues of social anxiety or learning problems in general. While it might not be fake in your case, claiming social anxiety at the end of the semester could come off the wrong way. Some students can use it as the new excuse now that “the dog ate my homework” doesn’t work. Talk to your professors right away with any concerns, and they may give you alternate ways to earn your participation grade.
6. Shut up when the whole class glares at you
Wondering what a good rule of thumb to see when your participation has turned into monopolization? Look around the room. If more than five people are glaring at you, it’s time to shut up. Don’t feel the need to repeat what others said or speak for the purpose of hearing your own voice. Teachers notice this and will take off points. Participation isn’t usually about the number of times you speak, but the quality of your speech. Take cues from your audience and your teacher’s facial expressions.
7. Show Up to Class
Okay, this sounds obvious, but it’s often the bane of your existence. Come when you’re hungover, come when you have a cold (but not when you’re dying of mono) and come when there’s something better to do. The teachers that don’t physically take attendance every class take mental attendance and survey the room. They know who doesn’t show up until the first exam, even in a large lecture class. Dr. Selterman, a psychology professor at UMD, gives random participation checks in his Social Psychology class and states in his syllabus, “Even though you will not receive a numerical or letter grade, I will use these checks as a gauge for who regularly attends (or does not attend) class, as well as engagement with the material. I will also use this information to prioritize assisting students who show consistent attendance throughout the semester.”
All students are not created equal—and not only will you ace your participation grade by attending class regularly, but your professor will actually be more likely to help you, strengthening your overall grade. This is the major key.