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When many people think of college classes, they envision a huge lecture hall with a professor speaking into a microphone and flipping through a Powerpoint. The anonymity of lectures are great – you can space out and nobody will catch you, check social media on your laptop, and play Minesweeper or Tetris. But discussion-based classes are never that easy. The seminar-style means that everyone in class participates in active discussion with the professor guiding it. There’s little room for slacking off, sleeping, and skipping class so it’s requires much more energy on the student’s part. However, many times it’s a lot more fruitful and engaging of a learning experience. Here’s ways to make the best out of a discussion-based class and come out with a top grade.

Take a seat directly across from the professor

Studies show that students sitting directly across from the professor or whomever is the instructor typically achieve better grades. It’s especially true for discussion-based classes because they are often set up in a circular configuration or around a table so that participants can make eye contact with one another. Sitting across from the professor’s direct line of vision will improve make it seem like you are more engaged and your contributions will be remembered better. This is a boost for your participation grade!

Expand upon what other students say (and know their names!)

The whole point of seminary-style classes is to create fruitful conversations by engaging with other ideas and voices. So don’t just say what you need to say, but also consider peers and their arguments or observations. Speak up when you agree with another idea and even add on to what they say. To do all of this it is important to know the names of all your peers! It’s common courtesy to refer to a person by their name if you’re acknowledging their arguments during discussion.

Don’t be afraid to disagree

If a peer or the professor brings up a point you don’t necessarily agree with, feel free to speak up about it. Don’t make personal attacks or be abrasive with your disagreement. Saying, “_____ makes a great point about X, but I think Y might be a better theory for approaching this problem.” Or pose a question in response, “If X is true, then how can you explain Y?” Be respectful and maintain eye contact.

The rule on topic changing?

The professor’s role in seminar-style classes is posing questions or switching the topic in order keeping the discussion moving forward. If the discussion is changed to a different topic but you still had a point to make, feel free to say “Before moving on, I just wanted to add one final thought” or something along those lines. This is usually acceptable, unless you’re beating a dead horse.

Mention readings with specific passages or ideas

It’s always a good idea to bolster your argument by citing specific sections of any readings assigned. Usually the class will bring their books or readings to class and you can refer them to a page or line number so they will know what you’re discussing.

Ask questions if necessary

If something was unclear in the readings or you don’t understand a question the professor is posing, you’re probably not alone. Professors usually won’t mind and will welcome questions or clarifications. It might be helpful to ask during stagnating conversations.

Take notes

Just because it’s a discussion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be jotting things down! Arguments or points that really stick out to you should be written down. This can come in handy for a final paper or exam since it’s difficult to study for discussion-based classes.

Along with all these tips, remember to be articulate and vocal during discussions. Leave a mark with classmates and your professor so that your participation grade will reflect engagement. Good luck!

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the author

Jilliann Pak hails from the suburbs of SoCal but is currently attending school across the coast at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not complaining about the cold weather or sleeping in the library, she’s probably eating, cuddled up into a blanket burrito, or watching Parks and Recreation, preferably all at once.

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