Two Tips for Students: Attend Class and Don’t Guess

Dear Students,

I’ve written various blogs with tips for you in the past. For example, Live these 15 tips (and less than 300 words) and I Guarantee Your Success in College “What! Why did you give me this grade?!”: Helping Students Understand Grades, 21 Essential Concepts for Succeeding in Introductory U.S. History, and 14 Must Know Rules of Grammar Guaranteed for Successful Writing

I wanted to elaborate on one point I’ve made before: attend class, always, no matter what.

Missing class is something that, in some ways, I don’t understand. I was an undergrad from January 2005 to May 2008. During this time I took 127 credits and never missed a class and was never late for a class, even when I was sick. All of these classes, except seven, were face-to-face classes.

In other ways, I do understand missing a class. In my second semester of graduate school, I missed a month of class for surgery. But that is it. I was present for all other seminars. 

So, I understand that things happen and you get sick, you have a family emergency, or you have to work. One absence is okay and will usually go “unnoticed.” Beyond that, missing class is generally unacceptable. This semester I have been especially aware of attendance concerns given the direct correlation between attendance and grades. I have an unusual number of students failing in one of my classes this semester, and without exception, these students have missed at least several classes and have not responded to my “what is going on,” “do you have questions about anything?” and “attendance is important” emails.  

In a nut shell: if you are present for the quiz and do the work, do the readings, you will probably pass my course or any other course.

Another really important piece of advice I have been needing to formally address on my blog is, please do not just guess when you don’t know the answer to questions. I have been seeing this trend for maybe two years now. If you do not know the answer to a question, please just leave it blank. Or, write a brief message along the lines of “sorry – I forgot to do this reading.” I have seen many guesses that have made me “LOL.”

The danger of guessing is that you directly show you don’t know the material and that by guessing and writing the wrong answer, you are making it harder to learn. By writing down the wrong answer, you are telling your brain that is the right answer. Writing is an important learning tool – use it wisely. 

Now by “don’t guess,” I do not mean you should be afraid to write down your thoughts or you should be afraid of being “wrong.” I am only talking about situations when you know you didn’t do a reading and/or you know you don’t know the answer.

For example, every semester, in every class, the first quiz includes the question, “What is the objectionable material warning, and why is it important.” We cover this the first day of class, and the syllabus explains it in great detail. Yet, every semester I get responses that are something like “a warning you get when you don’t bring materials to class.”

Guessing will not earn points. If you don’t know an answer on rare occasions, you will probably be just fine. 

Also, “don’t guess” by using excessive filler or by rewriting the question as a statement. I have seen this in the past few years, too. For example, a quiz question might ask, “How was World War II transformative?” I’ll occasionally get responses something like, “World War II was a very transformative event that produced major change around the world given that it was a world war involving many countries. These changes were only amplified because it was the second world war. Transformations included further transformations as World War II included and added to changes across the world and involved millions of people.”

No joke! Please don’t do that. Writing and reading such statements is not a very productive use of anyone’s time. A response like this would earn zero credit.

Please do know that your professors do read your work – we care about your ideas!

For most of you, these will not really apply to you per se – as you are already attending class, reading, and writing great responses . Hopefully, this information will serve as a good reminder for all of you. As always, let me (or your specific professor) know if you have questions.

And remember that  will + skill = success. 


Your Professor