School of Humanities and Cultural Studies

Course Success Checklist

Students sometimes feel overwhelmed in a course or struggle with a particular assignment. Instructors usually plan a sequence of activities to smoothly guide students into major projects; but if you find yourself having difficulty in a class or with a particular assignment, you may be able to get back on track by taking a few simple measures. Here is a checklist to help you retrace your steps, find where you may have gone astray, and decide what to do next.

  • Were you present in class the day the assignment was explained? If not, borrow a classmate’s notes on your instructor’s explanation or ask your instructor if an assignment sheet was passed out.
  • Did you take notes when your instructor explained the assignment? Again, you might borrow a classmate’s notes, but remember to take careful notes in the future.
  • Have you read all assigned readings? If not, go back and read the ones you missed. This may be all you need to clearly understand the task.
  • Have you consulted standard references? References such as glossaries or special sections in your text, handbooks for mechanical problems (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure), dictionaries, or other library or internet references can help you find answers to all sorts of problems.
  • Have you discussed the assignment with classmates? Sometimes, by talking about your confusion with other students, you may be able to help each other to a clearer understanding. Perhaps another student can word an explanation in more familiar language.
  • Have you completed all homework, journal assignments, and invention activities? Usually these are designed to guide you step-by-step into the final project. You may need to go back and complete one or more of these.
  • Have you gotten response to your writing from your instructor or classmates? If not, take a draft to the Writing Center.
  • Did you read and critique classmates’ drafts of the assignment? Sometimes, seeing how other students have handled an assignment helps you get ideas for your own paper. And trying to help others find and fix problems in their work can help you see the rough spots in your own.
  • Have you attended all required conferences? If not, your instructor may be willing to reschedule; or, again, you might take your draft to the Writing Center.
  • Have you analyzed and evaluated your own work? Students are usually asked to complete this type of activity before submitting a draft for your instructor's feedback. Perhaps you attempted the assignment but felt reluctant to take a hard look at your writing. Put the draft aside for a day or so and try again. The extra time may help you look at your work more objectively.
  • If your instructor suggested that you make regular appointments at the Writing Center, have you scheduled and kept those appointments? There is no time like the present to get started.
  • If you are uncertain about something your instructor said in class or wrote on your paper, have you asked your instructor for clarification? Many such questions may be asked in class during class discussion, thereby benefiting other students who may feel equally uncertain. However, you might also approach your instructor after class, call him/her on the phone, send an email message, or drop by during office hours. If the issue is particularly complex, you may even want to schedule a conference.

If You Still Have A Problem

If you have followed the advice in the Checklist for Success and still have concerns about your course, instructor, or final grade, the following procedures are available to you.

  • Discuss your concern with your instructor. Most problems that arise between students and their instructors are only misunderstandings. Consider making an appointment, so that both of you are prepared and know what to expect. If you are angry, wait at least one day; you will be more credible if you can discuss your problem calmly and rationally. Some students find that writing out their concerns can help organize their thoughts when speaking with an instructor.
  • If you are still dissatisfied after speaking with your instructor, you may ask the Director of Writing Programs to mediate. The Director will speak to you and then with your instructor, with the goal of resolving the situation in a fair way. For more information, see the following section on problems involving your final grade.


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