Improving Your Syllabus (2023)

Strategies, Ideas, and Recommendations from the faculty Development Literature

General Strategies

  • Look over the syllabi of other faculty members.
    Syllabi vary in format and content. If your department does not have a standard format, use your colleagues' syllabi as rough models.
  • Anticipate the general questions that will be in the minds of students.
    Course-specific information that students most often want to know about on the first day of class are likely to be:
    • Topics that will be covered
    • Number and types of tests and assignments
    • Grading system
    • Textbook and readings
    • Policies pertaining to attendance
    • Late work
    • Makeup work
    • Purpose of the course
    • Nature of class sessions
    • Level of preparation or background necessary to succeed in the course
  • Keep the syllabus flexible.
    Anticipate variations in the syllabus by indicating the topics to be covered week by week rather than session by session. Also consider issuing a revised schedule midway through the term to account for students' heightened interest in certain topics. Some classes move more quickly than others while some classes get sidetracked on certain topics.

Creating A Syllabus

  • Include more rather than less material.
    A detailed syllabus is a valuable learning tool for students and lessens their initial anxieties about the course. Use lists, informal language, and headings to highlight major topics and help students locate information. It is also beneficial to include a table of contents if your syllabus is long.
  • Provide basic information.
    Include the current year, semester, course title and number, number of units, the meeting time and location. Also indicate any course meetings that are not scheduled for the assigned name. List your name, office address, office phone number (and indicate whether you have voice mail), electronic address, fax number, and office hours. For your office hours, indicate whether students need to make appointments in advance or may just stop in. If you list a home phone number, indicate any restrictions on its use (i.e., "Please do not call after 10 p.m.").
  • Describe the prerequisites to the course.
    Help students to assess their readiness for your course by listing the knowledge, skills, or experience you expect them to have already or the courses they should have completed. Give students suggestions on how they might refresh their skills if they feel uncertain about their readiness.
  • Give an overview of the course's purpose.
    Provide an introduction to the subject matter and how the course fits in the department curriculum. Explain what the course is about and why students would want or need to learn the material.
  • State the general learning goals or objectives.
    List three to five major objectives that you expect all students to strive for:
    • What will students know or be able to do better after completing this course?
    • What skills or competencies do you want to develop in your students?
  • Clarify the conceptual structure used to organize the course.
    Students need to understand why you have arranged topics in a given order and the logic of the themes or concepts you have selected.
  • Describe the format or activities of the course.
    Let the students know whether the course involves fieldwork, research projects, lectures, discussions with active participation, etc. Which are required and which recommended?
  • Specify the textbook and readings by authors and editions.
    Include information on why the particular readings were selected. When possible, show the relationship between the readings and course objectives, especially if you assign chapters in a textbook out of sequence. Let the students know whether they are required to do the reading before each class meeting. If students will need to purchase books or course readers, include the prices and where they can purchase them. If you place readings on reserve in the library, you might include the call numbers.
  • Identify additional materials or equipment needed for the course.
    For example, do students need lab or safety equipment, art supplies, calculators, computers or drafting materials?
  • List assignments, term papers, and exams.
    State the nature and format of the assignments, the expected length of essays, and their deadlines. Give the examination dates and briefly describe the tests (multiple choice, essay, short-answer, take-home tests). How do the assignments relate to the learning objectives for the course? What are your expectations for written work? Try to keep the work load evenly distributed throughout the term.
  • State how students will be evaluated and how grades will be assigned.
    Describe the grading procedures, including the components of the final grade and the weights assigned to each component (i.e., homework, term papers, midterms, and final exams). Will you grade on a curve or use an absolute scale? Will you accept extra-credit work to improve grades? Will any quiz grades be dropped?
  • List other course requirements.
    As an example, are students required to attend an office hour or form study groups?
  • Discuss course policies.
    Clearly state your policies regarding:
    • Class attendance
    • Turning in late work
    • Missing homework
    • Tests or exams
    • Make-ups
    • Extra credit
    • Requesting extensions
    • Reporting illnesses
    • Cheating and plagiarism

Include a description of students' responsibilities in the learning process and the professor's Responsibilities. You might also list acceptable and unacceptable classroom behavior (i.e., "Please refrain from eating during class because it is disturbing to me and other students").

  • Invite students with special needs to contact you during office hours.
    Let students know that if they need an accommodation for any type of physical or learning disability, they should set up a time to meet with you to discuss what modifications are necessary.
  • Provide a course calendar or schedule.
    The schedule should include the sequence of course topics, the preparations or readings, and the Assignments due. For readings, give the page numbers in addition to chapter numbers- this will help students budget their time. Exam dates should be firmly set, while dates for topics and activities may be flexible. An updated calendar with the revisions may be needed during the semester.
  • Schedule time for fast feedback from your students.
    Set a time mid-semester when you can solicit from students their reactions to the course so far.
  • List important drop dates.
    Include on your course calendar the last day students can withdraw from the course without penalty.
  • Estimate student workload.
    Give students a sense of how much preparation and work the course will involve. How much time should they anticipate spending on reading assignments, problem sets, lab reports, or research?
  • Include supplementary material to help students succeed in the course.
    For example consider offering one or more of the following:
    • Helpful hints on how to study, take notes, or do well in class
    • Glossary of technical terms used
    • References on specific topics for more in-depth exploration
    • Bibliography of supplemental readings at a higher or lower level of difficulty in case the students find the required text too simple or challenging
    • Copies of past exams so students can see at the beginning of the term what they will be expected to know at the end of the semester
    • Information on the availability of videotapes of lectures
    • A list of campus resources for tutoring and academic support, including computer labs
    • Calendar of campus lectures, plays, events, exhibits, or other activities of relevance to your course
  • Provide space for names and telephone numbers of two or three classmates.
    Encourage students to identify people in class they can call if they miss a session or want to study together.

Using the Syllabus

  • Annotate your copy of the syllabus.
    For example, on your copy make notes of details that need special mention during the first class meeting. As the course progresses, note on the syllabus changes you would make in the future (i.e., topics that could not be addressed in the time allotted or new topics that come up during the semester).
  • Distribute the syllabus on the first day of class.
    Review the essential points and be prepared to answer questions about course requirements and policies. If you make important changes, prepare and distribute a written addendum.
  • Bring extra copies of the syllabus the first few weeks of class.
    Use these extras to replace lost syllabi or give them to students who join the class after the first day.


The Strategies, Ideas and Recommendations Here Come Primarily From:

(Video) The "Secret" to Improving Your Rhythm and Time by Chick Corea

Gross Davis, B. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1993.

And These Additional Sources...

Altman, H.B. "Syllabus Shares 'What the Teacher Wants.'" Teaching Professor,

1989, 3(5), 1-2.

Altman, H.B., and Cashin, W.E. "Writing a Syllabus." Ideal Paper, no.27.

Manhattan: Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development, Kansas State University, 1992.

Birdsall, M. Writing, Designing and Using a Course Syllabus.

(Video) The Science of Teaching, Effective Education, and Great Schools

Boston: Office of Instructional Development and Evaluation, Northeastern University, 1989.

Johnson, G.R. Taking Teaching Seriously. College Station: Center for

Teaching Excellence, Texas A& M University, 1988.

Lowther, M.A., Stark, J.S., Martens, G.G. Preparing Course Syllabi for Improved

Communication. Ann Arbor: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, University of Michigan, 1989.

McKeachie, W.J. Teaching Tips. (8th ed.) Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1986. "Preparing a

Course Syllabus." Illini Instructors Series, no. 3. Urbana: Instructional and Management Services, University of Illinois, n.d.

(Video) This tool will help improve your critical thinking - Erick Wilberding

Rodgers, C.A., and Burnett, R.E. Student Manuals: Their Rationale and Design. Syracuse,

N.Y.: Center for Instructional Development, Syracuse University, 1981.

Rubin, S. "Professors, Students and the Syllabus." Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 7,

1985, p. 56.

Schlesinger, A.B. "One Syllabus That Encourages Thinking, Not Just Learning." Teaching

Professor, 1987, 1(7), 5.

Shea, M.A. Compendium of Good Ideas on Teaching and Learning. Boulder: Faculty

(Video) Professor Ian Cumming – Shaping the Syllabus for the NHS Patient Safety Strategy

Teaching Excellence Program, University of Colorado, 1990.

"What Did You Put in Your Syllabus?" Teaching at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln,

1985, 7(1), 2. (Newsletter available from the Teaching and Learning Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln)

Wilkerson, L., and McKnight, R. T. Writing a Course Syllabus. Chicago: Educational

Development Unit, Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, 1978.

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(Video) 16 Improving Your Syllabus with Design Tools


What are the good qualities of a syllabus? ›

A good syllabus will illustrate "the overall pattern of the course so a course does not feel like disjoined assignments and activities" and will help students "feel that the course strategies have been designed to help them reach their goals, rather than merely as busywork" (Slattery and Carlson 2005, 159).

How can I improve my learning in class? ›

Establishing the Optimal Learning Environment
  1. Having compassion and empathy. ...
  2. Creating a secure and dependable structure. ...
  3. Ramping up the positive. ...
  4. Supporting academic risk. ...
  5. Teaching active listening. ...
  6. Embedding strategy instruction. ...
  7. Building collaborative relationships.

What factors influence the design of a syllabus? ›

What to take into account when designing a syllabus.
  • The needs, wants, interests of the students.
  • The learners' learning styles.
  • The time available and other stakeholders.
  • Setting out achievable objectives, which should provide a clear focus for the course and be laid out in achievable steps.
6 Feb 2012

What can be improved as a student? ›

How to Be a Better Student
  • Set goals. Goals, both short and long-term, are a great way to measure your success. ...
  • Adopt and stick to a study schedule. ...
  • Stay well-rested. ...
  • Take advantage of educator resources. ...
  • Healthy study techniques for proper exam preparation. ...
  • Develop note-taking skills. ...
  • Extracurricular activities. ...
  • Study buddies.

What are the 3 key components to a syllabus that are most important? ›

Basic components of a syllabus:

List office hours (including virtual office hours, if appropriate) State the current academic term. Include the titles and authors of required textbooks, articles, websites, etc. List all assignments, quizzes, and exams.

What are the four main components of syllabus? ›

Both face-to-face and online syllabi should include instructor information, course description, course objectives (or course outcomes), course methodology, grading criteria, grade computation and course policies.

What is the most important part of a syllabus? ›

Perhaps most important, your syllabus is the "constitution" of your course; it is a contract that binds both you and your students. It details what you are going to give them and why. It specifies what is expected of them and how you are going to assess their efforts.

How can students improve quality? ›

Five Tips to Increase Student Achievement
  1. Align instructions to learning standards. ...
  2. Include formative assessment. ...
  3. Provide consistent feedback. ...
  4. Use the feedback loop concept. ...
  5. Self-assess regularly.
27 Mar 2017

How can I be smartest in my class? ›

Six Steps to Smarter Studying
  1. Pay attention in class.
  2. Take good notes.
  3. Plan ahead for tests and projects.
  4. Break it down. (If you have a bunch of stuff to learn, break it into smaller chunks.)
  5. Ask for help if you get stuck.
  6. Get a good night's sleep!

What are the steps involved in creating an effective syllabus? ›

8 steps for developing a syllabus
  • Determine the schedule for your class. ...
  • Plan your course to match the university calendar. ...
  • Determine how your course fits into the curriculum. ...
  • Decide on required course materials. ...
  • Develop the course policies and procedures. ...
  • Decide what will the basis of the students' grades.
31 Jan 2013

How do you plan a syllabus? ›

Suggested Steps for Planning Your Syllabus:

Decide what you want students to be able to do as a result of taking your course, and how their work will be appropriately assessed. Define and delimit course content. Structure your students' active involvement in learning. Identify and develop resources.

What is the main purpose of a syllabus? ›

A syllabus lets students know what the course is about, why the course is taught, where it is going, and what will be required for them to be successful in the course (Altman & Cashin, 2003).

Why people are weak in studies? ›

The underlying cause of this, most of the time is a lack of concentration and focus. Even if you spend hours together reading your lesson, nothing, absolutely nothing will go into your head. The key to the above problem lies in total concentration while studying.

How can I study harder and harder? ›

So pick up a few new study tips, and prove your outstanding ability in your assignments and exams!
  1. Don't miss a class. 'A' students never miss a class. ...
  2. Review your notes quickly and often. ...
  3. Organise your notes visually. ...
  4. Plan ahead. ...
  5. Explain things to others. ...
  6. Get together with a study group. ...
  7. Stay positive. ...
  8. Trust your instincts.

How can I be brilliant in all subjects? ›

Study for quizzes and tests early.

If you have a big test coming up, start studying a few days to a week before the test. Make a study schedule, breaking up your time into sections, and stick to it. Don't wait until the night before because cramming doesn't allow your brain time to fully absorb information.

How can students improve their progress? ›

10 Classroom Strategies to Dramatically Improve Student Achievement
  1. Establish a climate of mutual respect. ...
  2. Set high and clear expectations for quality work. ...
  3. Insist on high quality by having students polish their work. ...
  4. Get students to read twice as much every day. ...
  5. Get students to write twice as much every day.
31 Oct 2017

What are the five types of syllabus? ›

Types of Syllabus
  • Functional & Notional Syllabi –
  • Concentric syllabus –
  • Cyclic syllabus / Spiral syllabus –
  • Topical syllabus /Unit syllabus –
  • Eclectic syllabus / Mixed syllabus –

What are the three types of syllabus? ›

Brown (1995) lists seven basic syllabus types: “structural, situational, topical, functional, notional, skills-based and task-based and these can be linked to specific teaching approaches and methods.” (p.

What is the concept of syllabus? ›

A syllabus (/ˈsɪləbəs/; plural syllabuses or syllabi) or specification is a document that communicates information about an academic course or class and defines expectations and responsibilities. It is generally an overview or summary of the curriculum.

What is the breakdown of syllabus? ›

It usually includes course policies, rules and regulations, required and optional texts and an assessment breakdown. A syllabus helps students stay accountable for their own learning as this document, which contains learning goals, is generally distributed on the first day of class.

What are the 7 strategies that promote learning? ›

To improve students' reading comprehension, teachers should introduce the seven cognitive strategies of effective readers: activating, inferring, monitoring-clarifying, questioning, searching-selecting, summarizing, and visualizing-organizing.

What are the four powerful learning strategies? ›

This week, we feature a roundup of the four most powerful tools to boost students' long-term learning, backed by cognitive science research: retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition. How do you use these four strategies?

How can I sound more intelligent? ›

How to Sound Smart
  1. Use simple terminology. Stop thinking the use of big words will make you appear smart. ...
  2. Don't over-articulate. Connect the words within phrases together.
  3. Relax & Breathe. Being relaxed always improves your performance; exhale your voice right out of your lungs. ...
  4. Use a varied intonation pattern.
29 Jun 2020

What subject has the smartest students? ›

An IQ score over 130 puts you in the top 2% of the population and the median person has an IQ of 100 or below.
  • Economics. ...
  • Philosophy. ...
  • Chemistry. ...
  • Engineering. ...
  • Political Science. ...
  • Biology and Bio-medical Science. ...
  • History. ...
  • Computer Science and IT.
30 Aug 2018

What is syllabus development process? ›

Syllabus development process. The BOSTES syllabus development process involves four phases: 1 Syllabus review 2 Writing brief development 3 Syllabus development 4 Implementation. Purpose.

How do I complete a syllabus perfectly? ›

Exam preparation tips for students that will help them to complete the syllabus in a short time.
  1. Divide your study period in 2 hours each. ...
  2. When taking a break from studying keep your mind free from any exam-related thoughts and stress. ...
  3. Classify the topics into core and elaborate material.

Why is reading the syllabus so important? ›

The best course survival tip is to properly appreciate the role of the syllabus. The syllabus is the instrument your professor uses to set the course expectations. It lists how grades will be determined, when exams will be given and other important information for the class.

What are types of syllabus? ›

  • The Structural Syllabus. The structural or grammatical syllabus is doubtless the most familiar of syllabus types. ...
  • The Notional/Functional Syllabus. ...
  • Situational Syllabi. ...
  • Skill-Based Syllabi. ...
  • The Task-Based Syllabus. ...
  • The Content-Based Syllabus.

Why is it important to develop a course syllabus? ›

A syllabus is a planning tool. Writing it guides the instructor's development of the course. Through the development of a syllabus, instructors can set course goals, develop student learning objectives, create and align assessment plans, as well as establish a schedule for the course.

What is the important of syllabus? ›

It conveys information about expectations.

The syllabus lays out your expectations for the quality of work you expect from your students and shows students how they should prepare for class. For example, the syllabus can explain whether students are supposed to do the readings before or after class.

How do you organize a syllabus? ›

  1. Buy a planner and write in all of your classes and assignments (including reading assignments).
  2. Make a weekly list of reading assignments and keep it somewhere you will see it.
  3. Buy a separate notebook for each class. ...
  4. Write the dates and reading assignments on the inside cover of your textbooks.

What are the 6 types of syllabus? ›

Types of Syllabus
  • Functional & Notional Syllabi –
  • Concentric syllabus –
  • Cyclic syllabus / Spiral syllabus –
  • Topical syllabus /Unit syllabus –
  • Eclectic syllabus / Mixed syllabus –


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