Methods of the Academic System


The most common method of instruction here is the classroom lecture. The lectures are supplemented by classroom discussion (especially when classes are small), by "discussion sections" (especially in large, undergraduate classes where graduate teaching assistants aid the professor who presents lectures), by reading assignments in textbooks or library books, and perhaps by periodic written assignments.

It is important for the student to contribute to the discussion in the classroom. In some societies it is "disrespectful" for students to question or challenge the teacher. In this country, by contrast, questioning or challenging the teacher is viewed as a healthy sign of interest, attention, and independent thinking. In many classes your grade will be determined in part by your contribution to class discussion. If you sit in "respectful" silence, the instructor may assume that you are not interested in what is being said in the class, or that you do not understand it.

When classes are too large for questions and discussion, or if for some other reason you do not have the opportunity to raise questions in class, you can visit privately with instructors during their office hours or make an appointment to see them. Instructors usually announce their office hours at the first meeting of the class. The office hours will also be on the syllabus. In the case of large, undergraduate classes, there are usually graduate teaching assistants (TAs) who are available to answer questions.


A seminar is a small class, typical at the graduate level. It is likely to be devoted entirely to discussion. Students are often required to prepare presentations for the seminar, based on their independent reading or research.


Many courses require work in a laboratory, where the theory learned in a classroom is applied to practical problems.

Term Papers

In many courses you will be required to write a "term paper" (often called simply a "paper"). A term paper is based on study or research you have done in the library or laboratory. Your instructor will usually assign a term paper in the early part of the course. The grade you receive on the term paper may constitute a significant portion of your grade for the course. It is wise to complete term papers before their due date so you have time to ask another person to review your paper and suggest revisions.

There are books and online resources that explain the format of a term paper, including the use of footnotes and bibliographies. If you have questions, discuss them with the professor.

Both in preparing term papers and in doing assignments for your classes, you are likely to use the library more than you have in the past. It is essential to learn how to use the library, InfoHawk, the web-based computerized library service, and online database. Each library on the campus has trained employees who are happy to answer your questions about the library's organization, the location of specific materials, bibliographies, and so on.


You will have many examinations. Nearly every class has a "final examination" at the end of the semester. Most have "mid-term examination(s)" near the middle of the semester. There may be additional "tests" or "quizzes" given with greater frequency, perhaps even weekly. All these tests are designed to assure that students are doing the work that is assigned to them, and to measure how much they are learning.

You should not look at other students' papers during an examination. To "cheat" on an examination by getting answers from other students or from materials illicitly brought to the test can result in a "zero" grade for the examination, an "F" grade in the course, and disciplinary action.

There are two general types of tests, objective and subjective. An objective examination tests your knowledge of particular facts. Five different kinds of questions commonly appear on objective examinations. You will want to learn to deal with each of them:

  1. Multiple choice - You choose from among a series of answers, selecting the one (or more) that is most appropriate.
  2. True and false - You read a statement and indicate whether it is true or false.
  3. Matching - You match words, phrases or statements from two columns.
  4. Identification - You identify and briefly explain the significance of a name, term, or phrase.
  5. Blanks - You fill in the blanks left in a phrase or statement in order to make it complete and correct.

Sometimes called "essay questions," subjective examinations require you to write an essay in response to a question or statement. This kind of examination tests your ability to organize and relate your knowledge of the subject.