And wouldn’t it be even greater to manage this without doing a ton of extra work?
Here’s how to succeed in seminars – effortlessly:
1. Read intelligently beforehand
Of course, you’re already doing all the assigned reading for your classes. (If not, that’s a good place to start!) But rather than just skimming over the chapter you’ve been given, read intelligently. Pick out a couple of points in the chapter that you could disagree with, or that relate to something the class has already studied.
When it comes to the seminar itself, going beyond the usual bland points will really make you stand out as someone who’s not just read the material for the class, but who has thought about it too. Professors like to see students using their brains – it’s what you’re at college for!
2. Volunteer to go first in the semester
Will you need to give a presentation as part of this seminar? If so, volunteer to be the first one in the running order for the semester. Your professor will be impressed that you’ve got the courage to go first, plus you’ll get an easy time of it because you won’t have had so long to prepare as other students.
You’ll also find that it’s easier to work on producing a great presentation at the beginning of the semester, when you don’t have any other deadlines, instead of towards the end when assignments are piling up.
3. Speak in the first 10 minutes
If you can speak up in the first ten minutes of your seminar, it’ll be much easier to remain an active participant throughout. It’s so easy to sit there silently, trying to work up the courage to speak – but the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be.
It’s also a good idea to answer any easy, introductory questions that come up at the start of the seminar; that way, your professor won’t be picking on you for the difficult questions later on. Whenever you’re confident of an answer, put your hand up; you’ll reduce the risk of having to stumble through a response when the professor decides it’s about time you spoke up.
4. Keep the conversation going
One thing most professors hate is a long silence during a seminar. If you can, do your best to keep the conversation going. That doesn’t just mean answering questions when no-one else is volunteering, it also means listening carefully to the points that other people are making, and then chiming in with something that offers a new angle on what they’ve said, or that takes their point further.
Don’t be afraid to disagree or offer an alternative point of view – but don’t ever suggest that fellow students are being stupid. A seminar is a safe environment for you and your classmates to learn and explore ideas, and your professor will appreciate it if you help foster that supportive atmosphere.
5. Thank your professor
It might seem a bit like sucking up, but why not thank your professor at the end of the semester? Yes, you’ll look weird if you send a hand-written missive after every class saying how grateful you are for their seminars … but a short, sincere “thank you” email after the last class is a nice way to put a smile on your professor’s face.
You might be surprised how few students ever bother to thank their professors – taking ten minutes to do so could make all the difference when it comes to asking for a reference, or negotiating an extension to your essay deadline.
Are you a seminar super-star? What are your top tips on being a great member of the class?
Guest Writer: Ali Hale is a freelance writer and postgrad student in London, UK. She launched the blog Alpha Student - “helping you get the most from your time at university”.