The Benefits of a Raised Hand

When I got my first paper back in a history core class my freshman year, I was discouraged to see a B- on the top of the page. I went into office hours that afternoon to talk to my TA and ask for his reasoning behind the grade. After a short conversation, he bumped my grade up three points, changing the score to an 85. This was the first time I realized that by simply showing I cared about a class, I could improve my grade. This is a strategy I have utilized the past four semesters and has, I believe, yielded academic success.

With a new semester starting up and Canvas quiet for the time being, our grades and our class experiences have nothing but potential. Many of us are looking to improve our grades this semester. Of course, this is easier said than done. For students who feel as though they reached their maximum number of hours in the library last semester, improving grades can seem like an almost impossible task. There may be, however, a way to boost grades without having to spend so much extra time studying. In fact, the solution could actually lie within class time, when no quiz or test is on the agenda. It also just might make your time in class more interesting and meaningful.

The secret I will let readers in on is not a proven theory, but is as simple as this: class participation and engaging with a professor can improve your overall grade.

It might sound overrated, or even obvious, but it makes all the sense in the world. Many courses actually have class participation factored into the overall grade, making the correlation between participation and final grade clear. The line is a little fuzzier when it comes to classes without a specified participation grade. But in any classroom, be it a discussion section or a small lecture, raising your hand is beneficial, regardless of whether or not you get the answer right.

This semester, challenge yourself to raise your hand a set number of times each class period (please ignore this advice if you are in a 200 person lecture!). Not only will you be more engaged with the material, allowing you to better retain it, but professors will take notice. If you answer a question a few times per class, professors will remember you and, as long as you don’t overdo it, probably like you more for it. Think about it—no teacher wants to ask a question and see 25 students staring back blankly. If you are the one to be brave enough to give their question a shot, the professor will surely appreciate you for it.

Perhaps you have trouble speaking in front of large groups and don’t find it so easy to speak up in class, or are in large lectures where participation is not the norm. This does not mean your grade cannot benefit from participation. Emailing your professor with occasional questions about homework or class material is another way to engage and show that you care about the class.

Additionally, visiting office hours, even if it’s to ask questions about a recent test or to clarify class material, is a way of putting yourself out there and earning points with a professor, just in a more private, less intimidating setting. If you are shy, it helps to preface a private conversation with a professor by saying something like, “I’m kind of shy about speaking up in class, but I have a few questions about the exam.” This approach can earn you all the benefits of class participation without requiring you to actually have to speak up in front of a large group. Participating in these ways allows us to form good relationships with professors, a key factor in academic success. If a professor knows you are the kind of student that engages with and cares about class material, they will naturally be more likely to give you a higher grade.

Grades are also just one benefit of getting to know your professors. But they can be great resources to students in search of recommendation letters, thesis advisers, or just someone to talk with about academic goals or career advice.

Participating a little more this semester may put you on a path toward more academic success, so raise your hand and give it a shot.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Staff