How Do I Read a Syllabus?

Reading a Syllabus

A syllabus is a very valuable tool, underused by many students. All professors will write and use their syllabi differently. Sometimes syllabus information may be spread over several links in Canvas, or on a course website. Regardless of the form, here are some items you want to evaluate.

Items to Consider


What type of course is this? Problem set and exam-based? Reading and discussion with papers? A variable-unit class with a variable workload should explain the difference in the syllabus.

Deadlines & Policies

When are the exams and major assignments due? Are assignments due in class or electronically by a certain time? Be sure to check all the deadlines for all your courses to see whether you are committing yourself to four midterms in the same week or two problem sets on the same day every week (and reconsider, if you are). What is the late policy?

Continued Guidance

During the quarter, the syllabus continues to guide you. The syllabus reflects the way the class is organized. The titles for each class meeting will often identify the main themes of that class, and may help you focus your reading for that day in order to prepare for class, as well as guide your studying for exams.

First-Year Alert

In high school, the daily schedule typically listed the homework that you would do after each class. In college, a syllabus generally lists the preparation that you need to do before that day’s class.