Sociology Helpful Hints

Read the Syllabus

The syllabus gives you the information you need for the class; it is your map for the ground you will cover over the term.

Consult with the Instructor

Perhaps the biggest mistake students make is not coming for help when they need it. We in the Sociology Department encourage students to consult us out of class with any problems. We have regularly scheduled office hours, but we also have an open door policy. There are, of course, times when we are busy with other obligations, but we also enjoy the time we spend with students. Some good reasons to talk to your instructor:

  1. If you have to miss a class, get another student's notes and then go over them with the instructor;
  2. If you are feeling confused, don't wait until the day just before the exam, but don't wait until after the exam either;
  3. If you have not done well on an exam or assignment, go over it with your instructor to identify the problem; we won't scold you and we won't automatically assume that you have just been lazy; we will try to help you to do better in the future;
  4. If you are working on an assignment or paper, feel free to discuss your ideas with the instructor; in most cases, though, we are not able to comment on a written draft;
  5. Tell us about your summer job or plans for the future or just reflections on life; we are at Wittenberg because we like the informal relationships we have with students.


Typically there are two tasks involved in studying for an exam. First you have to figure out what is important enough to learn and then you must be sure that you understand the material. In some cases, it is easy to know that something is important: if your instructor or your text book says "culture is the key concept in anthropology," you know you need to learn what culture is. Other times, however, it is not so easy. If you read about Q's study of juvenile delinquents, how much of the detail do you need to know? The question here is "relevance" and it is not easily answered. The exact date of the study or the exact number of people studied probably isn't going to show up on an exam. And figuring out what is relevant is part of what you learn as you go through a course. One way to begin is to ask, "what is the thesis/main point?" and then identify three or four secondary points that the author presented, usually to support the general thesis. Look at the author's own introduction.

Sometimes, once you have identified something as important, it is easy to "know if you know." You either remember "recent changes in women's work force participation" or you don't. Other times, it is more difficult to "know if you know"; this is especially the case with concepts. Do you know what "work force participation" really means? Do you really understand the meaning of "social control"? Often when students say that they have studied hard but still don't do very well, it is because they haven't been able to identify those things they don't understand. And remember, you will usually NOT just have to memorize a definition. Rather, you will be expected to give an example or apply a concept - things which require that you really understand the material. One way to find out if you know something is to check with someone else in the class; and if you find yourself really confused, ask the instructor. And why not ask in class? If you are confused, you can be pretty sure that others are confused too.


Students frequently ask the instructor "What do you want for this assignment?" This question implies that there are no general standards of good academic work and that the student's task is to somehow "psych out" the idiosyncratic preferences of particular professors. On the contrary, assignments are designed to develop the skills of sound intellectual inquiry. Therefore, your task is to identify the skills that the assignment requires. Your question should be "What are the objectives of this assignment?" Then you can begin to figure out how you can meet those objectives. If the objectives aren't clear, of course, you should ask the instructor to clarify the assignment. But the more you focus on those objectives, and developing your ability to meet the general standards of academic work, the more likely you are to do a good job on the assignment.

RELAX, but not too much!

Anxiety can be a serious problem for students. The energy that you spend being anxious takes away from the energy you have for thinking and learning. And the more anxious you are, the more likely you are to try to deal with it by escape and denial. If you find that you are procrastinating and not doing your work, it may be that you are so anxious about school and grades that avoidance seems the best answer. Of course, that is a vicious circle, because the more behind you get, the more anxious you become and the more you avoid doing your work. If you suffer from "test anxiety", we can arrange for you to take an exam in another room, which is usually less stressful.

If anxiety seems to be seriously affecting your work, try to get some help from the University Counselor. For those with "test anxiety" or "paper anxiety", there are some fairly easy but effective ways of reducing it.

We say "don't relax too much" because you need to be motivated to do well. We also realize that there can be a lot of distractions to take you away from school work; self-discipline, perseverance, and hard work are not easy things to learn.

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