How to read a course syllabus or outline

What is a course outline or syllabus?

A course outline or syllabus is your guide to a course. Your professor will provide it to you on or before the first day of class.

This post includes some of the most common elements of a course outline or syllabus and can be used as a tool to understand how to read it and be prepared to excel in your course.


Reading the course syllabus

A course syllabus can answer the following questions:

Where is my instructor’s contact  information?

You can find the name of your instructor, their contact information, and their office hours. Office hours are times when you can meet with your instructor to ask questions. These might be online or in person depending on the course.

What will I learn in the course?

Most outlines have a brief overview of the course content and often include the learning outcomes of the course, concepts and skills the course helps you to engage with. The course schedule is where you will find what happens and when.

How will I be graded?

The assignments and other methods of being graded for your work will be listed in the course syllabus. There may be many ways your professor can evaluate your performance in the course.

There are also many different types of work that that can be graded, depending on the course and type of discipline it represents: e.g., attendance, participation, journals, individual or group assignments, tests and exams, live presentations, performances, fieldwork, written short reflections, exhibition projects, research essays, interview work, lab work, you name it!

Pay particular attention to expectations if you are taking a course in a discipline that is new to you: Theatre, Electrical Engineering or Commerce courses will have very different requirements and ways to assess you.

When are the due dates for your assignments?

Make sure you know when the due dates are. Some dates are strict, while some may be flexible. You can use all this information to plan your time.

Tip: Using a planner or calendar at the beginning of the term to track all important deadlines will help you stay on track and lessen anxieties in trying to remember it all!

Is the online course synchronous or synchronous?

If you are taking an online course, it may be: Synchronous (live, real-time); or Asynchronous (flexible time-frame). In practice, many courses have synchronous and asynchronous elements.

What are the required items and readings?

Many courses have a textbook. Instructors often include a series of required readings, with information that helps you find them, or information about visual or other materials you need. These may be items such as calculators, clickers or computer software.

What are the course policies and regulations?

Policies and regulations ensure the classroom environment works well for everyone. These include:


What about additional supports and resources?

A syllabus will also have an additional set of resources and supports that are available to you. There may be links, but also standard statements about the importance of some of these areas, such as:

Support services include:


We are here to support your learning!

Contact one of the Learning Strategists to support you in your learning. They can help provide resources such as: developing best practices for studying online, adopting test taking strategies, building productivity as a student and refining literacy skills.

If you are needing additional support, UVic has several virtual services for students offered through University of Victoria Student Support Services.

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