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The Overly Enthusiastic Class Participant

If I asked you to identify 15 types of SMU students, your response is bound to differ from that of another student’s. After all, the types of students in every class are limitless. There is the class clown, the “mugger”, the fashionista, the one who brings food to class, the one who brings food for the class …. The list goes on. However, given SMU’s unique and highly emphasised class-part system, this one type of student is bound to have crossed all of our paths. You know that student, I know that student, and some of us want to be that student. That student is none other than the overly enthusiastic class participant.

They may not be your favourite type of classmates…

It is understandable that the overly enthusiastic class participant is unlikely to be in our good books. Whether the professor raises a question, makes a statement or takes a gulp of water, the overly enthusiastic class participants are always on the hunt for chances to strike. They relentlessly ambush the professor at every slide, taking up valuable class time (especially those who add no value with their words) and depleting our already short attention span. As if they could not get any worse, some class participants raise their hands even before they have formulated their answer, resulting in a few seconds of awkward, time-wasting silence. Thanks to them, it becomes unsurprising to see delays in our lunch and dinner plans. Moreover, like the bullets of a hunting rifle, their hands are lightning fast and their minds are even faster. Before we even manage to process the professor’s words, the class participants are already half-way through their answers. There it goes, another “stolen” class-part opportunity. Before you know it, the semester is ending and the number of times you class-parted can be counted with one hand.

But they aren’t all that bad!

The uncontrollable feelings of annoyance, indignance and eventual helplessness are probably familiar to those of us who are silenced and denied the chance to participate. Given the relatively high weightage accorded to class-part, it is normal to be frustrated by the lack of opportunities to speak up. Naturally, one might all too easily demonise the overly enthusiastic class participants. However, we should not jump to negativity so easily. Instead, we can try to empathise with them and understand where they are coming from.

Class-part marks are tantalisingly juicy. However, it is not always that the overly enthusiastic class participants are participating for the sake of class-part marks. Sometimes, they might genuinely be interested in lesson content or seeking clarification on concepts they are unclear of. After all, what better place to clarify uncertainties than in class itself? As such, it might be rather unfair to characterise them as blood-thirsty, results-focused “class-part whores”. In fact, I sometimes silently thank them for asking questions that clarify my understanding. If you are like me, shy and mildly fearful of class-parting, then I am sure you can relate.

Even if the overly enthusiastic class participant is “class-parting” for the sake of that elusive A+, such a mindset is not deserving of demonization. We can all agree that the class-part component in SMU is a rather huge part of a module’s weightage. It has the power to rocket us two grades ahead, but also the cruelty to chain us far away from the grades we desire. Essentially, SMU’s uniquely heavy emphasis on class-part makes it a component we simply cannot ignore. As such, we can hardly blame the overly enthusiastic class participants for fighting for the marks they desire and deserve. In such a grading system, “class-part whoring” is necessary. In fact, to obtain that coveted A+, we might want to consider learning from them!

So how do we get better at class-parting?

Let’s be honest. However much we sigh at or mentally criticise the overly enthusiastic class participants, sometimes we cannot help but admire them. How are they so confident, well-prepared and awake in class? Here I am, barely able to catch what the professor is saying. Yet, there they are, taking notes with one hand and flipping their textbook with another – all while eloquently answering the professor’s questions.

The mystery of it all is: how does one get better at class-parting? I have done the homework for you, and here is a tip that most overly enthusiastic class participants have offered me: Preparation for class.

Imagine attending lessons with absolutely no idea what the professor is talking about. What slide is he on? What topic is he on? What week is it even? Such puzzlement only serves to create more perplexity in our already confused minds – as if the impossible seminar content is not enough. Clearly, if we barely understand lesson material, we cannot possibly expect ourselves to participate intelligently.

It might then be useful to familiarise ourselves with our seminar’s materials beforehand. This helps us follow our lessons better, while simultaneously equipping us the superpower to answer any questions the professor might ask. Also, when reading through the seminar’s materials, it is useful to take note of any potential questions we might have. This provides us with questions to class-part with and allows us to clarify our doubts at the same time. Like how a hunter catches his prey, preparation time is needed to build traps, maintain his weapons and assess the terrain. An A+ grade inevitably demands A+ effort.

At the end of the day, the overly enthusiastic class participant is simply making the most out of the class-part system in SMU. This could be something we can learn from them. Class-part is often seen as an unnecessary burden that weighs on our minds and holds down our grades. Perhaps, it might help to think of class-part as a more benevolent companion. It pushes us to hone our public-speaking skills, making us more confident and articulate. It also motivates us to prepare for and stay focused in lessons. Frankly, if not for the need to class-part, I would probably be on Netflix the entire lesson! By seeing class-part in a more positive light, we might be able to turn it into an advantage rather than an object of dread. Perhaps then, like the overly enthusiastic class participants, will we thrive in an environment that values class participation.

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