Why Class Size Determines Success

– By Mary Rose Lunde

In my first semester of college, I learned that things were going to be a lot harder than in high school. That year, I discovered that I wouldn’t succeed if I decided not to do my work or go to class. The smaller the class size, the more I needed to show up. Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that it is easier to pay attention and earn a higher grade, when there is a smaller number of students in the class. These classes are often more specialized, and require you to show up, pay attention, and participate.

The lower level classes that have hundreds of students, such as Intro to Psychology or Intro to Short Fiction, which meet in large auditoriums, are so much harder to do well in, because of the temptation to skip class, since your participation doesn’t matter much. Not only that, but it is a lot easier to cheat on exams in large rooms, because there are so many people – and the monitors can’t see everything all the time. This, versus a class of 16, in which everyone is placed two to a table sitting opposite each other with different versions of the exam.

When I took Intro to Psychology, there were more than 500 people enrolled in the class that met in an auditorium. Most of the time, the class only had about 100 students in attendance, since test days were the only thing that mattered. The professor only read from a power point presentation, anyway.

And the class was only a 1000-level course, which didn’t matter much. Students made any excuse not to go, and ultimately didn’t care, since it wouldn’t matter if they were there, since attendance wasn’t taken. As part of the class, a recitation session was required once a week, and attendance was taken then. Because of this, everyone in that recitation showed up every single week, since attendance was a crucial part of the grade. It shows how much a student will care if the class size is smaller and attendance is noticeable, if not mandatory.

I’ve noticed that the higher level the class, no matter the subject, the smaller the number of students, and the harder it is to succeed in cheating. In my undergraduate career, I was in only four classes that had more than 80 people in them, and I didn’t even last a full semester in two of those classes. So I was one of those students who did well in a class they had to participate in, since I was a person who needed communication with all of her classmates and professors to succeed.

As a masters student now, things have changed. The highest number of students in one of my classes is 18, the lowest is three. If I don’t show up to that three-person class, it is very obvious. If I miss a class, I would end up so far behind. I am not allowed to miss or slack off or fall behind. I think the key to success in a class is excitement for the class, the teacher, and the size of the class/environment. If the environment in the class doesn’t seem worth it, then failure is imminent.

Mary Rose Lunde is a first year masters student at Virginia Tech, studying Literature. She enjoys classes in which she’s focused and attentive, because there are more conversations to be had on the subject matter.

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