Opinion: How can upper-level classes offer a fair start?

The first round of midterms are over, and you might be feeling the squeeze of trying to repair that 68 you got in your upper-level biology class. As we all get back to hitting the library, we may be finding ourselves nostalgic for the lower-level class, where we aced the first midterm and then the final. So what happened?

Sometimes lower-level courses do not prepare you for the subsequent levels. The base knowledge your 300-level professor might assume you have simply isn’t there — leaving you miles behind the rest of the class.

While certainly not all UNC students will have had this experience, a good portion should find this relatable. The main issue is that there are no clear roots to this problem and no clear solution.

One could argue looking at pre-University education is the best place to start identifying why some students have more base knowledge than others. Say your high school had a wonderful biology teacher who went above and beyond what was expected of them to make sure their students had a superb understanding of the subject. 

Students from this high school class would be in a better place to do well in their Biology 101 class and then in the rest of the major. They spend less time and effort playing catch-up, freeing up their time to study other subjects.

A second origin of this problem can be found in any number of issues during the intro-level class at college. Snow days can decrease in-person class time, or a sick day can set you back. 

Sometimes the professor didn’t make the subject as clear as possible. Any or all of these problems can contribute to an uneasy foundation at the base of a new subject.

Attending office hours can help catch you up, but it can only do so much given the limited time of both the student and the professor.

While amendments to the general education system or teaching styles of professors might help solve this issue, the level of structural change needed to bring these broad solutions would be impractical to call for in this editorial. So, we encourage all professors to be understanding that not all students in upper-level courses may be on the same level.

In our opinion, UNC professors typically already do a great job with this. We also suggest students not be too prideful to seek help. Getting an education is a two-way street — mutual effort is required.

While we may not all start at the same level, if both professors and students are willing to put in a few extra hours, hopefully we can all finish our upper-level classes with an equal understanding of the subject.

Thanks for reading.

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