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For other uses, see Syllabus (disambiguation).

A syllabus (pl. syllabuses or syllabi[1]) is an outline and summary of topics to be covered in an education or training course. It is descriptive (unlike the prescriptive or specific curriculum). A syllabus is often either set out by an exam board, or prepared by the professor who supervises or controls the course quality. It may be provided in paper form or online.

Both syllabus and curriculum are often fused, and usually given to each student during the first class session so that the objectives and the means of obtaining them are clear. A syllabus usually contains specific information about the course, such as information on how, where and when to contact the lecturer and teaching assistants; an outline of what will be covered in the course; a schedule of test dates and the due dates for assignments; the grading policy for the course; specific classroom rules; etc.[citation needed]

Within many courses concluding in an exam, syllabuses are used to ensure consistency between schools and that all teachers know what must be taught and what is not required (extraneous). Exams can only test knowledge based on information included in the syllabus.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word syllabus derives from modern Latin syllabus "list", in turn from a misreading of the Greek σίττυβας sittybas "parchment label, table of contents", which first occurred in a 15th-century print of Cicero's letters to Atticus.[1][2] Earlier Latin dictionaries such as Lewis and Short contain the word syllabus,[3] relating it to the non-existent Greek word σύλλαβος, which appears to be a mistaken reading of syllaba "syllable"; the newer Oxford Latin Dictionary does not contain this word.[4] The apparent change from sitty- to sylla- is explained as a hypercorrection by analogy to συλλαμβάνω ("bring together, gather").[4]

Because the word syllabus is formed in Latin by mistake, the Latinate plural form syllabi might be considered a hypercorrection.[5] The OED, however, admits both syllabuses and syllabi as the plural form.[1]


The syllabus serves many purposes for the students and the teacher such as ensuring a fair and impartial understanding between the instructor and students such that there is minimal confusion on policies relating to the course, setting clear expectations of material to be learned, behavior in the classroom, and effort on student's behalf to be put into the course, providing a roadmap of course organization/direction relaying the instructor's teaching philosophy to the students, and providing a marketing angle of the course such that students may choose early in the course whether the subject material is attractive.

Many generalized items of a syllabus can be amplified in a specific curriculum to maximize efficient learning by clarifying student understanding of specified material such as grading policy, grading rubric, late work policy, locations and times, other contact information for instructor and teaching assistant such as phone or email, materials required and/or recommended such as textbooks, assigned reading books, calculators (or other equipment), lab vouchers, etc., outside resources for subject material assistance (extracurricular books, tutor locations, resource centers, etc.), important dates in course such as exams and paper due-dates, tips for succeeding in mastering course content such as study habits and expected time allotment, suggested problems if applicable, necessary pre-requisites or co-requisites to current course, safety rules if appropriate, and objectives of the course.


Slattery & Carlson (2005) [6] describe the syllabus as a "contract between faculty members and their students, designed to answer students' questions about a course, as well as inform them about what will happen should they fail to meet course expectations" (p. 163). Habanek stresses the importance of the syllabus as a "vehicle for expressing accountability and commitment" (2005, p. 63).[7] Wasley states that "the notion of a syllabus as a contract has grown ever more literal", but also notes that "a course syllabus is unlikely to stand as an enforceable contract", according to Jonathan R. Alger, general counsel at Rutgers University (2008).[8]



A notional-functional syllabus is a way of organizing a language-learning curriculum, rather than a method or an approach to teaching. In a notional-functional syllabus, instruction is not organized in terms of grammatical structure, as had often been done with the audio-lingual method (ALM), but instead in terms of "notions" and "functions".

In this model, a "notion" is a particular context in which people communicate. A "function" is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. For example, the "notion" of shopping requires numerous language "functions", such as asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining.

Proponents of the notional-functional syllabus (Van Ek & Alexander, 1975; Wilkins, 1976) claimed that it addressed the deficiencies they found in the ALM by helping students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of real-life contexts.[9]

Other types[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "syllabus". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. 
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary - Syllabus". Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  3. ^ syllabus. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  4. ^ a b "The Curious and Quibbling History of "Syllabus" (part 2)". Epekteinomene. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  5. ^ "The plural of virus? Latinate plurals reconsidered - Languages Of The World | Languages Of The World". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  6. ^ Slattery, J.M.; Carlson, J.F. (2005). "Preparing an effective syllabus: current best practices.". College Teaching 54 (4): 159–164. 
  7. ^ Habanek, D.V. (2005). "An examination of the integrity of the syllabus". College Teaching 53 (2): 62–64. doi:10.3200/ctch.53.2.62-64. 
  8. ^ Wasley, P. (2008). "The Syllabus Becomes a Repository of Legalese". The Chronicle of Higher Education 54 (27). 
  9. ^ Brown, H. Douglas (May 6, 2007). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (Third ed.). Pearson ESL. ISBN 978-0-13-612711-6. 

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