Welcome to the most fascinating subject in the Universe: the Universe itself. Boggle your mind and tweak your curiosity! Examine lots of pretty pictures, travel vicariously to exotic places, and enjoy tales of power and grandeur. You might observe through telescopes, and use a planetarium.
Most people enroll in college astronomy courses because they have to take a science course and all the other alternatives seem worse. Hardly any of your fellow students are all that interested, and only a few will do anything astronomical after the course ends. Out of pure interest, you’ll shine brightly among your classmates.
The subject itself is important: how the universe works! That seems remote, but it tells how you got to be you: the hydrogen in you came from the Big Bang; your carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and iron were all cooked inside red giant stars; and all other elements in you were cooked in supernova explosions. Characters like Copernicus (The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus is a splendid new book), Galileo (anything by Stillman Drake is tops), Newton, and Einstein play big roles. You’ve already heard of them.
Naturally, find out everything that your prof requires, and do it all. Scour the syllabus and the opening lecture. You can ask questions anonymously before the prof knows anybody’s name. Set up your schedule so you meet every requirement.
Students have a harder time with astronomy’s words than with its concepts! A lot of the universe certainly is very unEarthly, but it’s learnable. The terms get in the way, however. So find your book’s glossary, and use it all the time. The words are most students’ hardest challenge. If you can master them, the concepts are merely strange.
There’s no need to cheat! Many cheaters put more effort into cheating than they’d need to do things right in the first place. If you have a problem, tell your prof about it, and you can probably work out something reasonable for your circumstances, that convinces the prof that you understand the course.
The most under-used resource in college life is the Office Hour. Almost all profs are required to hold them, and would be happy to, if students actually visited. But students rarely do. A lot of your profs are probably interesting or even nice. All of them happily talk about their specialties. Go meet them! They’ll be happy to see an actual student in office hour – very startled, but happy. Tell your astronomy prof that Norm Sperling suggested that you visit – some of them know me.
If you’re trying to get through with the bare minimum of work, you’ll be lucky to eke out a barely passing grade. If you want to understand astronomy more completely, read the sections the prof doesn’t assign. Read a whole different take. Cosmos is quite stirring, and though it’s somewhat out of date the book is still gorgeous, and used copies are abundant and therefore economical.
A step beyond that would take you to one of the monthly magazines like Astronomy or Sky & Telescope. Visit your local planetarium or astronomy club.
What hurts instead of helping are those plastic sheets with quicky answers. They just aren’t correct. All the ones I’ve seen are so full of blunders that anyone learning from them flunks my tests.
Have a great time in your survey course. That should put the various things you’ve heard of into an overall context, so you’ll appreciate them all the better. And it will introduce you to a lot more aspects that you’ll find interesting to explore.