I’ve worked with many students who had a variety of problems when talking with Professors. Some of them were extremely bright, yet they felt lost when it came to talking to their Professors or may have had had problems coming up with the right questions to ask them.
There can be many things to ask your Professors about, like exams, homework, papers, projects, and other assignments. You should always ask a Professor about anything assigned in class that is a large percentage of the final grade, like term papers or cumulative finals. Some students don’t talk with their Professors because they feel intimidated by them, or simply don’t know what to ask.
For college students, it’s very natural to talk with Professors at the following times:
If You Don’t Understand The Information
This one is the no-brainer of the list. If you don’t understand information from the course, whether it’s lecture material, calculations for math, or solving chemistry problems, it’s time to talk with the Professor. That’s what they’re there for, to teach you information and how to do things like problem sets. As a student you’re not expected to know these things already, it’s why you’re in school, so never feel bad approaching a Professor for help. After all, it’s their job, and you’ll probably regret it if you fail by not asking.
When Tests Are Coming
I don’t think there’s a Professor alive who couldn’t appreciate a student dropping in during office hours and saying “we’ve got a test coming up, and I want to do well on it, what would you suggest?” This opens the door for the Professor to give suggestions on preparation approaches, and they may even highlight what kind of information is important for the exam. Also, a good question to ask is whether they designed the test or if they’re using the one that comes with the text. The latter type can be random questions from the book because the person who came up with the class only had that to draw from when making it.
When Planning Essays
Some students end up having to do a few essays during the term. Courses like History or English may have 4-5 page essays that comprise the bulk of their grade, so getting these right will be important. Once you get the prompt for it, stopping by during office hours to discuss it with the Professor can give you valuable insights and direction for writing it. Keep in mind that they’re the one grading it, so ask about the correct tone, themes, and what they’re looking for in a “good paper that would get an A.” Every Professor is different, so if you want to do your best on an essay getting information directly from the source is always the right move.
When Planning Larger End Of Term Projects
Talking with a Professor about larger projects or papers due at the end of the term will make your life 100% easier as a college student. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick a topic, plan out what you’re going to do, and have enough time during the term to work on it around the other things? If you have a clear vision of what must be done with that task, you can lay out step-by-step what you have to do, then work through it when you have time. Getting a 10 page paper done at the last minute when it’s due during finals week just makes a bad time worse, so talking with Professors early about it can help you clear that paper off your desk so you can study for finals.
When You Get A Bad Grade
Some students want to avoid their Professors if they get a bad grade on a test, but it should be just the opposite. Finding out what questions you missed and why you did are two key “do’s” for getting good feedback so you can improve on the next exam. Ask to see your test, discuss where you went wrong with the Professor, and make a note on the style of question it was (like short answer, fill in the blank, etc.). Ask him or her for the right answer, especially if you will have a cumulative final, since if you don’t you may miss the question again on that bigger test. It’s far easier to earn a good grade than to try and correct bad grades in college later.
To Enhance Your Participation Grade
I collect stories about Professors who actually want students to stop in during office hours to see them. One admitted he was just bored out of his mind during office hours and loved when students dropped by. Another at a large college in Chicago, who taught a communications class, was actually offended at the end of the quarter when not a single student of hers dropped by the whole term! Visiting during office hours and even asking casual questions about the class ensures that the Professor knows your name and who you are, so when they see you in class and raising your hand this can level-up your participation grade for that class very quickly.
When Preparing For Comprehensive Finals
Cumulative finals can be worth a great deal of the final grade for any course, sometimes 40%, so doing poorly on the final is a sure way to lower your overall grade fast. Students should talk with Professors about comprehensive finals around midterm so they have time to plan and prepare, especially since it may not be your only cumulative exam during finals week. Ask them for a study guide, practice tests, and get their feedback on what the most important material will be for it, as well as the format for the exam. Some finals are only partially comprehensive, and may focus on the material presented in second half of the term, while others may go back to the first day of class. Regardless of the timeframe, students should always check in with Professors for such finals since they pose a big risk to the final grade in a class.
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Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national level Higher Education Consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s worked with students and parents across the U.S. about college issues since 2001, and is a member of CSRDE that focuses on best practices in helping students. He is also a member of NACADA, the national college advising association in the U.S. Please see the program page for services Jeff offers.