Top Ten Questions

You Should Not Ask a College Professor

(unless you want irritate her)


1. Did I miss anything important in class?

The problem with this question is that it implies that classes aren't always "important." Please try to remember that professors plan and work hard when designing a course; if you want to have a productive relationship with them, you should at least pretend to appreciate this work by assuming that every class and every class activity is important.

A better way to phrase this question is: "Did we do anything not covered by the syllabus that I need to make up?"

2. Could you tell me what we did in class?

When you put it this way it sounds as if you are asking your professor to re-teach the class, privately, for your benefit. Many professors will be hurt by this attitude; it implies that you have a lack of respect for the value of their time and energy.

If you miss a class, you should make sure you have completed any assigned reading or writing, then find another student in your course who is willing to give you his or her notes. After that, you go to your professor and politely ask for copies of any missed handouts. You can ask to meet to ask questions about things that you don't understand once you have gone over everything.

Some professors provide copies of their class notes, either on-line or at the library, but you should remember that you don't have the right to expect this from every professor. Some consider effective notetaking a skill that you should acquire.

3. Will this be on the exam? or Can you tell us what's going to be on the exam?

This question is the universal joke among professors; we're well aware how the pressure of competition can produce students more interested in scoring well than in learning. But we love our work and our subjects, and it's frustrating to be confronted by students who neither share that love nor respect those who do.

With the exception of jokes or anecdotes, you should learn everything your course covers, unless your professor specifically tells you that certain material is not important. You may ask about the format, length, or conditions of the exam.

4. My plane flight/ride home/family vacation is scheduled on X, so is it possible for me to take the final exam early?

There are professors who are willing to re-schedule exams for this reason, but I do not. Here are the reasons why:

a. giving more than one exam for the same course requires me to make up an entirely new version of the test; it would be irresponsible not to, and I don't have that much extra time during finals week.

b. most students would like to take all of their exams early and go home--so would most professors. It seems unfair to me to let random numbers of students move their exams at will, while others cannot due to conflicts

c. I firmly feel that the conditions of the exam should be equal for everyone, and if that includes being tired or frustrated at the end of the week, then at least everyone is in it together, and no one has an advantage

d. social plans are supposed to be made around obligations, such as school.

If a professor does agree to move an exam, you should be properly grateful--and you shouldn't try to use this favor to manipulate another professor into doing the same thing.

5. I have two exams scheduled on the same day. Could I take yours at another time?

I know this circumstance seems overwhelming to some of you, but to be an old-fogey about it, I took night classes as an undergraduate and frequently had three exams in one day as a result. What I discovered is that this is only a major problem if you have not retained knowledge throughout the semester and are instead only learning it the few days before the exam. Since the point of exams is not to test how much you can learn in a week, but how much you have learned over the semester, I see no reason to change the date or time of my exam.

6. I have a court date and have to miss class--is this excused?

If your court date is a result of a crime on your part (including traffic violations), then those professors who distinguish between excused and unexcused absences are unlikely to consider criminal activity a valid reason for missing class (you're supposed to hear the sarcasm in that last sentence and laugh appreciatively). If, on the other hand, you need to be in court as a witness of some kind, the best thing to do is inform Dean Bigger, who can then e-mail all of your professors at once, asking them to excuse you.

7. I really need to bring up my g.p.a.; which of these professors is the easiest?

Any professor who calls another professor's course "easy" is insulting a colleague. Any student who takes a course to boost his or her g.p.a. is insulting an instructor.

Some students seem to think that being "honest" about things like this should be appreciated by professors; generally it's not.

8. Is there anything I can do to raise my grade?

It's not the question that's a problem, but its timing. Students usually come to me during the last three weeks of class, and are really asking for an extra assignment to make up for previous poor performance. Most professors will not give you extra credit when you have not demonstrated the ability to master the basic material. Such "extra" work is grossly unfair to the other students in your class.

If, however, you are disappointed with a grade on a paper or exam and don't understand how to improve, you should certainly come to your professor with questions. Phrase the question this way, "I would like to go over this assignment because I'm sure that I could do better next time if I understood where I went wrong." You may also ask for study hints or places to go for tutoring or extra help. Your professors will be glad to respond to these questions.

Occasionally, a student will call to "discuss" a grade after the semester is over. Unless the grade has been miscalculated (which sometimes happens--we all make mistakes), you cannot "raise" such a grade.

9. Professor X gave me a D on this paper; could you read it and tell me what you think?

You should never attempt to have one professor interfere with the way another professor handles his or her courses. If you have valid objections to the way a professor runs a course, the appropriate procedure is for you to first speak with the professor in question. If that fails to resolve the matter, take your objections to the Chair of the Department or the Academic Dean. You may also express your feelings on course evaluations.

10. I need to make up work in professor X's class; is it alright if I miss yours?

No. Absolutely not. You are implying that one course is more important than another. Don't even ask this question.

Natalie Grinnell
Wofford College
429 North Church Street
Spartanburg, South Carolina 29303
Last Update: August 1, 2006