|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
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
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
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
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.