Seven Coursework-related Questions for Students

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Professors almost always know what they are looking for in assignments, but sometimes they’re not always as clear students need them to be. 

One secret to being successful in college is asking the right questions, especially with regard to coursework. Here are some to keep in mind.

1. ”How will this assignment be evaluated?”
The criteria for every assignment should be clearly spelled out, sometimes with a rubric that details the components of excellent work. Knowing exactly what the professor is looking for will help you stay focused on what is important.

2. "Are there examples?"
Professors sometimes offer examples from previous semesters for what an assignment should look like. If one is not provided, you can ask. Some professors have been known to do the assignment themselves, which can be very insightful. Among instructors, the practice is called “eating your own dog food.” Yum.

3. ”Are there limits on…”
Students have no difficulty asking questions about minimum expectations—related to pages/words, sources, etc. But the upper-limits are equally important, if not more so. Chances of getting full credit by doing the minimum are pretty slim. Doing well often requires going beyond the minimum expectations, but you always want to stay within acceptable parameters.

4. "Can we spend more time going over this?"
Some assignments, especially complex ones, might assume that you know how to do what is being asked of you. If there is any part of an assignment you do not feel prepared to do, you should ask to spend class time on it.

5. "Can I show you an outline or draft?”
Professors will always appreciate the opportunity to help you with an assignment. Sometimes a three-minute office visit might give you the one piece of advice that makes your work go from good to great. That said, you should avoid simply sending your work in an email or expecting quality feedback at the last minute. You should also not assume that professors have time before or after class to give you the amount of attention you might require. 

6. ”Can I submit a revision?”
Grades are important measures of where you are at the moment, but the feedback you receive is the key to performing well on the next paper or exam. If there’s anything about the feedback that you don’t understand, you also need to make an appointment for office hours. If a professor ever offers an opportunity for revision, you should take it, regardless of how well you did. Even if it doesn’t mean a change in this grade, it might very well mean an improvement on the next one.

7. ”Is it OK if I have an extra day?”
Professors have different takes on deadlines. Some are very flexible; some are not flexible at all. In any event, if it’s ever necessary that your work will be late, you need to let your professor know in advance and in person, if possible.