College Q&A: My Prof Won’t Help Me!

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My professor is a complete jerk. He talks way too fast in class and I’m always completely lost. I have a big exam coming up so I went to office hours and he refused to help me. He claimed I needed to figure it out for myself. I’ve been trying! I can’t bomb this test (its 30% of my grade) so I don’t know what else to do. Ideas?

GPA Girl:

Wow, that’s incredible. It sounds as if your prof has a major chip on his shoulder for some reason. Luckily, I don’t and I have a few ideas for you. First, you might consider writing your professor a sincere, well-thought-out e-mail that expresses your thoughts tactfully and considerately. Let him know that his class really matters to you and that you are willing to work to figure things out, but that you would really appreciate some guidance from him. Another option is to track down the star students in the class. Are any of them your friends? Could they be bribed with chocolate or beer to help you study for the test and review the material?

Finally, if you still can’t get the help you need and your prof doesn’t change his behavior after you approach him again, I’d recommend writing a letter to your school’s dean or academic advising team to let the right people know about how your professor reacted when you asked for help. If you do badly on the test because of his refusal to help you, they may review your grade and modify it, or–at the very least–your actions may protect future students from having to suffer the academic consequences of your prof’s indifference.

Party Girl:

Throughout your college career, you will have awesome professors and terrible professors. This guy sounds like he’s giving the latter a new meaning and I’m definitely sympathetic. I’ve had my share of beastly instructors. However, you have some options. Even if this d-bag won’t help you, I’m sure some of your fellow students will be willing to extend a helping hand. After all, you guys have to suffer through the same punishment, right? Try comparing notes and seeing if you can fill any holes that way. Whatever book the professor assigned for the class should also help supplement his terrible public speaking skills. Try recording his lectures from now on and playing them back at a slower speed. If all else fails, go to his department head or the dean of that part of your school. They should know what a dick their employee is being. And, of course, if you end up stressed and woefully unprepared for this exam, then start drinking. Most things turn out okay if you just start drinking (right?).

Busy Bee:

OMG. What is his problem?! I guess we can’t rely on all professors to help us, so let’s just weigh out your studying options.

1. Study by yourself. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes if you put your mind to it, you can really figure out what it is that you don’t know. For me, I try reviewing all the notes I’ve taken in class and creating a big picture diagram. If I know what it is that I’m ultimately trying to understand, it makes all the smaller, detailed pieces fit together. When all the detailed pieces become unclear (so what is the mitochondria’s function, again?) you can either hit the books or do some extensive research online. There’s tons of reliable sources to double and triple check your understanding. Also, flash cards have never failed me! But one of the most important things to note is that because you’re studying by yourself, you won’t be able to consult with someone else for understanding. As a result, make sure you are POSITIVE that everything is correct.

2. Study with a group. Now, this could be a hit or miss. Group studying, if done correctly, will allow you to better your understanding for the subject because you are supposedly reviewing and re-teaching it to others. If you go to a study group and end up gossiping about last night’s party, that won’t help. So a word of advice: you need to study with people who are serious about their grades! You guys will feed off of each other’s energy and there will be some good learning going around.

3. Consult another professor. I’m not sure what subject this is, but there are often a lot of professors who currently teach or have taught that subject. If you seek them out during their office hours, alert them about your issue, and then ask them for help, they may be willing to do so. You may not be their student, but your passion to want to learn might inspire them to help you out. Plus, they may know your professor personally, and can give you tips on how to survive the class!

I know it’s hard to get a good grade when the professor is such a jerk, but just try the best you can. You can also find out who’s taken the class before you, because they might know some ways around it. Either way, just prepare yourself to the best of your abilities…come test time, you might surprise yourself.



  1. Katya says:

    Get a tutor or like someone else said, go to one of the other professors. Then at the end, make sure to write a really nasty review of him. :)

  2. Alana says:

    Professors are generally unsympathetic if you show up asking for help when a large exam is coming up; they appreciate your efforts more if you show up as you're falling behind early on in the quarter. If a TA isn't available, you should get help from other students, try wikipedia, etc.

  3. Michelle says:

    Man, good luck! My prof failed me twice and I did everything to pass, even hired a tutor. Still failed. Wrote a letter to rebute and I was kiced out. Turns out he has tenure an the university can't touch him. I hope you have a better outcome.

  4. Kris says:

    Are you kidding, write a letter, go to the dean?? no way. Just study and study more and hope that the prof doesn't tell other profs about your bizarre requests.

  5. Nick says:

    It's your responsibility to keep up. If you can't, take an easier class.

    A professor shouldn't have to go out of his way to ensure that you don't fail. Degrees are becoming more and more worthless because nobody expects to have to work for them anymore.

  6. Ami says:

    No matter what university or the subject, it is a professors obligation to assist a student. If you have shown up coherently to all classes than there is no reason why he should deny giving you help. Write him a nice email stating that you are having trouble in his class and would like to know if he could help you understand the material or offer any advice as to where you can receive this help if not from him. Make sure you send it to him AND CC: the email to the department head or dean. make sure you save this sent email. If at the end of the semester he does not offer you help and you believe you have done everything you can possibly do, and you end up receiving a less favorable grade, you can use these timestamped documents as evidence of your attempt to reach your professor. Be sure to log visits during office hours. This is all good to use if you want to appeal your grade.

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