At some point in college (or at many points) you are going to have a professor that sucks. Most of the time, it’s because your college hired them for their research and expertise in a field and not for their teaching abilities. These professors are bad at explaining things that seem basic to them but are foreign to students being exposed to it for the first time. Other times, their organization can be crap. Or they’re the type to teach one thing in lecture and assign/test you on something completely different. Whatever the reason, having a terrible professor can result in a bad grade or cause you to hate a subject you thought you’d really like.
If you haven’t had this type of professor yet, you will.
There are ways to survive in classes like these. You may not get the exact grade you wanted, but you can at least prevent yourself from a messed up GPA. The tips below are great for any class, but are essential for when you feel things going left. And, as is the truth with anything in school, it’s better to act sooner than later with these.
Talk to the professor
Your professor may not be helpful during their lectures, but a lot of them are quite nice and still want you to succeed. At the first sign of despair, you need to show up at your professors office hours. This is also very helpful if the professor is new. They’re going to be very open to feedback and suggestions.
If you don’t have specific questions, just introduce yourself and say something along the lines of “I’m having trouble grasping the materials discussed during lecture and am concerned about my performance in this class. Do you have any suggestions for succeeding in this class/what do you expect from an A student?” The professor will both be impressed by your initiative and will also be aware that maybe they aren’t explaining things in the best way in class. They might provide some handy tips, and you’ve opened a channel of communication with them that allows you to keep coming back and asking for further explanation throughout the term.
Form study groups
Chances are high that many other students are struggling alongside you if your professor is a bad teacher. Connect with them and form groups where you can review the class and study for big tests together. Two great things can happen here: Either there’s one or two students at a time who understand certain sections or have found helpful resources and can explain to the rest of the group, or you come to a better understanding by talking things out and sharing different perspectives with your group.
How to form a good study group in a big class:
Start by talking to the people next to you. Before class or after as you’re walking out, you can introduce yourself and talk about how you both feel about the class. You can then suggest getting together with some other people to review. They might know people in the class who can join you guys. If not, you’ll have to do more searching to grow your group.
Small tip: Sit closer to the front of the class. The people really invested in doing well and who would be more willing to create a study group to ensure good grades are there.
Use outside resources: tutors, former students, online
Depending on the subject, there might be tons of resources online or in your library. At this point, you are not too above or too lazy to seek out extra materials to help you in class. You’ll have to pick up the slack where your professor is lacking. This means you may have to be the teacher and the learner and find ways to explain things to yourself. Your class may also have tutors or TA’s. Check them out and see if they help any. Also, there are probably a lot of students who have taken that class and professor before who might be able to give some advice or old study guides. Ask around to see if you can find anyone.
Take any opportunity to get extra credit
If your professor is kind enough to offer extra credit or extra points on a test, do whatever it takes to get them. In the psych class I was really struggling with, if we participated in enough psych studies we could raise our final grades half a grade point. You bet your ass I did all of those studies and I ended up with a B in the class! However, if your prof specifically says there are no extra credit opportunities, don’t annoy them by asking at the end of the term if there’s anything you can do to salvage your grade. They won’t be here for it at all.
Ask as many questions as possible
Yes, be the annoying kid who is always stopping the professor to ask a question! Do you ever notice that the people who take the time to do this, no matter how dumb they sound asking what seem like simple questions, always do better than a majority of the class? If the material is convoluted, you need to unknot every bit of it so it makes sense to you. Clarify the tiniest pieces of information. If it’s the type of class that each lesson builds on the previous one, not understanding a part can be fatal.
Know when to call it a day
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but let the class go. If it’s not vital to your major or minor, it might be better to just drop the class before it’s too late. If you can already tell early on that a class will be problematic, switch or drop it quickly. There’s no greater pain than staying in a course you didn’t need to take and having your GPA f’ed up because of it. Your school probably has a sort of safety net system made just for these rainy day situations. At my school, there’s a window available to drop a class later in the term before it counts as a withdrawal on our transcripts. Take advantage of things like this!