Classroom Participation & Answering Back the Prof

College can be intimidating – being an international student can only add to that. All class work is in a foreign language and adapting to American college life can be a culture shock in and of itself! The last thing many new college students, international or American, want to do is make an unintelligent comment in class, ask a stupid question, or worst of all question the all-knowing professor. Of course, this all is a required part of college classes in the United States, especially if a student wants a good grade. Below are some tips as to how to impress professors, improve grades, and why it all is so important.

Class Participation/Asking QuestionsClass participation is something that scares many American students, not to mention international students. No one wants to raise their hand with the wrong answer, or be the person who rambles on and on about something only vaguely related to the topic at hand. Most students would prefer the professor stand in front, lecture for fifty-five minutes, and then leave with homework assignment in hand. Although, larger lecture courses are like that, generally any course with 60 people or less is going to require participation and activity in class. Participation has different meanings to different professors, so professors will normally explain their expectations in the syllabus or at the start of the semester. Here are other tips about participating in class:

o       Professors will assume you understand everything, unless you tell them otherwise.

o       If you don’t understand something, chances are you are not the only one.

o       Participation is often required, so ask questions in class if you don’t understand something.

o       If a professor does not answer your question in class, then go in during office hours and ask. They can only fit so much in class time.

Office Hours

Most professors in the U.S. have hours set aside during the week, where students can speak with them individually in their office. Times vary by professor, but most have their office hours listed on the course syllabus or on their office door. Students can ask questions about material covered or missed, talk about their grade in the class, or just say hello.

If students have problems in a class, they should go and talk to the professor during their office hours that week. If possible, most professor like to have forewarning that a student is coming, even better is letting them know why, so a quick email or word is polite although not required. Students should know what they want to talk to the professor about.

Classrooms are about participation! Engage with the students!

Classrooms are about participation! Engage with the students!

If a professors office hours don’t work for your schedule, for example if you have class or have to work, then send them a quick email or talk to them after class. Professors are generally willing to work around students schedules. The main point is talk to professors. They are regular people, who want to help you learn. They can’t help if they don’t know anything is wrong, and they can’t know something is wrong if you don’ talk to them. To make an office hours visit more productive:

o       Know what you want to ask, and bring the corresponding materials (tests, notes, etc).

o       Explain to the professor what you do understand, incase you have a fundamental mistake there.

o       Be on time or even 5mins early. You might have to wait for them, but that’s ok. They shouldn’t have to wait for you.

Professors (Don’t) Always Know Best

Professors deserve respect, most of them are leaders in their field, and have spent years studying their topics. That said, they are human and so like the rest of us, they make mistakes and don’t know everything. Questioning a professors mark or grade on an exam or paper, if you believe you are right, is allowed. Tact is needed to do this without insulting the professor, so it is not suggested you stand up mid-lecture and shout “You’re wrong”.

Again, the key is to go talk to professors during their office hours, taking the test or paper with you as well as any materials that support your position, and go over it again with the professor. This won’t always lead to an improved grade, but it will show the professor that you understand the issue and want to do well in their class. That little bit of knowledge can be beneficial later on in the semester.

Elissa Yonkers is a recent graduate from Bowling Green State University, with a Bachelors of Science of Journalism with a focus on Public Relations, and a very strong minor in German. With several internship experiences under her belt,  she is looking to widen her experience and knowledge with a job in corporate communications, public affairs, or work in a public relations agency. Connect with her here:

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