Students often avoid their professor’s office hours because they are unable to think of questions to ask. Don’t make this mistake, especially if your professor provided feedback on a midterm exam. Regardless of the grade you received, you should always meet with your professor to discuss your exam performance. If you are nervous about meeting with your professor, here are five categories of questions to get the conversation started.
- Issue Spotting: Did I miss discussing any issues or discuss an issue not raised by the facts? Can you help me figure out why the facts did/did not raise these issues?
- Rules: Did I correctly state the rules? If not, can you explain why my rule statement was incorrect and what I can do to make it accurate?
- Analysis and Conclusions: Did I use the facts sufficiently to explain my arguments and reach the right conclusions? If not, can you explain what I can do to improve?
- Organization: Was my exam organized in a logical manner and easy to read?
- Cases and Policies: Do you want me to include cases and policy arguments? If yes, can you give me an example of how I could’ve done so on this exam?
Prior to the Meeting, Self-Assess and Draft Specific Questions
The key to a successful meeting is to ask specific, follow-up questions about what you can do in the future to avoid making the same mistakes. Not all professors have experience providing detailed feedback to students, so it is your responsibility to guide them with your questions. To get the most out of this meeting, do two things. First, self-assess your answer prior to meeting with your professor. And second, write a list of specific questions for each of the five categories above that you can ask during the meeting.
For example, if your answer was difficult to read, ask your professor if you should use headings, sub-headings, more paragraphs, or if it was your grammar. Every professor is different. Thus, understanding what that professor prefers will give you a clear format for your future responses. This also applies to the cases and policies category. Some professors want case analogies and policy discussions about how the outcome would impact society while other professors allocate no points to these types of analysis. This information is valuable because it will help you properly divide your time on future exams to get the maximum number of available points.
Another common category discussed during these meetings is analysis. If your analysis received a low score, then compare it to the sample answer or grading rubric to figure out what was missing. Did you need more counter arguments? Did you apply the rule incorrectly? If yes, make a note of the sections in your exam where analysis was lacking or incorrect so you can review it with the professor. Never assume that your professor had time to review your exam prior to your meeting. Similar to the specific questions, it is your responsibility to point to specific parts of the exam where you’d like more detailed feedback and to ask for specific tips on how to improve. Other common questions students ask professors about analysis include whether they missed citing important facts or if they spent too much time or too little time on one issue, which is why they lost points.
After the Meeting, Brainstorm Concrete Action Steps
Meeting with your professor is just the beginning of this process. The meeting allowed you to identify areas that you can improve on and get some advice on how to improve. But the only way to actually improve is to do more practice questions. Thus, to ensure you don’t forget any valuable feedback from your professor and to hold yourself accountable, after the meeting, write at least three specific action steps you can take on your next practice exam.
Similar to the questions you drafted prior to the meeting, these action steps must be specific. Do not write “include better analysis,” “write better rule statements,” or “spot more issues.” These action steps are too general and will be difficult to implement on your next practice question. Instead, deeply reflect on the approach you used during the exam that caused you miss an issue or write incorrect rules and determine what you can change.
For example, if your analysis was lacking, your action step might be “use because more often.” If you missed an issue and didn’t create an exam outline prior to writing your exam, then your action step might be to “create an exam outline before writing.” If you didn’t make any markings on the fact pattern, then your action step might be “cross off facts after I’ve used them,” “use different color highlighters or shapes to categorize facts,” or “write the issue next to the fact in the margins.”
If you wrote incorrect rules, then your action step might be to “make flash cards,” “review your outline to ensure the rules match the professor’s PowerPoint slides,” or “do rule memorization drills on a weekly basis.” Other possible action steps include “join a study group” or “go to office hours on a weekly basis with the rule statements from my notes to confirm they are correct.”
All these examples give you a specific action that you can take to improve instead of merely identifying the category where you need to improve.
Take More Practice Questions
Finally, as mentioned above, do not forget to take more practice questions. Writing “take more practice questions” should not be an action step for any category because it is something you should be doing regardless of the feedback from your professor. It is a necessary part of the process because meeting with your professor and writing action steps will not be enough to solidify your improvement. You need to practice these skills over and over again and adjust accordingly to ensure your success.
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