Squeeze the Most Out of Your Professor’s Office Hours

Many professors leave their office doors wide open for students to come in with comments and concerns, but many students never stop by. Find out how you can use your professor’s office hours to your maximum benefit.

It’s perfectly normal not to master all new learning materials in college right off the bat. Sometimes it takes a little extra help to fully understand a concept discussed in class. That’s where office hours come in.

Office hours are scheduled meetings outside of class between a student and a professor or teacher’s assistant. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) states that a student may attend office hours for numerous reasons:

  • To clarify course material
  • Determine grades
  • Ask for career advice
  • Review certain concepts before an exam
  • Complete make-up work

Most of the time, attending office hours isn’t required of students. The student is expected to decide for himself whether or not he needs the additional consultation. Students are often expected to drive the meeting forward with questions and concerns, rather than having the professor adhere to a lesson plan as she would during class.

Some institutions have requirements for professors to hold a certain number of office hours each week, while at other schools it’s up to the professor. According to APS, while office hours typically take place in (surprise!) a professor’s office, a less formal setting can benefit the student-professor relationship as well, enabling the professor to seem more approachable and reminding students that professors are individuals with lives outside the classroom.

The benefits of office hours have been documented in several studies. According to one published in “College Student Journal,” students who visit their professor’s office hours are more likely to attain academic achievement, have better information retention, achieve personal and intellectual growth, and have better college satisfaction. Another study in “Communication Research Reports” links outside-of-class communication with instructor trust and student motivation.

Unfortunately, the “College Student Journal” also found most students make use of office hours only occasionally. Yet in the digital age, many faculty members are offering office hours virtually through email or video chat sessions, making communication with students even easier.

These five tips will ensure you are using office hours to your fullest advantage.

Introduce yourself

Using office hours to introduce yourself to a professor at the beginning of the semester can be a great way to discuss your interests, especially as they might relate to class discussions. While it’s good for your professor to get to know you, make sure you’re using both of your time effectively to also discuss the course or your academic future.

Come prepared with specific questions or concepts to review

According to the Cornell Learning Strategies Center, office hours aren’t a time when professors will complete your work for you. Rather, you should arrive to office hours with questions prepared, and you should make sure you’ve thoroughly attempted to complete an assignment or review a concept before the meeting. During office hours, expect professors to ask you questions about the material. This will allow the professor to gauge what information you understand and where you can improve.

That being said, a professor won’t just read over your paper during office hours and give feedback. Make sure you have a more specific goal when you begin the session — for example, narrowing down a topic for your paper or select which sources to use.

Don’t wait until the last minute

You should go to office hours sooner rather than later. If you wait too long into the semester to meet with your professor, you may start to feel overwhelmed and possibly confused about the material; your questions will start to build up. Speak with your professor as soon as possible so that you’re not scrambling to understand the material at the last minute.

Be ready to take notes

Your professor will likely give you information and advice, so bring a notebook and a pen and be ready to write. It’s up to you to absorb the material you take away from your meeting. Your professor might also recommend study strategies to guide you in your future academics, so take note of those as well.

Bring any relevant course material

If you have a question about an exam, bring the test with you to the office hours, and mark down the questions you’re having trouble with. The same goes for any assignment you need help with. Learning takes effort on the part of both the student and the professor, so it’s vital that you come prepared.

Sources:

Martin, M., & Myers, S. (2006). Students' Communication Traits and Their Out-of-Class Communication with Their Instructors. Communication Research Reports, 23(4), 283-284. (2006, November 1). Retrieved September 23, 2014, from EBSCOhost.

Pfund, R., Rogan, J., Burnham, B., & Norcross, J. (2013). Is the Professor in? Faculty Presence During Office Hours. College Student Journal, 47(3), 524-525. (2013, September 1). Retrieved September 23, 2014, from EBSCOhost.

Top 5 Reasons to Use Office Hours and Tips for Using the Time Effectively. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2014, from lsa.umich.edu

Using Instructor Office Hours Effectively. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2014, from gtc.edu

What are office hours? (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2014, from lsc.cornell.edu

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