Getting Help

This is a prescriptive handout: for more on help in general, consult the webpage at

There are several kinds of help that you might need. You may need help with a particular homework problem. You may need help with a particular kind of problem, or a topic. You may have difficulties, but be unsure what the difficulties are. You may be simply lost. One thing you do not need help for is: the answer. After all, you are trying to learn how to do this on your own, so the answer to a particular homework exercise is no help.

If the class isn't too big (as in more than thirty people), there should be time to handle short questions during class time. You can ask how to solve homework problems (or just for hints), or clarify examples, or ask about a procedure, etc. For more involved questions, or blocks of questions, it is often better to catch the professor after class or during office hours. Don't be shy about asking for help from a professor: your tuition and tax dollars are paying for his time, so take advantage of it. If you can't come during the regular hours, you should be able to get an appointment. Warning: many professors have a policy of refusing to give appointments to students who have already missed an appointment without excuse, so be sure to show up.

Some people prefer to ask questions from fellow students. One way to do this is to work in groups. This is tricky: you get out of a group only what you put into it. Most successful groups consist of perhaps three to six members, who meet regularly (twice a week at least). One should not do homework during group time: instead, you should prepare by doing all the problems you can do yourself, and work on the harder ones enough so that you understand what your difficulty is. Much of the meeting time should be spent on three kinds of problems: those that many people know how to solve but feel queasy about (especially if different people got different answers), those that a few people know how to solve, and those that no one knows how to solve.

  • It is a good idea to have the group check their answers, so if different people get different answers, the problem can be checked.
  • Some people will be better at getting solutions than others. Since faster students need to learn how to explain things, this is not a problem if slower students still visibly put in the effort.
  • Sometimes no one knows the solution, and it is time for brainstorming.

Many departments provide tutorial labs, usually staffed by graduate students (unfortunately, our tutorial lab will not run this year because of budgetary constraints). If you want more in depth or personal assistance, there are many advanced students who earn a little on the side by tutoring; the going rate ranges from $ 20 to $ 30 an hour.

Finally, you may have problems with studying, with tests, with time management, with texts, etc. You can try to deal with these on your own, but if they are seriously affecting your performance, you can get help. One place to begin is with your professor or academic advisor, who may have sage advice. Also, many universities have counseling centers (including the USF Counseling Center). Whatever you do, do not suffer in silence.

Escape links

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