If you're an undergraduate enrolled in a lower-division general education course, chances are your instructor is a lowly graduate student or temporary post-doctorate assigned to teach crowds of freshmen and sophomores.  Your instructor doesn't want to be in class any more than you do; she'd rather be holed up in her closet-sized office doing research that will help her land a cushy tenure-track job or high-paying job in the real world someday.  Understanding what motivates these bottom-of-the-food-chain instructors and what pressures they face outside of class can help you get a better grade -- without doing any extra work!


(1) Graduate student TAs and post-docs assigned to introductory courses have no say in the course policies. Your instructor definitely didn't choose to open a MWF section at 7:30 AM. 

Schedules are created by the registrar's office and the department; class policies set by someone called the course coordinator, often an extremely old faculty member who's long since passed the age of retirement, can't teach or do much research, but sticks around anyway to do the easiest job known to man: give orders.

If you have a complaint about the way the course is run, take it to the course coordinator.  But be aware that every time you complain to the course coordinator, she in turn complains to your instructor that he's not handling student complaints.  Also, your complaints are futile.

course coordinator


 (2) Writing exam quiz questions from scratch is hard.  It's much easier to just re-word problems from the book or old midterms, and that's exactly what course coordinators and instructors do most of the time. When your instructor says to use past exams and certain book problems for practice, take the hint.


(3) In many departments, TAs who receive the best student evaluations win monetary awards at the end of the school year.  Savvy TAs know their student evaluation scores are directly related to how leniently they grade over the course of the semester and how available they are in office hours and by email.  Know this: Your TA wants one of those awards.

Getting Paid(129569)


(4) If your professor is temporary faculty with a degree from Prestigious Fancy-Pants University, who now works at Podunk University of Nowhere,  she's desperate to land a better position when her contract expires. But if her research isn't breaking new ground, then she lives and dies by her teaching evaluations, of which student evaluations are a key component.   She'll do anything to make sure students love her class.  Try to get into her section!



(5) Being a nice and agreeable person, showing up for class, and visiting office hours once or twice can make the difference between a "C+" and "B-." Your professor doesn't have much power, but he can bump up a few grades without getting in trouble.  Make yourself known --and known as a deserving person. It's a good insurance policy in case you get a borderline grade.


(6) Your instructors are under pressure to inflate grades.  A 75% overall grade in high school is a "C," but in a college course with over 150 students and 1 overworked instructor, it will probably be at least a "B+" when final grades are computed. Don't stress when you first midterm comes back with what appears to be failing grade.  With the "curve," your final class might be a "B."


Grading Curve Real Grading Curve


(7) All the sections' instructors are in competition with one another, whether they want to compete or not. The prize is a glowing letter of recommendation from the course coordinator when they apply for jobs. They are judged on things they can't fully control, such as attendance and exam scores, and of course, student ratings.

There's always at least one instructor who games the system (okay, cheats) by making homework and quizzes optional and all midterms open book or open note.  This ensures her class has the highest test average and that her students write stellar evaluation reports at the end of the semester. It also reduces her grading load to near zero. (You didn't think it was all for your sake, did you?)

If you know another section's instructor lets her class get away with murder, perhaps you should be a little bird who tells your TA what's up.  Your TA will either escalate the easy "A" arms race so that anyone with a pulse gets a minimum grade of "B," or perhaps become another little bird who tells the course coordinator what's up. 

If  your section's instructor is the one who's cheating, just keep your lips sealed and enjoy the easy "A."

Cheating, It Works!


Extra Credit:

(8) Your secret Facebook group devoted to griping about different instructors isn't a secret.  Someone in your group tipped off the instructors a long time ago and even sent them transcripts! Remember, nothing you post online under your real name is private.