I am taking a course in Computer Science next semester (it is currently a vacation period for my university) and I would like to email my future lecturer and ask them for the set of course notes for this course (and ask if they have any suggestions for further reading on the topic) so that I may read them ahead of time as I'm quite interested at the moment to learn more about the topic.

Would this be viewed in any way as me giving myself an unfair advantage (specifically as I am asking for the course notes which will contain content yet to be taught in the course), or could it be viewed negatively by my future lecturer?

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    Is this an advanced course or not? It matters because a lot of advanced courses change program every year, while "basic courses" are more set in stone since the topics are already very well studied and there exist standard presentations for students. In that case the course notes may also not be needed, since many books will work just fine.
    – Bakuriu
    Jun 28 '18 at 20:52
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    I'd say it's a more basic third year undergrad course Jun 28 '18 at 22:42
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    I would recommend asking if course notes are (or could be made) available in advance for everyone, not just for you. After all, it’s far easier to post notes to a web page once, than to email them a dozen times, and if you’re asking, at least a dozen other students are wondering.
    – JeffE
    Jun 29 '18 at 11:58
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    I don't think there's any need to overthink it. If you were to email the professor and ask if it'd be possible to get access to the course notes so you can start looking over the material in the summer, I don't think the professor will assume that you want them just for yourself and not for everyone else. Just ask!
    – Alex K
    Jun 29 '18 at 22:55
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    This is your education, there is no such thing as an unfair advantage. You are there to learn and to get paperwork you can show to other people to show that you have learned X or Y.
    – jmoreno
    Jun 30 '18 at 12:47

I suppose there might be exceptions, but I think in general it is fine to ask. But explain your reasons as you have done above. On the other hand, don't expect that you will necessarily get anything back. Many people create the notes on the fly as needed, rather than in advance. That will depend on the course and the lecturer.

In my case I prepared a set of written notes that were printed and bound. Students purchased them for the cost of preparation. But I seldom had them available much before the start of the term as they were updated for each running of the class.

Often the class notes aren't a lot of use without the lectures they accompany, so you might not get as much out of them as you hope. The lecturer will probably not be happy with you if you also ask a long stream of questions about them prior to the course.

I doubt that many would consider it inappropriate or giving yourself an unfair advantage. Most would appreciate your enthusiasm.

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    I would recommend adding something like 'if they are ready'. Not that this is required, but it demonstrates some awareness of/consideration for the instructor's position. I don't mean it is rude not to. But it is courteous to do it.
    – cfr
    Jun 29 '18 at 0:22

I'd take a little bit different approach. Instead of asking for notes; just mention that you'd like some advice on how to better prepare for this course. Notes are notes and most of them don't make much sense until you've gone to the class. Same goes for PowerPoint slides; I don't remember ever seeing a set of slides that makes sense by themselves. The effectiveness of pre-reading notes, overall, is low.

Instead, consider asking for more explanatory resources such as a copy of last semester's syllabus (don't ask for the new one, 99% it's not been revised and you'll just stress the lecturer out), list of text books, etc. from which you can actually teach yourself some structures about the course or relevant skills before the class starts. And if the lecturer does make very comprehensive notes and offers to send along, even better.


As the others have already said, it is not unreasonable to ask (especially if the instructor is a reasonable person), but there are many reasonable reasons why the instructor could decline your request.

However, there is one issue that worries me: your sentence "giving myself an unfair advantage". Studying is about getting and applying knowledge, it should never ever be seen as a competition. This is just the wrong way to think about it. If you would read a book, would this also be unfair? Should students be banned from reading books? Should students not be allowed to ask their instructors questions because then they would know more than the other students? I hope you don't agree.

Thus, I would like to give you the advice to reconsider your image of studying. In the case that your university environment (friends, instructors) are unreasonable enough to also see university as a big competition, I would advise you to, if at all possible, change this environment. Eerything else is very unhealthy in the long term.

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    It's possible that the instructor may curve the course based on the highest grade. If that's the case, then it definitely is like a competition regardless of how the OP views learning/knowledge. I wouldn't assume that the OP has a skewed view of learning as a result of that phrase.
    – haff
    Jun 28 '18 at 19:50
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    @haff, first, I'd claim that low-level courses should have been taught enough times so that there's no need to "curve", because reasonable expectations should have been established. Similarly for high-level courses, but even more so, because presumably by that point the students have already been "filtered". So, really, "curving" only "makes sense" in a situation with bad/lazy course/evaluation design. Sure, some people do it, ... So, in the end, it corrupts one's thinking to conceive of education as competition, even if other people often make it be so. Jun 28 '18 at 20:12
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    @paulgarret I completely agree with everything you said. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't blame the student for the instructor's (potentially) poor course design when we really don't know how the course is structured.
    – haff
    Jun 28 '18 at 20:45
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    @Maulke I understand what you are saying, and my sentence "giving myself an unfair advantage" was stated merely in case the lecturer viewed this in some way as me asking for special treatment (if that makes sense) Jun 28 '18 at 22:41
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    @DanielR.Collins, ah, yes, indeed, it is (disappointingly) very prevalent. I misunderstood you... Jun 29 '18 at 0:42

I see no real downside to asking. I doubt any lecturer would view this negatively, as it shows you're interested and engaged with the course material. It's not objectively unfair, since any other student has the same opportunity to get a head start as you do. Reviewing lecture notes isn't a timed activity - students should ideally have ample time to review as much as they need, so getting started with review early isn't quite the same as getting an extra week to complete a homework assignment, for example. At worst, your request for the notes will be ignored or declined, but that's about it.


Asking is okay, but there is a good chance that there are no good notes, yet.

Often the lecture changes a bit from year to year and the notes are changed like the week before the lecture. And sometimes the lecturer wants to review his notes before the lecture even when they already exist, as they may be incomplete or in parts wrong. This means the lecture will be different than the notes you could get before as well.

Another possible reason against is, that the lecturer wants to avoid you skipping the lecture because you read the notes and feel prepared. And you should be aware that for the exam often the most helpful things are the comments the lecturer makes, which are not in the notes and not on the blackboard.

Another possiblity is, that the lecture is based on a book, either directly or indirectly. When it is based on the book, buy the book, read it and you are (mostly) fine. When it is indirect, you may miss some parts and learn some parts which won't be part of the lecture. The second is no problem if you are willing to learn more than needed, the first one requires the lecturer to tell you what is needed in addition.


Of course it's OK to ask!

I trust that you won't write "Hey teach email me those course notes stat" but "Dear Dr. Abidi, I will be participating in your course etc. etc. and I was wondering if I could start preparing for your lecture by studying the course materials, provided that they are already available. More concise yet friendly sentences, thank you and best wishes, Perturbative."

Please don't worry about an "unfair advantage!" This is not a race or a competition, and it's not a zero-sum game. You want to learn, and your institution wants you to learn. I personally love it when students are self-motivated and show interest.


as me giving myself an unfair advantage

Taking a course is not a contest. All students should be taught the subject matter at hand, using whatever reasonable materials and aides can be made available to them. Getting notes for a course is not like getting a cheat sheet for an exam.

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