So, I am an undergraduate student taking partial differential equations. This class can be so stressful at times because I do not understand the lecture material, and thus it makes it hard to do homework. Moreover, we have a quiz every Friday based on the homework, and homework is due on Friday.

So far, we are going over 1D wave equations and I do not understand any of the lecture material at all. Moreover, If I do not understand the lecture material I can't do the homework that is due on Friday. Other students in that class are lost too. It just doesn't make sense that this course is required for undergraduate level in order to graduate.

What do I tell my professor in his office hours if I do not understand the homework at all? I am nervous because I do not know how he will react, and I did not put any solution down because I am clueless. How would you react if you were a professor and I went on Wednesdays to your office hours and homework and quiz is due on Friday?

  • 1
    Thank you! I am going to make the effort to go to his office hours. Feb 5 '20 at 0:21
  • 4
    Tip: saying that you don't understand "at all" is a tough place to start from. Identify some elements that you don't understand and ask about those. Feb 5 '20 at 1:16
  • 5
    Just do not mention at the office hours that "it just doesn't make sense that this course is required for undergraduate level in order to graduate.", even if you truly can't see a strong connection to your programme. This topic is (hopefully) a passion of the professor teaching it. But, as a side-note, for me the opposite is out of the norm, as I learned differential equations in school before ever enrolling into university.
    – penelope
    Feb 6 '20 at 15:45
  • 2
    You didn't mention a textbook. If there is one, you should be spending time with it. If there's not one, or it is equally difficult, the library is your friend. Sometimes seeing the same material presented in a different way can be of great help.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 10 at 14:01

To address the part of the question "what do I tell the Professor" to help with the problem "I do not understand the lecture material":

  1. Clear your head
  2. Start reading your notes, word by word
  3. As soon as you get confused (even a little bit), stop reading. On a piece of paper, write down what you are confused about, and why.
  4. If you can, skip over the confusing part and continue with step 2. If you have hit a brick wall and can't understand anything that follows, stop.

Take your piece of paper to the office hour and work through it with the Professor. This will give you both a better idea of precisely what you are confused about, and how to resolve it.

Hopefully, when confusion about the lecture material is resolved, the homework will start to make sense.


You have two questions here. What should you do and what would I, the professor, do.

You should try to express your problem as honestly as you can, provided that you think you can trust the professor to be professional. If you know other students in the class with similar issues, you could even go as a group and just say you are lost and don't see a way to get "found".

What I would do, on the other hand, is ask you a bunch of questions to see why you have these problems. Perhaps I've pitched the class at too high a level, making assumptions that were unwarranted. But perhaps you are just not prepared, or overworked, or not working effectively.

But PDE is a pretty common required course for a math major. However, it is a jump, I agree, from some earlier courses. Perhaps there is a bridge that you don't see or that the professor should have provided.

But if you don't go see him, alone or in a group, it will just get worse.

One thing I might do is give you a lot of extra homework but with simpler problems to help you get in to the groove.

I've had students essentially camp out in my office to get a lot of help and they wound up doing well. Not every prof will be happy about that, of course.

  • 3
    Thank you! I am going to make an effort to go to his office hours and face my fears and toughen up. Feb 5 '20 at 0:19

If the professor is worth his title to any degree, he won't get angry with you for saying you don't understand. A good teacher would appreciate the student coming forward and making those concerns clear instead of just hiding them.

As far as what you can do, it's best to come with specific questions. There's not a whole lot someone can do for "I just don't get it", but if you have specific questions on how certain things work or certain topics from the lectures, even if they're still fairly broad, it's a good start.

Also, see if your university has additional resources you can use (tutoring, TA, support centers, extra reading, etc.,) It might seem like a hassle at first, but these extra resources have saved me personally a couple of times and are definitely worth the effort if you want to augment your lectures in the future.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.