I am currently doing Algebra in a college in India. The professor asks students to note down solved examples in class, and then poses the very same questions in the tests.

I don't go to class for these very reasons. Hence, I end up writing alternate proofs for such problems. The professor is incompetent to the extent that he does not understand proofs written by an undergrad, and gives me zero on all those answers.

When applying for grad school, I will have bad grades in Algebra and other math subjects (I suspect). How do I convey the this to the Admissions committee when applying for a PhD?

I believe this is relevant to a lot of students studying in the sub-continent.

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    A more important question for you (and your peers) should be: how can you go on to do research when you've been trained only to learn by rote?
    – 410 gone
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 9:36

3 Answers 3


This is a supplement to aeismail's and JeffE's excellent answers.

I understand it may be hard to drop the class or move to another class for some reasons. For your best interests, it's better to follow the instructor for now.

The professor is incompetent to the extent that he does not understand proofs written by an undergrad.

I have a suggestion for you. Sign in to our sister site Math SE. Present your proofs. See what people think. After you verify your proofs, you'll know your professor is incompetent or not.

If your professor is indeed incompetent, you should seriously consider dropping the class. You don't want to waste your precious time. However, if it turns out that you do have serious flaws in your proof, I would listen to my professor if I were you.


If someone else is teaching algebra next semester/year, just drop the class. Cultivate a competent faculty mentor that you respect and trust. Listen to them. Meanwhile, document everything.

If there are really no competent, trustworthy faculty in your department, do everything you can to move. In that case, sadly, your department is a diploma mill, and even with the best grades in the world, you're unlikely to get into a good graduate program.

If you can't drop out or move, at least stop skipping class; you're just giving your instructor a legitimate excuse to dock your grade. Yes, it's childish, but your grades are more important than your pride.

The professor is incompetent to the extent that he does not understand proofs written by an undergrad

Careful. I also do not understand many proofs written by undergrads. But in most cases, that lack of understanding is not due to my incompetence.

  • Let's just say in the open book section of the test, a proof came straight out of the book I was carrying. Fraleigh, to be precise. I copied the proof word for word, although I knew the argument. I just wanted to be safe. And he gave me zero because it was not the method he had taught. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 3:04
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    @AyushKhaitan - "one of the best schools in the country" - according to whom? For instance, where does it stand w.r.t a top 25 school as per any of the international rankings (Times, QS comes to mind), and which top graduate program take students from it ?
    – TCSGrad
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 3:18
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    BITS Pilani is not one of the best schools in India for mathematics but it is certainly up there for many branches of engineering. Having said this, most professors in BITS will have some academic standard and I would hesitate before calling them, as well as previous students out for "minimal understanding of their fields"
    – Shion
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 10:14

Unfortunately, this is a classic no-win situation. If you protest about instructors being incompetent, you may come across as someone too eager to assign blame for mistakes to someone else. If you say nothing, then your record may be dismissed out of hand (given how important algebra is in the undergraduate math curriculum). You also don't want to admit that you're skipping class.

I think your best bet may be to take your chances with the poor grade in algebra, but then follow the advice suggested for other people with weak transcripts.

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