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I will be starting my first semester of an online graduate program in ~20 days. Because of my full-time position, I am expecting things to be quite chaotic over the next month or so and I have considered asking the professors whose classes I will be taking for homework assignments (not exams or lecture notes) in advance, prior to the courses starting, so that I can finish them as soon as possible.

The material in this program is not new to me; judging by the textbook, I am very familiar with a lot of the material and would rather spend the time teaching myself what I don't know now before the courses begin, if possible.

Would making such a request be considered rude, and if not, how would you suggest wording such a request?

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    Not rude, but many instructors do not have the assignments finalized until a few minutes before they hand them out. – StrongBad Aug 2 '15 at 19:09
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    It's not rude, but as the teacher I might want you to have done or heard some things in class before you write a paper. Doing the assignments before you take the class suggests that the in-class stuff is pretty useless. Why not spend the time reading the parts of the book you don't know? – ewormuth Aug 2 '15 at 20:19
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    You might also ask if it's possible to take a proficiency exam, instead of taking a class on material you already know well. – JeffE Aug 2 '15 at 20:56
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    I am not sure if they should be giving you the assignments before the normal handout time. Here, assignments are designed to be finished in a specific amount of time and you most commonly have to hand them in exactly one or two weeks after they were handed out. Getting them early would present a problem as you are then having more time to finish them than you fellow students. – skymningen Aug 3 '15 at 11:36
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    @skymningen: Indeed, and getting them early with the specific condition of having to submit them earlier would still present the possible problem of the other classmates learning about the assignments before they should (i.e. the same reason why you wouldn't be allowed to take the exam earlier). – O. R. Mapper Aug 3 '15 at 11:38
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It's not rude, but the professor might want to adjust the assignments later on, in which case he/she won't be able to satisfy your request. So go ahead making the request simply being honest in the wordings, but be prepared to be denied.

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Elaborating further on previous answers:

You can certainly ask, phrasing your request using usual conventions of courtesy:

Dear Professor Rodriguez,

My name is Clarinetist, and I am taking your XYZZ 123 course this semester. Because of [state your reasons here], I would like to start working through the assignments before the semester starts, or at least as early as possible. If this is something that would be possible for this course, would you be able to give me the assignments in advance?

If this is not possible, I understand.

If you have any other advice for a student in my situation, that would be helpful as well.

Sincerely,

Clarinetist

Note the line "If this is not possible, I understand". You should not only say this but also mean it - if the professor declines your request, respect that decision. Don't argue about it, and don't assume she has just refused in order to spite you.

Now. There are a number of possible problems with trying to do the assignments ahead. There is a risk that you could have to redo assignments, or finding out that the time you spent doing them ahead was wasted. You should only proceed if you are willing to accept those risks - do not blame the professor, and do not expect that she will: explicitly warn you about them, accept the work you did do, or offer you due date extensions. (One possible reason for the professor to decline to give you the assignments ahead is to avoid hard feelings that could result if/when you find yourself frustrated by these issues.)

  • She may not have decided yet what the assignments will be. This is very common, especially when a professor is teaching a course for the first time - many professors find it much easier to "play it by ear", and be able to adapt assignments to how the course goes, than to plan out the entire semester in advance.

  • She may change the assignments before they are given out to the class at large. You might complete an assignment and then find it is no longer assigned at all, and that what's actually due is something completely different. I repeat: if you are asking for access to assignments before the rest of the class, then this is your responsibility to deal with, and you shouldn't expect assignment adjustments, due date extensions, etc.

  • The assignments might depend on material that is only covered in lecture, and not discussed in the textbook. Maybe you can find this material somewhere else, maybe not.

    • Or it might appear that you can do them based on the textbook, but perhaps the lecture will explain that the textbook has an error, or use alternative definitions for words, or generally interpret the assignment in a different way than you thought. You may thus have to redo it.

    • Or there could be "dynamic" assignments that require information that doesn't even exist until after the lecture. "Analyze the data we collected in class on Tuesday." "Write an essay, incorporating points made by other students in Wednesday's class discussion."

  • Maybe it is possible to do the assignment based on the textbook and your previous knowledge, but after hearing the lecture you realize that you did it wrong, or could do it better. Then you have to redo it.

So in conclusion, even if the professor agrees, your plan may not be as successful as you hope, and may even take more of your time overall. As such, you may want to pay more attention to any "other advice for a student in my situation" that the professor may offer.

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    Great list of possible difficulties, maybe one additional point to consider: When doing the homeworks at the regular time, the student may be pointed to a general issue with their solutions (it can be related to the material, or just something formal, ...), so they can improve that aspect of their solutions starting with the next assignment. However, when doing the assignments ahead of time, the student can hardly expect to also get feedback ahead of time, which means they will not get informed about such general issues before completing all assignments. – O. R. Mapper Aug 3 '15 at 11:41
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You can ask. However, from my experience, few professors prepare all the homeworks before the course starts. For the courses that I teach, I know how many homeworks I will give. However, I will generally just prepare them a few days before I will give them to the students. For courses, where there is a single project to do instead of homeworks, it may be different. Or if a professor is always teaching the same course every year, he may have different verions of the homeworks that he could give you. Besides, if you have a good reason, perhaps that the professor will agree to give you the homeworks or even give you something different if the homeworks are not ready.

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You might also make it clear that you are only seeking the assignments that do not contribute to the final mark. You do not specify the course, but often homework assignments get marked and might make up 30% of your grade or similar. It would be unreasonable to expect these in advance as you would have more time than other students.

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To expand on other answers: no, it's not rude or inappropriate to ask, but there are any number of good reasons for the professor to refuse this request.

What you might have some more success with, is to ask for old practice exams in advance. If as you say, you already have some proficiency with the material, then these would let you determine any precise areas where you need more study. I don't know what program you're taking, but I would guess that you would be able to quickly complete any assignments that cover material you are already proficient with. Assuming that's true, then getting a head start on those assignments might actually be less benefit than tailoring your independent study to your own weak areas anyway.

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I really can't improve on the excellent answers give above. On the other hand, I would think that a professor might be more amenable to your request if you didn't frame it in absolutes.

It might be equally valuable to you to get a "head start" on the material by getting a "general idea" of what will be covered, so that you can "target your preparation" to areas of particular importance. For example, perhaps the professor is going to skip certain sections in the course material or cover some in more detail than others.

If you have in mind the goal of being able to do the assignments more quickly at the point that they are due, rather than to get them all done before the course begins, that might be a good compromise between the concerns raised by the other posters and your needs.

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It's generally not considered "rude", but it may well not be practical, since in addition to not being available early, the professors may well not want them to be leaked since that can give rise to plagiarism/honor-code violations, which is a growing headache these days esp. in CS or EE courses.

So if they make special arrangements for you, in general don't broadcast to classmates that you got a sneak preview on the assignments, and don't discuss the assignment with others before it's released, unless you are explicitly told that's ok and encouraged.

Alternatively the professors may have to incur extra work to come up with a different assignment for you, to prevent the above, but now you might not get the shared learning benefit of working on the same task as the others, or reviewing each other's code after the assignment is finished and graded.

So, it depends on what is allowed and what they consider reasonable.

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