The following general procedure may help you ask and answer questions about your material:
Write down everything you know about the topic. A concept map is a useful format for this. When you can't think of anything more, give yourself a few minutes to look for details that you may have missed. Ask yourself, "Is there anything else?" Be as inclusive as you can at this stage.
Re-organize the material into categories or groupings, by asking, "How do these things fit together? What elements are related and how are they related? What general groupings are there?"
Ask, "What is the significance of all this? What can it be used for? What are its implications? Is there anything that doesn't fit, or that doesn't agree with the facts, or with other theories on the topic, or with my personal experience?" You may want to write an explanation of your answers in a paragraph.
Push Past Your Limits. Remember, when you are doing these activities, that the interesting ideas are the ones you haven't thought of yet. Always push yourself past the point at which you think you have said everything that needs to be said. Always ask questions that you can't answer, and always ask more questions than you can answer.
Don't Just Think -- Write. Write down every thought you have. There are a number of reasons for this: you don't want to forget what you thought; you will be able to retrace the steps you took to get an idea, so you can learn to deliberately apply the same steps in the future when you are faced with a similar problem; you will have a pile of raw material with which to work -- good ideas often come from apparently trivial or insignificant ideas. Also, you will find that writing down ideas will encourage you to think more.
Make sure that the size of your study group is appropriate. You don’t want to have too many people, but you want to have enough so that if one member can’t make it, you can still carry on.
Choose people who will be committed to the group. Avoid slackers.
If possible, choose one person to head the study group or make arrangements to share/rotate duties.
Set meeting times that are conducive to everyone’s schedule.
Decide how long each study group meeting will run and set a starting and ending time.
Create an agenda at the beginning of each meeting. This will keep your study group focused.
Get help from your teachers rather than letting problems fester and intensify.
Contact - Determine the preferred mode of contact; check the course syllabus as professors indicate their preferred methods of contact and related information. Ask yourself: Is this urgent? If so, then contact by phone or stopping by his or her office during office hours is probably the most logical step. Otherwise, you can try e-mail. Wait a few days for a response (remember that teaching is a professor's job, so don't expect replies over evenings, weekends, or holidays),
Plan - Check the syllabus for the professor's office hours and policies before you make your request so that you are already familiar with their schedule. If the professor requests that you return at another time, do your best to meet at a time which is convenient for him or her (e.g., during office hours). Don't ask a professor to go out of his or her way to meet you at a time that is inconvenient because professors have many more responsibilities than teaching (e.g., lots of meetings within the department, university, and community).
Ask - Asking is the only way to learn your professor's preferences. Say something like, "Professor Smith, I need a few minutes of your time so that you can help me with a question/problem I'm having with ___. Is this a good time, or can we set up something that is more convenient for you?" Keep it short and to the point.
Prepare for Your Meeting
Pull your thoughts together beforehand (as well as all of your course materials). Preparation will permit you to remember to ask all of the questions that you need answered and arrive with confidence to your meeting.
Questions - If you are anxious at all about talking with your professor, prepare a list of your questions beforehand. Be efficient and try to accomplish everything in one meeting, rather than coming back time and time again with further questions.
Materials - Bring your class notes and syllabus with you to refer to, if you have questions specifically related to course materials, so that you have all the details you need. If you need to refer to a text book, bookmark the pages that you will need to refer to so you can get to them quickly.
Notes - Come prepared to take notes (i.e., bring a pen and paper to your meeting). Notes will help you record and remember the responses to your questions and prevent you from asking the same questions later in the course.
At the Meeting
Be punctual - Punctuality signifies respect for your professor's time. Do not arrive early or late. Most professors are pressed for time. If you need to meet with your professor again, ask him or her if you can set up another appointment, following the suggestions above.
Address - Unless your professor has indicated otherwise, address him or her by last name and with the appropriate title (e.g., Professor, Doctor
Gratitude - Always thank the professor for his or her time and express any gratitude that you feel is appropriate for the specific help that he or she has provided. This rapport will leave the door open for future appointments.
Additional Tips for working with Professors
Develop the mind set that you are here to learn and that professors are not adversaries, they're here to help.
Make sure the professor knows you and that you are interested in your education.
Don't be shy.
Arrive early in class and sit in the front seats. Professors will notice your desire to learn.
Have a friendly relationship with the professor. Talk with professors regularly.
Make an appointment with your professor if something is not clear.
Try to understand the professor's expectations for students.
Don't criticize the professor or complain. Be open to new ideas presented.
Maintain a positive attitude toward the subjects being studied.
Participate in class. Ask questions. Professors want students to succeed and are willing to help.
Don't be afraid to interrupt and ask questions if a concept is not understood.