Different, but the Same

A classic guideline for this concern actually bases the out-of-class study hours on the number of credit hours the course is listed as.

   Ho = 4 * Hi

Essentially, for each hour that you spend inside the classroom, you are expected to be spending four (4) more hours outside of class in preparation for your time inside the class — each week.

Stop laughing! I'm serious!


What this implies for your overall semester plan is that you should look at your classroom hours not as complete, but as a fifth (1/5; 20%) of your school time for the semester:

Semester HoursStudy TimeTotal School Time

Note that this is a significant chunk of time!

Specific Exceptions

You should always ask your instructors about how this guideline fits with their specific course/discipline, of course. You may find that some types of courses work fine with a mere tripling of their hours for study. Others may require quintupling!

Another area of dispute can be lab hours — are they equal to lecture hours? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the type of lab structure and the discipline and sometimes the individual instructor.

What About This Course?!

Here's a little table of guidelines for courses I've taught/hope to teach:

CourseTime Multiplier
CSC 121, 122, 211, 214, 216, 217 Varies:

at the beginning of the semester you are often doing more reading and less programming; you might need to only do a couple of outside hours for each inside hour to keep up (2*)

by the middle of the semester, you'll be programming more on top of the reading you are still doing; this might require the typical quadrupling of hours (4*)

by the end of the semester, however, the programs will be longer and more complex — in addition to the usual readings; so here we make up for the light beginnings with a quintupled hour count (5*)
MTH 060, 080, 103, 140, 220 with readings and standard homework, these classes typically use the standard quadrupling guideline (4*)

if you need to add more work (for extra credit or just to keep up), consider these classes quintupled hours (5*)

He's Joking, Right?


He's not joking. Preparing for class is extremely important!


If you don't prepare for class BEFORE class, you are only getting half (or even a third) of what you could out of the lecture experience! Do you really want to cheat yourself like that? For the price of a couple of hours of reading — even reading a textbook! — you can get so much more out of the lecture time than you are getting right now!

Your brain is an amazing tool. It takes in information and processes all of it in the background — subconsciously, as it were. If you even just skim over the section/chapter you are going to cover the next class period, terms and ideas will creep into your mind and when they are discussed in the classroom, they won't seem as foreign. You may understand parts of it just from the reading! You will almost certainly be better prepared to ask coherent, cogent questions. So rather than simply saying, "I don't get it." You can say, "I understand why we need to subtract 2x from both sides, but why do we factor out the -1?" (And most teachers agree that specific questions are much easier to answer than completely general ones.)


Well, we call it homework for a reason, you know: it is supposed to be done at home (or at least outside of class). Just listening to a subject for an hour each day is not really enough. You need to have extra experiences with a topic for your brain to more thoroughly absorb it. Homework often provides increasingly more complex exercises with a principle, procedure, etc. to give you a firmer grounding and more of a thorough comprehension.

Instructors are not really here to force things into your head — no matter how you've thought of the teacher-student relationship before. Teachers teach — that is, they present knowledge and ways to adapt that knowledge to use in various situations. You, the student, are a learner. Learning is the process of taking presented knowledge and absorbing it or even adapting it to your own needs. To learn is to come to an understanding of a subject — not to regurgitate memorized bits of prose or formulae. Your final goal is to achieve a comprehension of a topic such that you can apply it to your eventual life and/or career.

The teacher is there to facilitate this; to catalyze it. The teacher is a guide in the jungle — not movie of the safari. The teacher can help you avoid a pitfall — but is neither the layer of traps nor your bridge over troubled waters. Essentially, a teacher is someone who has made your journey once before and can tell you what's ahead and what routes might be better or worse than others. The teacher, of course, is not actually you and does not pretend to understand all that it is to be you. But many see the acquisition of knowledge as a journey through a potentially perilous land. Each new theorem or poem is a tree or bush within the land. Your textbook is a reasonable atlas — but it is typically printed in the native tongue. Luckily the teacher speaks both languages and is there to guide you and help translate the parts of the text you haven't yet learned to translate for yourself — for that is a part of the journey/knowledge as well.

For the quippy, here's a paraphrase of a popular adage:

You can lead a student to knowledge, but you can't make him think.

Lab Classes

Lab classes can be tricky because they require prep-work before the actual lab as well as write-up afterwards. Often the prep-work is the same or minor compared to that for the lecture part of the class. But the write-up may be two or three times as difficult, tedious, and/or cumbersome as the lab. Programming labs particularly have a bad reputation because the lab time is most often essentially simply homework time with a teacher present to answer questions that may arise. (But Murphy (et.al.) have conspired to ensure that all questions come to you not during those few hours with the teacher, but at 4:00 [a.m.] Saturday morning. *sigh* *shrug*)

Of course, for a programming lab, maybe you should take your teacher's advice and experiment with the topics/tools simply and individually before you try to put them together into a working program of merit. (*shrug* Nah...what does that guide know that's been living here for the last twenty+ years...I've not quite been alive that long, but even I can see that I should...Whoa! What's that dragon doing over there? Um...let me just backtrack a bit...Hey! I didn't see that Gorgon on my last trip by there! Er...um...Hey, guide! Yoo-hoo!)