Monday, May 18, 2009

FSP 101: Final Exam Spring 2009

Whether your academic year has ended or has almost ended, it might be a good time to ponder some of the challenges that tend to occur at the close of the academic year. Perhaps this is not the sunniest of topics, and there are certainly many things to celebrate and be pleased about at this time of the year. Many of us, however, are tired right about now, and perhaps some exhausted professors will find it mood-lifting to have a group wallow in the classic end-of-year annoyances before setting all that aside for a few months.

I was going to write these out as statements, but for reasons I can't explain, I feel a strange compulsion to write this as a test.

FSP 101: Spring 2009 Final Exam

Please answer the following questions completely, concisely, and correctly. Use only the space provided. Do not continue your answers in the margins in increasingly illegible script in the hopes that I will assume it is correct. For multiple choice questions, most questions have only one correct answer but some have no correct answer and some have more than one answer, only one of which may be listed.

1. What do you say when a student says: I thought the final exam was today but I guess it was yesterday.

a. Just let me know when it's convenient for you to take the final and I'll set aside a couple of hours for that.

b. Do you want to take the same exam as the rest of the class or shall I spend another 4 hours making up a special exam just for you?

c. You must feel so terrible about that, especially since getting a zero on the final is going to take a serious bite out of your already low grade.

d. Thanks for remembering eventually! Have a great summer!

e. (deep sigh.. long pause) I don't have much time, but if you can come to my office at [specify time], you can take the exam.

2. What do you say when a student asks: How close was I to a.. ? [fill in the blank with the next grade increment, letter or number].

a. Not close enough.

3. What do you do when the only thing standing between a failing student's graduating and not graduating now is your non-majors, distribution requirement introductory science class?:

a. You fail them. It's too bad that they failed the course, but they earned that F. You can't have special standards for seniors and you aren't willing to give a passing grade to every failing student just because some of the ones who failed want to graduate now.

b. You pass them. If they did (some/most of) the work and for whatever reason just can't (or won't) do science, they shouldn't have their graduation put on hold. Give them a passing grade and let them get on with their life.

4. What do you when your department chair says?: (i) I know the academic year is over but I think we should have one more faculty meeting, or (ii) I know the academic year is over and I shouldn't ask you do any service work over the summer but..

(a) No

(b) No thanks

(c) Have fun and let me know how it turns out!

5. Essay question: Can grading cause brain damage?

I don't have an answer, but I will write a bunch of things that might be related to this topic and hope that my readers will sort through it and give me partial credit for anything that looks like I might know something about the topic.

Mostly, though, I have questions about this question. Has anyone done a study of people's motor skills and judgment before and immediately after doing a lot of grading? I am guessing there haven't been or else there would have been laws passed to prohibit operation of a motorized vehicle after grading. There would be regulations about how much time would have to elapse after grading certain quantities and types of assignments before you could safely drive a vehicle. This might be difficult to enforce, but there are probably biochemical or biophysical measurements that could be made that would indicate that excessive grading had occurred recently.

I don't even want to think about what would happen to someone who did a lot of grading and then went directly to a faculty meeting and then got some panicked emails from failing students.


Alex said...

Answers from the untenured:

1) Whatever will result in the least hassle so I can get back to my research.
2) See 1
3) See 1
4) See 1
5) Maybe, so take a research break between the day of the exam and the day grades are due. Don't due any grading until 24 hours before they are due. Between the end of the exam and the start of grading, just do research.

Anonymous said...

Oh gawd, a test from FSP. How many points do I need to pass? Are you giving extra credit? Is there a study guide? Do you curve?

1. c [I'm currently dealing with this one....the stoo ain't happy about getting a gooseegg.]

2. a [got plenty of those emails!]

3. a [yeppers, more pissed off repeating peeps]

4. c [will send a postcard]

5. If I start doing keg stands, playing doom, streaking across campus, then yes, I've been brain damaged from grading. So far, I think I'm in the clear. I think.

Are you gonna post our grades? when?

Klaas Wynne said...

Err, Ms. FSP, can I have an exemption?

To alleviate the brain-damaging effects of grading, try putting in questions such as: where is the Great Red Spot?

(a) The Sun
(b) Mars
(c) Jupiter
(d) your nose

and count the number of times students answer d.

Kris said...

In response to (5) a colleague of mine has 'group grading sessions' whereby they can read out insane answers to each other and either commiserate or just laugh. Plus you are all locked in a room until it is done.

human said...

Haha! I love your essay question. This is great.

Anonymous said...

I concur on the group grading sessions. My dad used to hire us kids as graders (non-essay questions on exams, lab write-ups); I have fond memories of grading with my sisters. Most of the time was spent laughing at how stupid people were...which is pretty scary, because I started grading at age 10, and my father taught college!

Ms.PhD said...

This post left me wondering: where are your TAs? I'm pretty sure I never had a professor actually grade my exams. unlikelygrad's comment would also explain a few mistakes I caught when we were given the opportunity to contest some things...

Personally, I would be inclined to be a hard-ass on all of them, so it would be something like:

1. c
2. a
3. a (but I sure hope you knew they were failing before the final and gave them fair warning? otherwise, b and they have to admit in writing that it's their own fault the didn't get a better grade)
4. b
5. yes- and I would be curious to know if it contributes to higher rates of certain age-related disorders among tenured faculty who teach a lot.

Anonymous said...


3. What do you do when the only thing standing between a failing student's graduating and not graduating now is your non-majors, distribution requirement introductory science class?:

a. You fail them. It's too bad that they failed the course, but they earned that F. You can't have special standards for seniors and you aren't willing to give a passing grade to every failing student just because some of the ones who failed want to graduate now.

b. You pass them. If they did (some/most of) the work and for whatever reason just can't (or won't) do science, they shouldn't have their graduation put on hold. Give them a passing grade and let them get on with their life.

My response is--c. First, make sure its true. The most common answer in my Department is that this senior is telling 2-4 faculty members that the F in their class is the only thing preventing them from graduating.

Mark P

Kate said...

Ok, that was hilarious. And sad. Sad-arious? Because I cannot get over the audaciousness of the students asking for extra work, extra credit, a simple increase in their grade, etc, rather than just take responsibility for their grade. Even when there are extenuating circumstances that help explain a poor grade, because documentation of or description of said circumstances can help in any situations where a higher GPA is needed (to stay in a major, when applying to grad school, etc).

Unknown said...

1)c (but I'm human so I'd probably go with e, with an automatic 10% deduction.)


3)a (Intro science classes are required for a reason, even if it's not related to their major.)

Or, if they were fairly close to passing, maybe you could work out some kind of extra-credit project with them.


5)Try to rely on multiple-choice questions as much as possible to reduce grading. Alternatively, have some TAs grade for you. I had a teacher who had an army of slave TAs and all tests were graded within one day.

James said...

What about answers from the Tenured Professor? (vs. the Untenured Assist. Professor)

Anonymous said...

a colleague of mine just showed me an e-mail from one of those failing seniors.. except the idiot failed a required class in his major. and never went to a TA session/contacted the prof during the semester.

there is actually pressure to pass this punk to keep our average length to degree down (a big focus in our particular college).. talk about grade inflation!

Anonymous said...

You never said department chairs were going to be on the test. How was I supposed to know to study that?

engineering undergrad girl said...

Haha I'm a TA for an intro. level class, and the professor makes us do ALL the grading. And also deal with student emails when they are unhappy about their grades. It's a bit weird being responsible for the grades of people I know/talk to/am friends with...

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Answers from the visiting ass. who is moving on to another job:

1. Good luck next year! (And if I'm directly post-grading: Try to get Prof. X-- he is a much easier grader!)

2. You got an X%. Please see the syllabus, which is posted on the class website and was given to you on the first day of class.

3. Sorry, FAIL. Here are some resources to make you feel better: ((link to fall registration)) and

4. Hahahaahaha! *wipe tear* Oh, you are serious? My contract ends May 20th. I'll see what I can do between now and then, k?

5. Yes, and I hope to the chem gods that it is not permanent because I'd like to do this professor thing for awhile.

prof j said...

When students in my general science courses complain about a grade, or needing to pass the course for some reason, I ask them to write a paper on some course related topic and give me an oral report on the paper. They always leave my office thanking me for the opportunity and agreeing to do the extra work. Only one student has ever followed up and they learned enough from the project that I was happy to raise their grade.

Aniko said...

With respect to Q1, what would you do if the best student in the class who sailed through all tests (ie. me) showed up a day late for the exam and faced a B instead of the well deserved A+? Somehow I always find it easier to believe excuses from students who have no apparent reason to fear an exam. That's why the answer would be "e".

Miles said...

I am the student who (in my current major) gets mostly C's, am psyched to get a B, NEVER ask the TA's (who do the grading) for a regrade, and accept my C with silence. I have also failed a few classes when I couldn't get my act together. I was ashamed, and retook the class. I certainly didn't go to the professor and beg for a better grade. I hope professors continue to fail these students who BEG for a better grade because for every whiney F-grade student there is a quiet F-grade student who worked hard, did the homework, and just didn't work hard enough to know the material well enough for an exam. Be fair and treat everyone equally, do not reward the squeaky wheel!

Kristin said...

Miles, thank you for posting that! I'm going to copy what you said and look at it any time I start to feel guilty when a student whines about not being able to graduate because he failed my class (as happened this semester). Your statement will help me stick to my guns, so to speak.

Alex R said...

Regarding question 1, here's a true story from many years ago, when I was an undergraduate:

One semester, I had an excellent final exam schedule, with my finals neatly spaced out on separate days. One class had no final exam, but instead a final paper, which somehow (fortunately) seemed to be due on the one day I had no final -- perfect! Putting things off, as usual, I phoned the professor's office in the afternoon on the day before the paper was due to ask him some questions about my paper, which was at that point maybe a quarter finished.

The professor kindly responded to my queries, and then said "You don't really have very much time left to finish this paper -- it's getting pretty close to 5 o'clock."

"But the paper isn't due until tomorrow," I said.

"Umm, I seem to recall that it is due today at 5 pm."

"No, I'm quite sure you said that it was due tomorrow. It will be in on time."

And with that, the conversation ended, with us both a little confused, and I returned to my labors, finishing it off by the wee hours the following morning.

Well, the next day, I dropped it off at his office, but later on (I recall) I dug through my notes to find out what I had written when the paper was assigned, and, much to my chagrin, found that he had indeed assigned a due date that was one day earlier than the date I had, in my mind, thought was the due date. Somehow, the nice space in my finals schedule was such a perfect due date for my paper that I mentally slotted it into that space. And more amusingly, my calm certainty on this point apparently induced sufficient doubt in the mind of my professor that he allowed me to turn it in the following day without penalty...

I don't know what the moral to this story is, but it is a funny one, and I imagine that today, if the roles were reversed, I might very well assent as he did.

Anonymous said...

At my university the only thing that our lecturers/professors can see on an exam paper is the paper code and student number so they don't really know who did what paper and to be honest unless they knew for certain that it is their own tutee they care less for our grades...and it had worked out pretty well for us as there was absolutely no way we could contest. If we didn't revise, tough. Though the exponential decay of student numbers as the years progressed as a result is quite eye-catching.

EliRabett said...

1e It happened to me a long time ago and I have never forgotten or been less than very grateful

Doctor Pion said...

Ignoring your instructions (thus earning an Epic Fail):

1. (f) Sorry, but I submitted the final grades this morning.

3. (c) See question 2.