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School feels like a weed-out game sometimes

  1. Aug 25, 2014 #1
    Don't get me wrong I love school and I love learning.

    Going to college has changed me into a better person, however sometimes I just don't like the format.

    One of my personal pet peeves is when there are only 2 exams in the course. The mid-term and the final. I don't like this set up because if you don't do good on the midterm your basically screwed.

    In my undergrad electromagnetism the professor used Griffits 3rd ed and seriously did the entire book in one 16 week semester. My midterm was over 500 pages of material and there was only 4 problems on the exam [no multiple parts].

    It's stuff like this that just makes me feel like the exams are literally just a filtration system. It just really upsets me because sometimes I think professors try and weed out the wrong people. I'm a physics major, this is what I love, please don't try and weed me out of my own program.

    I personally like classes where you get to drop the lowest exam and there is like 3 or 4 exams. I think that only having 2 exams is just unreasonable. Stuff happens and people make mistakes.

    I also dislike it when I get TA's that mark off points for stuff that's not even wrong. Like nobody really cares about your grade other than you and you seriously have to fight for every point sometimes.

    Does anyone else feel the same way?
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2014 #2


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    I was pretty sympathetic until I read that last sentence. Much of being a successful physicist is putting in effort. Perhaps it is a filtration system, but not everyone is cut out to be a physicist, and the people who don't put in any effort are precisely those who should be filtered out.

    I know as someone who now marks student work, I'm far more sympathetic towards students who may not have the same raw talent as their classmates but give everything their best effort than those students who clearly have talent but hand in rubbish. I want to tell those students to have some respect for their lecturers, and for themselves.

    Of course TA's shouldn't take off marks for stuff that's not wrong, but perhaps their definition of "wrong" is different to yours? One example I can think of is when students lose marks for forgetting things like labelling graph axes or units. Sure, the graph might be correct or the number might be ok, but it's meaningless without units. Also, TA's make mistakes! Sometimes they might have 1 hour to mark 20 assignments. They might miss something.

    Most of my physics courses in undergrad were based on weekly assignments, labs, and one final exam, split up, say 50%,20%,30%. I think in physics, it's unfair to have it only based on exams (biased, I sucked at exams) but they're a necessary validator if you allow students to collaborate on assignments, as my university did.
  4. Aug 25, 2014 #3


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    If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    You're right, college and other goal-oriented or achievement-oriented programs do serve to weed out people: the ones who can't keep up, the ones who can't master the material, the ones who have a poor attitude about approaching their school work.

    How would you feel if medical schools didn't weed out the careless students or the ones who thought they were entitled to a medical doctorate just for showing up? That selection process would be pretty important to you if you needed to see a doctor.

    Just because you like physics or are a physics major doesn't entitle you to a degree. You've got to go to class, do the assignments, take the exams, do whatever the school decides you must accomplish in order for you to be awarded the degree.

    If you don't like how the physics program at college A is structured, fine. There is more than one college or university which has a physics program. You're paying good money (or someone is) to get an education. If you don't like the faculty or the setup of the physics program, change schools. That's a lot easier than trying to change the setup of the physics program and the faculty of the school you're in.
  5. Aug 25, 2014 #4
    Had to comment here.

    The poor grade was also because I just felt that is was unreasonable and I had little sleep (3 hours) not good. Out of the 4 problems 1 of them was a true and false question and when I answered it I just couldn't help but laugh because I felt that anyone could have gotten a T/F question wrong and then it automatically puts them at a 75%. I just felt like the exam was so hard that it was a joke and I felt like I was going to fail no matter what so why try. Almost as if there is no way to not fail it. I just felt defeated. Also the quality of my work in general is very good. In the homeworks I was putting almost 20 hours a week into them. No joke.

    It just felt like he was going to fail everyone on purpose and it felt dumb and I was like, okay here is my failing grade and its exactly what you think its going to be because you know that you created this exam on purpose so that people would fail it. Almost as if I was giving him exactly what he wanted (which was not a good idea).

    Also in my quantum class I nearly made a perfect score in the class. A very high A +. And her exams where very hard. It really was all about my attitude because I did excellent in that class. So this one incident doesn't really reflect my other work.

    There have been tons of other classes which I've put everything I have into them. I'm not a slacker, but I was naive in this situation :)
  6. Aug 25, 2014 #5

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    It's hard to have a discussion when one party edits their posts after they have been responded to.

    From your description, it seems like when you put effort in you do well, and when you didn't you didn't. Isn't this how things are supposed to work? (I don't understand how you decided in advance that a test would be "unreasonable")

    If this bothers you, you should seriously consider if grad school is for you. It is very common that there is only one test in a class. Additionally, there are two (rarely three) tests that cover multiple years - the qualifying exam and the thesis defense.

    Finally, as someone who works with complex equipment in radiation areas, I have to take several tests yearly to maintain my ability to do so. Some are T/F or multiple choice and require 100% correct to pass. Of those that don't, many have questions where you automatically fail if you get them wrong.
  7. Aug 25, 2014 #6


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    When I did my degree I did really well with high marks in all subjects - and they basically did it the mid-term and final way.

    Then some bright spark decided it should be based on assignments more. Many of my subjects had assignments, but not all, and it was rolled out across all subjects. A definite step ahead IMHO.

    But then students basic nature came to the fore - they basically copied others assignments and tweaked it a bit so it wasn't obvious plagiarism. It didn't serve the intended purpose.

    So what do they do now? To fix that 'cheating' problem they now grade the exams differently. You get a pass if you know the work - as you should. You get a credit if, under exam conditions, you can extend it a bit. You get an honour if you can extend it a good bit, and a high honour if you can extend it a lot.

    That immediately stops this cheating business in seeing if students can actually apply it rather than simply regurgitate it, but personally I am not happy with being creative under exam conditions - that's really what the assignments are for. But considering what students got up to I fully understand it.

    Personally I believe I wouldn't have done nearly as well under the new scheme because I tend to stress out during exams. I don't think its really the best way - but its what is these days pretty standard here in Australia.

  8. Aug 25, 2014 #7


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    I cannot see how the number of examinations would have an impact on whether or not something is a weed-out course. Different students get along differently with different grading styles: Grades based on one examination, grades based on multiple examinations, grades based on regular assignments---for every such grading style there will be some students who cannot deal with it well and other students for whom this is the optimal choice. But what does this have to do with weeding out? All of those grading styles reflect different kinds of work performance you have to show in the real world(tm) in different occasions. All of them are relevant.

    And the one/two examination style actually *helps* a number of students. For example, students with various kinds of mild to moderate psychological problems (say, ADHD, or proneness to depression or similar things). Such students may not be able to show a top performance during the entire semester, and they might regularly encounter phases of reduced efficiency about which they cannot do much. If there are a high number of examns, this practically guarantees that at least one of them will fall on such a phase and artificially reduce their grades, although this effect has only minor impact on a large number of real world situations.
  9. Aug 25, 2014 #8
    Okay guys I'm going to try and clear this up accurately.

    It was a hard semester and I ended up doing bad on this one exam. In my entire physics degree this is the only time this happened. In fact some of my later exams in other course were even better than normal since I was studying extra hard to avoid failing.

    It just so happens to be that this guy is an extra hard professor. These were the exact words that another professor who works in the same department told me. They said that its many times harder than a normal course.

    So even though this was only a undergrad course the reality is that it was taught more like a grad course. In addition to the two exams there was homework, however he would give 2 home works (total of 10 problems) and it was then due in 2 weeks. So he made it extra hard by not having it due every week. It's really a time management game because as I stated it took about 20 hours for each homework assignment. So if you waited to start both assignments on the second week then you would have a much harder time finishing it because it would take too long.

    When I took the exam I wasn't in the best shape. I didn't have much sleep and therefore I didn't do that well. The exam felt like a bad joke. (That's what I was trying to say earlier)

    I ended up making a 50 on the exam and the class average was 60. I was scared for my life in this course, but buckled down and spent the next 8 weeks studying like a mad man and gave the final exam everything I had.

    This is the only class in my physics degree where I got a C. All my other physics classes are A's and B's.

    This course was probably one of the hardest courses I've even taken and I remember my entire body shaking while taking the final.

    I was thrown off guard because it was such a hard exam with so few problems and I had never experienced that before. I was seriously pushed beyond my means, but I did it and was strong enough to pull through.

    I was a little upset though because my friend who took the same course with another professor (who was easier) that professor gave the class a take home mid-term and that exam was an easy grade.

    I don't mind hard classes and working hard and busting my butt, but my Electro course was beyond hard and to me it seriously felt like a weed out game.

    I hope that this clears it up for everyone and thanks for reading.
  10. Aug 25, 2014 #9
    The swine! How could he be so cruel :) Sorry for the irony, Fellowroot, but i couldn't resist. This isn't a real problem! Your other complaints make more sense.

    Not really a great excuse. You should still be able to perform well after missing a few hours sleep.

    This shows your course was unlikely to be a weed out course - what use is weeding the front lawn if you don't bother weeding the back. Just looks like your Professor wanting to keep up his credentials as a tough guy. It was tough in the old days, maybe the old guy took a "It was this tough for me, so I'm making it this tough for them" attitude.
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