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Test too long?

  1. Oct 7, 2007 #1
    Hi all,

    I just wanted to get some peoples' opinion on a situation that recently occurred in one of my classes.

    This past Friday, in my Fluid and Thermal Engineering class, we had our second test of the semester. Our teacher was not there because he was out of town so a TA administered the test instead. I had prepared well for the test and felt as though I could make a good grade. As I worked through the test, the problems I encountered were not too difficult and continued to steadily answer the questions. However, things took a turn for the worse when the TA announced that there were 10 minutes remaining (it is a 50 min lecture period). A collective "Whaa..?" went through the class as well as myself since I was not even close to finishing. I quickly proceeded to answer as many of the remaining questions as possible but still had two out of ten unanswered when the TA called time. I quickly looked over the 2 problems and knew how to go about solving them, but ran out of time. Since each question was 10 points, it means the highest score I could make is ~80, assuming no arithmetic errors on the problems I did complete. At the end of the period, I would say over 75% of the class was still working but a handful of the students had left. I am not sure if that was because they smart and knew the material or if they were slackers and did not know the material.

    In any event, it seems to me that I was somewhat cheated out of making a good grade. This test was longer than our first test of the semester and we had 5 less minutes to work on it, even though the last test top pretty much the whole period to complete. I just feel as though my grade on the test, if not changed, will not be an accurate reflection of my knowledge on the subject. Instead, it is more about how fast I can look up values on a steam table and punch numbers into my calculator, which I am certain was not the purpose of the test. Like I said earlier, I knew the material but, as a general rule, do not like to rush through tests as it usually increases my likelihood of making careless errors.

    I was wondering if it would be a good idea to email my professor about it. I am not going to send a whiny email or anything like that but just one that informs him on my thoughts about the test, since he was not there to view it firsthand. Hopefully, he may take it into consideration when he grades them. Anyway, does this seem like a good idea or not?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2007 #2


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    preparation too short?
  4. Oct 7, 2007 #3
    Hardly. I made a 96 on the last test so I kinda know what I am doing.
  5. Oct 7, 2007 #4
    It is actually fairly common practice (even though it shouldn't be) for engineering exams to require much more time than the allotted exam period. (This is particularly true of 50-minute/1-hour long exams, which is why it has become standard practice in engineering to administer longer exams in the evening) A few years back I was a TA for a engineering electromagnetics course (a fairly standard second- to third-year undergraduate electrical engineering course) and the first exam was administered in class (~50 minutes). I had glanced at the exam a few days before it was administered and thought it was reasonable for the amount of time, but in between the time when I previewed the exam and when the exam as actually administered, the professor made one of the questions substantially more difficult and added two more questions. The exam was scored out of 100 points, and out of roughly 60 students, there was only 1 student who scored 90 points or more, only 2 students who scored between 80 and 90 points, and the rest of the class was distributed normally with a mean of roughly 50 points and a standard deviation of 10 points. After the fact, the other TA and I thought about the exam that was actually administered and realized that it was very likely that neither of us would have been able to finish the exam in the allotted time. As a result, the scoring of the exam was rescaled to be out of 80 points (obviously the 3 freaks who scored 80 points or more were going to get A's), and the second exam was given as a 3-hour-long evening exam so that it would be less of an assessment of test-taking speed and more of an assessment of the students' grasp of the material.

    This isn't an isolated case either--I remember reading in the MIT recruiting brochure than the mean score on freshman physics exams is roughly 10 points out of 100, with a standard deviation of roughly 3 points. This does not impugn the academic caliber of the students--it just means that the exam is 5 to 10 times longer than it should be.
  6. Oct 7, 2007 #5


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    I am a prof myself and I have been guilty of giving tests that were too long, unwittingly. It's really hard to prepare a 50 minutes test that is not too easy, not too hard, that covers the material and that is doable even by slower students in the time allowed. It's really hard even for an experienced teacher.

    It might be a good idea to mention it to the prof as long as it is worded very politely and respectfully. Students have made comments to me in the past. some have been tactful but others have been a bit rude. I am very professional and kept my cool with the ude comemnts but I can imagine that all profs are not like me and could react quite negatively.

    To the tactful students I have always replied "Well, I will see when I grade the tests. If it really affected everybody I will take it into account". And I have done that a few times. Either fitting on a curve or changing a question into a bonus problem, etc. I know what are reasonable averages in my classes and I always make sure I have a reasonable average for all my tests.

    But it's hard to gice you a godo answer without knowing the personality of your prof. If he is professional and you are courteous and respectful, I don't see anything wrong in bringing this to his attention.
  7. Oct 7, 2007 #6


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    if you didnt read over the test before deciding which questions to do first, you omittted a basic step in test strategy. just going through the problems in order is rookie behavior.

    let me see if i grasp your highly original and cogent argument:

    1) i didnt finish.

    2) i know what i am doing.

    3) hence the test was too long.

    is that it?

    in a more serious vein, it is really hard to predict how long it will take a class to do a test. a rule i used for years was that i allowed 6 times as long as it took me myself to work out and write out the answers. i always took the test myself with the class as well and timed it.

    but there is no allowing for lack of rpeparation. so many people just do not learn things you asuem they will have at their fingertiops on a test. like people who do niot know the basic trig integrals and have to work out the integral of 1/(1+x^2) by subsitution on a test, instead of just saying it is arctan.

    or people who do not know how to factor a simple cubic polynomial like x^3 + x -2, having a root of x = 1.

    maybe you could look over the test and see if you could have been better prepared. or at least allow the possibility the situation was at least partly under your own control.

    but going in with an argument approximating the facetious one, i have given above (but which i drew from your posts), will not likely get you very far. i.e. it is very hard not to come across as a whiny grade grubber. in fact your entire post is about how this will affect your grade, and nothing whatever about the potential learning experience, so you do actually come cross that way to me.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  8. Oct 7, 2007 #7
    i dun know much about it and most of the time i debate this with friends, are grades really that important??? grades do categorize one as intelligent, dumb(whatever), but they do not tell you your true capabilities. let me give you an example, last to last week, i had my fluid mechanics mid semester test and there was one really long question(test was 1hr 30min, n two questions only, big ones). few of my classmates, as usual, crammed up those questions in their mind(i just dont understand this, they try to put the whole book in their mind instead of understanding a simple concept). as obvious, they completed the questions and i was about 75% complete(starting from scratch,ofcourse), but i do know if a tricky question comes, i can do it. so no worries with me.
    anyways, grades dont matter much to me, as long as i know that i m doing it nicely
  9. Oct 7, 2007 #8


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    wise advice. i was about to give some tips on how to prepare to take a test, how to complete it in the time alotted and so on, but your advice to just learn the concepts and not worry about the grade is so much better that i leave it at that.
  10. Oct 7, 2007 #9
    Exactly. That is why I did problems 1-3, skipped problems 4-6 after looking over them briefly, did problems 7-10, then came back and did problem 4. Problems 5 and 6 were the ones I did not complete.

    2.5) Numerous other people in the class I talked to felt the same way.

    Of course there is no way to offer my professor substantial proof that the test was too long. I would be a fool to think my mentioning of the incident would miraculously cause him to curve the grades or offer other grade compensation. That is why I was simply planning on respectfully giving him my opinion. He may choose to completely ignore it or may take it into consideration when he is grading the exams. It is ultimately his decision and I understand that.

    I am not going to say that there was no possible way in which I could have better prepared myself for the exam. I am not perfect and neither are my academic or test-taking capabilities. However, knowing myself, I fell as though I study more than most students and strive to learn the material to the best of my abilities. I honestly do not believe my preparation for the exam was lacking enough for an automatic deduction of 20 points as in this instance.

    I am in complete agreeance that knowledge is more important than any grade. Nevertheless, I will stop being appreciably concerned with my grades when graduate schools and potential employers no longer factor GPA into the application process.
  11. Oct 7, 2007 #10

    I have to disagree with most of your statements that you made in post #7. You may have forgotten what it's like to be a student. I feel that you come off as too abrasive in your post. Instead of looking at this situation from your (a professors) POV, try looking at it from a student's POV. It will be hard, but try.

    In this case, the OP knows the material (according to him). He has *already* grasped the concept. He just wanted a little more time PROVING to the instructor that he did indeed know the topic. Had he been unprepared, it would've been in a different situation.

    "in fact your entire post is about how this will affect your grade, and nothing whatever about the potential learning experience, so you do actually come cross that way to me." - mathwonk

    I don't think a test is a "learning experience" (as you claim, if I'm interpreting this correctly) - rather a chance to prove your knowledge of the material. All of the "learning experience" one acquires is through self-study, lectures, etc. An examination/test is to gauge how well you have learn*ED* the material. OP: I would bring this statement up because I think that it is important for your professor to realize that a test is to gauge your ability/inabilities on a certain subject/topic, given the current level you are in. A test has nothing to do with learning the material... perhaps ONLY afterwards when you get a question incorrect and go back to review it. But physically sitting there and taking a test will not teach you the material required, it is assumed you know it before taking the test.

    I don't the OP think can come off as whiny if he presents his case in a well-structured, respectful, and proper manner. Now obviously, it will depend on the professor, but there is a way to approach it. Most professors, if they are open-minded, will gladly take into account their student's opinions of the course/test/whatever. For those that do not, the professor will almost fail at teaching/leading the class effectively.

    I also feel that the OP is more than welcome to present his case because his GPA will factor in HEAVILY on whether or not he gets accepted to graduate school or finds his first job. mathwonk, I hope you still realize that finding a job is a long process and employers will look at your credentials meticulously. You may have gotten your job as a professor a while ago, but he's in his prime stage, just like you were back whenever. What he does NOW will affect his future, even if it's his first or second job. Obviously, one course grade isn't going to affect him as much as I make it sound like it will, but it factors in into his overall GPA.

    On the flipside, I do agree that it's hard for a professor to make a test that will last exactly 50 minutes, or 1 hour. It's hard to factor in how long students take while taking the test. OP: you should also remember that professor's are very knowledgeable in their subject area, so if you will, they have to "dumb" down their questions to the level they think you can answer it in the allotted time. It's not easy to make it exactly 50 minutes, it can go below (easier test) or go higher (harder/longer test) in time. In general, I've always thought that a student should be given enough time (within limits) to answer the question. Only then can he/she prove their mastery of the material.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  12. Oct 8, 2007 #11
    I have always wondered, what is the problem with give just alittle to much time? Then everybody is happy.
  13. Oct 8, 2007 #12


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    It's not fair to students who must leave at the end of the period (to go to another class or whatever) to allow other students to take more time, especially if the grades are going to be curved.
  14. Oct 8, 2007 #13


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    OP: calm down a bit, wait for the grades to be given out, and then see if you still think there's been an injustice.

    ie. wait for any possible rescaling ("curving") of marks.
  15. Oct 8, 2007 #14
    Thermo tends to be one of the weeding out classes in an engineering program. The material is fairly difficult (at least when compared to material that most students have dealt with at that point) both mathematically, conceptually. The labs tend to be graded much more harshly and in general, the students are being perpared for the more difficult challenges they are going to be faced with as they go through the program. I would imagine that most programs contain similar classes.

    One of the best ways to separate the students who are likely to make it through the program is to give longer tests that the average student won't be able to finish. The exceptional students will likely finish the test and score in the high 90's, the average students who are likely to make it through the program will score 70's, 80's, and low 90's; the students who might be better off in another program will never come close to finishing the test and will be lucky to get over 50%.

    When I took thermo, I don't remember a single student turning in the test more then 5 minutes before the end of class and most of us did end up leaving a question or 2 unfinished. BTW, we had a 2 hour midterm and a 3 hour final that semester.
  16. Oct 9, 2007 #15


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    well it may seem inapproopriate to you, but i was not concerned with being abrasive. i am concerned with telling him the truth and helping him.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2007
  17. Oct 12, 2007 #16
    i have to say thermo is the longest one. i wont say it is difficult but yes, surely it is long, it takes time, both while preparing and writing the test. the worst thing is the time consumed by seeing the tables(i hate it). i just got my result of power plant engineering(thermal engineering) and i scored 75%, i took one value wrong from the steam tables, so my poor results(test was only for 10 marks though)
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