# Testing The way of marking exams

1. Mar 24, 2006

### Physicist

Hello everybody

I would like to know about the way of marking exams in different universities world wide.

At my university, if a question had many parts, a,b and c for example, which depends on each other and a student made a mistake in part a with b and c correct, this means that he will loose the marks for part a, b and c except he will take few marks for writing the formulas in b and c. I think this is unfair!

Also, if a student wrote the correct formula and substitute everything correct except one of the quantities, does this mean that he will loose the whole mark of the question?

Please let me know how thing are going on at your universities, especially for introductory physics.

Thank you

2. Mar 24, 2006

### scorpa

It totally depends on how evil the prof is. In my experience so far usually if you screw up A but do B and C correctly even with the wrong number from A you will get full marks on B and C.

3. Mar 25, 2006

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
For the situation that scorpa gave, I agree. Usually full marks awarded for B and C.

However, sometimes the situation is more subtle. For example consider a 10 mark 2-part question, where A is relatively easy and out of 3, and B is relatively hard and out of 7. Sometimes, making a mistake in A can change the hard question B into an easy question. Suppose Alice gets A perfect, but flounders a bit on B and gets 4 out of 7. Ted screws up A, and, in the process, turns B into an easy question, which he gets perfect.

Is it fair to Alice, who made a valiant attempt at answering the hard question, to award Ted 7 out 7 for the easy question that he answered?

I have have seen this happen, i.e., hard questions turning intgo easy questions because of mistake made in previous parts.

This makes the marker's task very difficult. Shades of grey and all that.

Regards,
George

4. Mar 25, 2006

### mathwonk

forgive me for being blunt, but honestly this is a stupid discussion. marks do not mean anything. they are a trick to get us to learn the material.

giving low marks is not evil or mean, it is holding the bar higher.

The tougher your teacher is the luckier you are. that is why paris island is tough, so the marines will more liklely survive afterwards.

i apologize again for my bluntness but this is really true. take it to heart and you will greatly benefit. only weak students are afraid of getting low marks.

learn the material, and forget about the marks. they will take care of themselves.

Last edited: Mar 25, 2006
5. Mar 25, 2006

### leright

but if you don't get the marks, then you don't get to a good grad school, regardless of how well you truly learned the material.

6. Mar 25, 2006

### JasonRox

Yes, but the harder you are the more time students are wasting learning meaningless things that you want them to do. Like how it should be written and things that don't even apply to knowing material.

It also takes up all the time students would have to be creative and think about other things, and possibly explore other areas.

If all teachers were difficult and tough, I highly doubt mathematics would be where it is today or any subject for that matter.

7. Mar 26, 2006

### mathwonk

i knew there would be objections, nonetheless, focusing on marks as opposed to learning is the basic weak student's hangup.

just ask, "what did i do, wrong and how can i improve?" never ask "why didn't you give me more points?"

that question marks you as a whiner at best, a loser at worst.

if you want a good recommendation to grad school, it is better to be remembered as a curious motivated student, than a grade grubbing whiner.

8. Mar 26, 2006

### JasonRox

I do agree with that.

9. Mar 26, 2006

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
With which I largely.

However, I don't know how to get rid of marks, and if marks are going to be given, then they should be given in a fair and consistent manner in a course.This, however, doesn't mean throwing marks at students.

I couldn't agree more.

When a student says, "But, I want and A!" I sometimes respond by quoting Mick and Keith,

"You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need"

Regards,
George

10. Mar 27, 2006

### matt grime

I must disagree. A student who knows how to present the material in a coherent fashion usually understands it better. You learn by copying (see one do one teach one). You want to get good marks and understand the material properly? Copy out your lecture notes four times in ever more increasing neatness and you'll be amazed at what your brain remembers, and if you keep writing the same proofs out again and again you'll become a lot better at writing proofs yourself. The actual content of the vast majority of courses is not sufficiently intellectually challenging to to merit great thought. (This should be understood as not endorsing a teacher just giving lots of examples, for every conceivable permutation of starting points, and is talking about properly proving things and giving the general case; examples should be there for illustration, to show the student that it's not as hard as the abstract notation can make it seem, and not be the main teaching tool.)

Yeah, right, I think you have a rosier picture of students than us jaded folk on the other side of the fence; they aren't all like you.

That is so far off the mark it is unbelievable. Current undergraduate standards are shockingly low, and the grading curves, positive marking, and low expectations are not good for anyone. I personally cannot stand this idea that 70%=4.0=A=First=I or whatever your version of the top mark is. It's nonsense. A maths exam where anyone but the likes of John Conway can get more than 60% is a bad exam. They should be tough to pass, and people need to stop thinking of 40% as bad; it's just a number, not an absolute: it is not as though every other student in the world did exactly the same exam.

Traditionally mathematics, and many other subjects were far far harder, with unbelievably difficult exams and high expectations. If we go to a very classical case, Isaac Newton lectured in a manner that once meant all of the students stopped attending lectures, he carried on talking to an empty room and completed the lecture course. Now that's principled mathematics (pun intended).

I would even go to the other extreme, that the current trend to teach to the lowest common denominator and be evaluated by these people (evaulations thatI doubt the student realizes carry great weight) is harming universities, and post-degree prospects for the students.

Last edited: Mar 27, 2006
11. Mar 27, 2006

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
From what I understand, studies (at least in North America) have shown that there is a statistical correlation between student evaluations and marks. This is truely alarming, when what you say above is taken into account.

On the other hand, students should have a forum in which they can voice their opinions.

Regards,
George

12. Mar 27, 2006

### Nomy-the wanderer

Well the world is unfair, and so is the way of some professors marking the exams...Some are good enough to give you mroe than you deserve. And some are just nasty enough to pretend that you still don't get it, they just enjoy giving bad marks, and some are strict and fair.

Marks most of the time expresses nothing, because most of the exams today don't leave much space for the student to express himself, there's no difference between one who understands very well and the other thta memorize veyr well...But there's no doubt, that a paper of a person who knows what he's talaking about will speak for itself...But still not necessarily true...It's not fully my responsability, partly the marks are the professor's responsability.

You know the only exam i've ever left empty, was the law exam, and yet the professor instead of stamping a fail on my paper, he just gave me a D, and no one gets a higher grade than c in law. if we assume that C is an A for this professor, than i've got a B with an empty paper, just made a point or 2 from my general information, also i'm not that good with writing arabic, so i think he just pitied me.

And for example, i'm the best in machine design, says who, the professor and also says the exam paper, i've got C not that i did anythign wrong, just done some mistakes with my calculator, noting that all the numbers are logic, but the professor like exactiduness(it was a bad numbers day), and a proper paper with some decorations(a quality i don't have).

13. Mar 27, 2006

### Physicist

Thanks everyone

I wanted to clarify the reason I posted this topic..

I've just graduated from physics department and working now as a teacher at the same university. I'm asking now to be fair with my students. I'm not caring about MY marks.

We have a big problem with introductory physics students (science students) since last semester only 9% passed!! but then they make a curve so 25% passed!!!

The professors are saying that it's the students fault beacuse they are lazy, weak in mathematics...........etc. OK that's true but still 9% says that the problem is not from the students only. I'm trying to figure out where the pronblem is exactly. So I thought maybe the way of correcting is unfair.

The first problem is that at our university we don't have tutorials or assignments. The marks distribution is: 25% lab, 25% for 2 midterms, 50% final exam.In this semester some assistant teachers and me are giving extra tutorials.

Another thing could be the problem which is the time of the exam. Ofcourse if the student practice enough he will need less time. But some of the students I know that they really worked hard but couldn't finish the exam because of time. How should we estimate the time? I asked their professor she said that she solved the exam in 30 min so 1 h is enough for students. I feel that this not fair. Maybe we should multiply the time the professor need by 3.

I'm really disappointed because of what happening. I don't want the students to get disappointed and give up but also I don't want them to pass unless they reach the standard level. So I want to have different experience, please let me know what is happening in your universities.

If you have any ideas that could help the students please let me know. I will try to translate one of their exams and show to you to see is it normal compared to world wide universities.

14. Mar 27, 2006

### scorpa

If a course is hard then yes the exams are going to be hard, that's fine...deal with it. What I don't agree with is when you have many sections of a course with each section being taught by a different prof. One prof gives out easy exams and everyone does well....easy A. The next guy deliberately sets out to make the averages for his tests low....and I mean very low. Now the person with the hard prof may not have come out with as good of a mark but learned more material and learned it better than the person with the easy prof who came out with a good mark. The person with the easy mark will get into the program they want before the person with the lower mark will. That is what I don't agree with.

What you said about running tutorials I think is a really good idea. I had a prof who ran them and they helped immensely. He would always spend half of the time working the harder problems in the textbook and we could stop and ask questions at any time. The rest of the time we could ask whatever we wanted and he wouldn't leave until the last question was answered. You said that there are no assignments, maybe you could post a list of recommended problems from the textbook that the students can work through on their own. The dedicated ones will do them and learn the material, the ones who decide not to do them because they are not mandatory will fail as they should.

15. Mar 27, 2006

### JasonRox

Hard courses/classes/profs do not correlate with learning more.

I'm in a course right now that I might even FAIL. Everyone in the course (6 others, so I know everyone) says the course is difficult and that no one knows what is going on. The others shouldn't have a problem passing. The odd part is that they say the professor is hard, but that's not true at all. The professor doesn't teach. That's the real problem in our class. He flat out does not teach. Sadly enough, the other students are scoring higher than I, but I probably understand it the most out of all of them. I'm being serious here. This was evident when discussing anything about the course.

If I fail the course, I will not retake it since I do not need to. My undergraduate project will be related to the material of the course. In fact, you need to know everything about the course as I will go much further in the study. I can guarantee that profs will be asking me how did I fail the course when I'm doing something beyond that, and my answer...

"I didn't fail. The professor did."

16. Mar 27, 2006

### leon1127

i came from a place where if you miss part A but you did everything else correctly except all answer was based on part A, you still dont get credit AT ALL. That was for maths and science.
For language, if you misspell a word wrong, 1 mark deduction per mistake even it might be an one mart question. (consider if you need to write 600 word article within 30 mins, I wonder how many people in US can write a good article under those conditions without error.)
For manner, if you sit in your seat improperly, you earn a detention. (my personal experience- i was sitting with my leg cross, i got one.)
Back in my day, the highest grade in maths among entire 7th grade was 87

I always tell my little sister these,
"Learn how to appreciate what you have."
"Compare with what is harder"

Last edited: Mar 27, 2006
17. Mar 27, 2006

### JasonRox

Well, that's if you have a nice teacher.

If you misspell a common word, you get zero and it ends there.

If you get common grammar errors, it was 20% each.

Sure I appreciate what I got, but I don't appreciate the price I paid for it. If I pay quality dollars, I want quality education and there is no excuse for ripping me off. I'm not asking for easy and I never have. A professor that I seem to share things understands what I mean. I rather get a zero and learn 10 times more than get 90% and pretend I know something. The professor I got in the course I mentionned earlier is going to get me a bad mark and no knowledge, so technically I get nothing. I'm getting ripped. If you aren't going to teach, atleast give me the grades.

18. Mar 27, 2006

### mathwonk

All my students have passed courses in the prerequisites to my course, but almost none of them have understood or remembered any of the prerequisite material.

I would infinitely rather have students who understand the previous material but received D's in it, rather than students who received A's and B's but do not have any idea of any of it.

I myself got a D- in first year honors calc, but decided I wanted to take 2nd year modern abstract advanced honors (several variable) calc anyway (a la Dieudonne), so I went to the teacher and asked what I should know before trying it.

From his response I obtained a classical advanced calculus book by David Widder, prepared myself, took the later course and received a B+ and A- in the 2 semesters of it, then took graduate analysis as a senior, got an A, then got a recommendation to grad school, and obtained an NDEA graduate fellowship.

Grades are only used to frighten weak students. If you are not afraid of what you will get, you will be fine.

To be more blunt, a good student is obvious to all, grades or not. If ytou are worried you will not make a good impression because your grades are low, you are probably a weak student, or very naive. If you are strong, you do not need grades to prove it, you prove it by your presence, by your conversation. Anyone can tell in a few minutes of conversation with you.

if a student comes in telling me what grade he got in calculus, i just ask him to state the fundamental theorem, of calculus, or prove it. they usually say something like "Well it's been a long time, I don't remember." I am not impressed by such responses, whether they heve A's or not.

A good student can state the main theorems, explain why they are true, prove them, and use them in examples. Weak students cannot do any of these. Grades have nothing to do with my assessment of them.

Last edited: Mar 27, 2006
19. Mar 27, 2006

### JasonRox

That's exactly what I described in my previous post.

20. Mar 27, 2006

### mathwonk

you are right.

21. Mar 27, 2006

### luckycharms

The obvious question is why does a student who understands the course material have a D in that course? I fully support hard problems/courses/tests but shouldn't the final grade be a reflection of their relative mastery of the subject? You absolutely need to design tests and have a grading system that accurately reflect what they know.

The grade inflation problem is a tough one to handle. Since it's happening everywhere, it's very difficult to put your students at a relative disadvantage. The reality is that even a fractionally lower GPA can be a major cross to bear. GPA is often a blind cutoff for graduate school and job applications, so the student may never even get a chance to show everything that you taught them by being so tough on them.

22. Mar 28, 2006

### mathwonk

i think i gave you my own example of a student, me, who got a D I richly deserved, then made up the knowledge on my own afterwards in order to learn it and continue.

this is the opposite of a student who takes a course and gets an A, then either forgets the material or never really knew it having gotten an inflated grade, then takes the next course with no knowledge ready at hand for use.

i.e. the prerequisite of an advanced course is to know the material from the rperecquisite course, not just to have an A in that course.

And you may ask why a student with an A does not know the material? Besides inflation, have you ever put off studying for a test until the last night then memorized everything for short term learning, promptly forgetting it after two more days? or waited two years after taking a preprec course before taking the next course?

So many of my students, even smart ones, "study" this way that when I test for genuine mastery, not memorizing, so many fail that I feel constrained from giving them the honest grades they deserve. I.e. the consequences to me of giving honest grades are too severe.

Even in graduate prelims we are sometimes expected to test in a way that is expected by the students, rather than in a way that measures how much they understand.

I.e. we are expected by some people to test so as to produce large numbers of passing grades. so if the students study by practicing old tests, rather than by mastering the topics, then we are expected by these people to test by repeating old questions rather than by plumbing understanding.

In this case i can stick to my guns without great penalty, but I do encounter resistance, and perhaps criticism. some students have complained that they are expected to understand the material in "too great a depth", this is an exact quote from a student complaint.

the fundamental complaint in posts here that some teachers grade in a way that does not reflect what the student knows, but this is very suspect to me, and more like a wishful thinking excuse by a weak student.

I will say however that I feel one instance of inaccurate grading has begun to occur in my university, but in a way that raises most students' grades.

namely in the past i could always pass the prelim tests in every subject, even those not my specialty, because i understand the basic ideas. the students did not pass however in many cases.

Recently the opposite has been occurring. The tests have seemed harder to me and I do not pass them as easily or not at all, while the students pass them more easily. Curiously the same students seem to pass the harder tests and fail the easier ones.

then i learned informally that these harder tests may be mimicking exams already taken by those same students in prep courses on the material. so they already knew how to do those questions, which being less basic i did not know how to do.

the result is a higher passing rate at least for students coming out of the prep courses, and the students and some administrators apparently like this situation better than the old one where the tests actually revealed gaps in students knowledge.

nonetheless, hyperventilation over grades is usually a smokescreen for students who know nothing and are seeking an excuse for poor performance. At my own grad school, when we complained about the prelims, we were told they were for our own good. I.e. if we could eprsuade anyone to take us on as a student then we could advance in the rpogram.

If no one was persuaded that we were promising, we could pass the prelims, and then someone had to accept us. So the rpelims were a way of demonstrating that we were worthy when we had not succeeded in doping so otherwise.'

'this argument was hard to answer and i shut up.

23. Mar 28, 2006

### mathwonk

your basic asumption that grades are more important than knowledge is still wrong. this argument was used at harvard over the past few decades - that harvard grades were unfair becuase a C at harvard was an A at florida state or georgia.

while perhaps true, the consequences of the resulting inflating of grades at harvard has meant that this is no longer true.

i.e. harvard is no longer harvard, and an A at harvard is not worth what it used to be. Although SAT scores went down over the last 40 years according to harvard's own alumni magazine, (but denied by a spokesperson i called), average grades went up from C+ to A-.

(when i was in non honors freshman writing at harvard in 1960 i was told that anyone who could get an A on a paper did not belong in the course.)

basically harvard stduents argued they did not want to be held to harvard standards so those standards were done away with, to everyones detriment.

i no longer am more impressed by an A at harvard than one at georgia. this cannot be possibly conceived of as an advantage for harvard's students who argued for this state of affairs.

Last edited: Mar 28, 2006
24. Mar 28, 2006

### JasonRox

mathwonk you summed it up very nicely.

I think what's happening at my school is that the profs just don't care anymore with regards to grades. They just give them easy work and that's it.

This sounds great, but now students are running off to graduate school unprepared. When I mentionned the tests one must take during graduate school just to stay in graduate school, two prospective graduate students nearly pissed their pants. Why? They know themselves that they don't know ****. And the other prospective graduate students who are bright also know they aren't ready for graduate school, and are feeling the heat. We also have prospective graduate students who are not naive, like the first two above, and know about tests and what not, but think they are ready to go. This I found was due to arrogance and are bound to get a slap in the face.

Anyways, our school needs a lot of work.

25. Mar 28, 2006

### luckycharms

Who assumes that? All I'm saying is that classes can still be challenging without handing out C's to your best students. Grades matter to students because they matter to other people. If not, how about we petition our departments to drop GPA from graduate school applications?

You articulate a clear set of standards at the beginning of the course, you create exceptionally challenging problem sets, you make an earnest attempt to teach the motivated, and then you test to the originally articulated standards. I don't buy into the 'impossible A' or the expectation that a sophomore should have a graduate level understanding.