Sunday, March 19, 2017
If you want to help your bad students DO NOT give an easy exam
1) When I was a grad student TAing Formal Lang Theory we had a final ready to give out but noticed that one problem was too hard. So we changed it. But we made it too easy. Whoops. My thought at the time was this will help the bad students. I was wrong. Roughly speaking the students who got 70-80 on the midterm now got 90-100 on the final whereas the students who got 30-40 on the midterm got 35-45 on the final. So the bad students improved, but the better students improved more.
2) When I teach Discrete Math to LOTS of students we have a policy about midterm regrade requests. Rather than have them argue in person they have to:
In writing make a clear concise argument as to why it was mis-graded
If your argument displays that you really don't know the material, even when you can reflect on it, you can lose points. (True Story: We ask for an example of a Boolean Function with two satisfying assignments. They gave us a formula with only one, so they got -5. In the regrade request they try to still argue that it has two satisfying assignments. They lost 2 more points.)
In reality the policy is more preventative and we rarely remove points. However even this policy benefits the better students more than the poor ones who have a hard time even articulating why what they wrote is actually right (likely it is not).
3) Just this winter teaching a 3-week 1-credit course we were grading a problem and giving lots of 15/25 since the students were all making the same mistake. Half way through I got suspicious that maybe WE were incorrect. Looking at the exact wording of the question I realized WE were wrong, and, given the wording and what they would quite reasonably think we wanted, they were right. So we went back and upgraded many students from 15 to 25. And again, this lifted students in the 70's to 90's, but did NOTHING for the students below 50 since none of them had anything like a correct answer to any way to view the question.
Okay, so what does all of this mean? It means that an easy exam or a generous grading policy is devastating for the bad students.
However, that's just my experience- what are your experiences with this?