What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2016 Edition)


Chatting with friends made me aware some schools have already started finals. So I’m sorry to be late with this. But for those who need it here’s my ancient post on how to calculate the minimum score you need on the final to get the grade you want in the class. And for those who see my old prose style and recoil in horror I’m sorry. I was less experienced back then. Don’t look smug; you were too. But here’s a set of tables for common grade distributions, so you don’t have to do any calculations yourself. Just look up numbers instead.

With that information delivered, let me say once more: what you really need is to start preparing early, and consistently. Talk with your instructor about stuff you don’t understand, and stuff you think you understand, early on. Don’t give a line about the grade you need; that puts an inappropriate pressure on the instructor to grade you incorrectly. Study because it’s worth studying. Even if you don’t see why the subject is interesting, it is something that people smarter than you have spent a lot of time thinking about. It’s worth figuring out something of what they know that you don’t yet.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

7 thoughts on “What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2016 Edition)”

    1. So there’s this old joke about the professor hoping to draw students to the review session ahead of the exam, which is to be the classic blend of true-or-false questions, multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, major problems. To get students in she promises that she’ll give the answer to one of the questions during the review. The review session comes and gets pretty good attendance. As she’s dismissing the class one of the students reminds her of the promise for one of the answers. And she says, ‘Very well. One of the answers is true.’

      There is sometimes a temptation to do something playful or weird with true-false questions, particularly. I remember once giving in to the temptation to make all the questions in the true-or-false section ‘true’, partly to see if students would be unnerved by too long a series of identical answers. It was a dumb idea. I don’t think most students even noticed. And if they were unnerved by too many identical answers in a row, then, I would now say, that was me screwing up. If there is a point to tests it is whether students can demonstrate mastery of a concept. It’s fair to test someone on how well they’ve understood the subtleties of the concept. Head games the teacher might be playing have absolutely nothing to do with the concept, though, so it’s poor form to mark someone down — or up! — for mastering me instead.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’ve come to see tests as having a couple purposes. And there is some value in box-ticking. We need to be able to think deeply about stuff, but we also need to have mastery of boring little facts o that we’re thinking about the right stuff. Multiple-choice or true/false questions are pretty good about straightening out whether someone has got definitions and basic concepts and all that. In (say) an essay it can be hard to tell whether the thing’s gone wrong because a good argument was built on bad understandings, or because the argument was lousy yet the basic concepts understood perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

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