Really, you needed to start worrying about this earlier. Getting a high grade in any course is one of those self-reinforcing cycles. Improve your work a little bit early on and it iterates. Every bit makes every future bit that much easier. This isn’t inspirational-quote talk; this is just how it works. For mathematics courses, where most of the time one subject feeds into the next, this is obvious. It’s also obvious for mathematics-in-disguise courses like physics. But even for courses where one topic doesn’t directly lead to the next it’s so. Every subject has ways of thinking about its topics, the kinds of questions to ask and the typical sorts of answers they draw. The sooner you ask your instructor, your peers, and whatever tutoring centers are available — and they are — the better off you are.
That said, everyone wants numbers. So here’s my posts. This is the original, about how to calculate exactly the score you need on your final to get whatever course grade you want. It allows for different sorts of weighting and extra credit and all that. If you don’t want to worry about extra credit here are some tables for common final-exam weightings with which you can approximate your needed score.
Also: review the syllabus. Read and understand any study guides you have. Review the in-course exams and homework assignments. Eat regularly and sleep as fully as you can the week or so before the exam; you do not have any problems that sleep deprivation will make better.
(Yes, this post is early. The schools I’m loosely affiliated with started early this term.)
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.
I had thought we were barely entering Final Exam season. But I hear reports many (United States) colleges and universities have already got them started. And I see what people are searching for around my writing here. So let me help folks out here.
Here, under “What Do I Need To Pass This Class”, besides start worrying about grades sooner, is an explanation of how to calculate exactly what score one needs. It allows for the exam to have any weighting possible, and for extra credit points to be considered, to get any desired score. And then since not everyone looking for their grade is actually a mathematics student interested in following equations that, I believe, are well-explained, I put together some tables with the results for some common final exam weightings and target scores. The tables include what scores are needed for finals that are one-fifth, one-quarter, one-third, and two-fifths the total course grade.
Good luck. Read the syllabus and any test preparation sheets the instructor gives. Get a full night’s sleep before and eat well the day of the exam. Don’t pester with e-mails asking for extra credit. Only bother your professor with requests to correct errors of fact, which would be recorded grades or an error in calculation. Have your returned assignment to show, and understand how weighted grades work, before you do.
While I don’t have any topics overwhelming my search-engine profile, I do see the rise in people looking up what they need to pass their class, or to get a desired minimum grade. The sorry answer is, they needed to start work sooner. But here’s the formula for working it out, for whatever your course average to date is, whatever score you want, whatever extra credit is available, all that. And here’s tables for some of the common cases, if you’re afraid of the formulas.
And for pleasantly recreational mathematics … I forget which mathematics twitter account that I follow posted the above. But it links to “Ramsey Theory in the Dining Room”. I’d mentioned the field last month because its question about organizing dinner-party guests somehow got a Dear Abby correspondent all angry in the late 70s.
Brian Hayes there ran across an application of the theory that gets away from dinner-party invites and into table place settings. It’s worth a read, particularly for the challenge posed. Hayes thought, briefly, he had solved a question in Ramsey Theory, one that’s easy to understand — you’ll understand the question — but that everyone else in the field has found too hard to answer. He doubted his result, but didn’t think until the next day of why he was wrong. Can you spot where he went wrong? (It’s a subtle flaw in the reasoning, but one an eight-year-old would understand, so I recommend trying to think like one.)
It’s finals season, at least for colleges that run on a semesterly schedule, and a couple of my posts are turning up in search query results again. So I thought it worth drawing a little more attention to them and hopefully getting people what they need sooner.
The answer: you need to study a steady but not excessive bit every night from now to before the exam; you need to get a full night of sleep before the exam; and you really needed to pay attention in class and do the fiddly little assignments all semester, so, sorry it’s too late for that. Also you need to not pointlessly antagonize your professor; even if you don’t like this class, you could have taken others to meet your academic requirement, so don’t act like you were dragged into Topics in Civilization: Death against your will even if it does satisfy three general-education requirements at the cost of being a 7:50 am section.
Anyway, that doesn’t help figuring out whether you can relax as soon as you get 82.3 percent of the final right or if you have to strain to get that 82.6. So let me point to those: What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2013 Edition) gives an expression for working out the score you need, and shows how to develop that formula, based on things like the pre-final grade, the weight given the exam, and extra credit (or demerits) that you’ve received, and is therefore good for absolutely any weighted-average based course grade you might have.
That also involves formulas, though, and I know that makes people nervous, so What Do I Need To Get An A In This Class? simplifies matters a bit by working out a couple common cases: for finals worth 40, 33, 30, 25, and 20 percent of the class, based on pre-final averages, what final exam grade do you need to get to at least a given level. Good luck, but you really shouldn’t be scrounging for points. Study because it’s fun to learn things and the grades will be good of their own accord.
I suspected that my little pair of articles about what scores you need on the final to pass a class (or get an A, or such) would prove useful, which is almost as good as being informative. I noticed in the search queries bringing people to my pages a question about what a person needed for a course where the final was 40 percent of the class score. I hadn’t put that in my original set of tables, and if the searcher followed my first article — about how to work out what you need for any weighting of the final exam — then she or he got what was needed. I just didn’t think of finals being quite that heavily weighted. But, what the heck, if people want to see the tables worth 40 percent, it’s easy enough to generate them, and I added that to the collection of scores-needed tables. Good luck next term.
After writing my bit about how to figure out what grade you need to pass your class, I thought some more and realized that while everything in it is true, it’s not necessarily helpful, because people get panicky at formulas. So I thought to make up some tables showing what you need, if you go in with a certain grade, to pass, or get a B, or an A, or what not, for different weightings of the final exam. That’s easy enough to do especially once I set up a Matlab (well, an Octave) script to build the tables for me.
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