Random Thoughts on the Universe

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How To Improve Your Grades Without Really Trying...

I hadn't intended to continue writing articles until the teaching season was over and I had time again, but after having a lunch with several old university friends, many of whom are now instructors in one form or another, I decided I would not only write an article - but that I would write an article which has nothing to do with the main theme of this blog. Today's article is on some simple methods of improving grades without any effort - motivated by an increasing trend that we noticed that students are no longer even trying to pass courses.

The most obvious way of improving grades is to actually read the book, attend the classes, and ask for help if you need it. But since the students who need this advice won't heed it anyway, instead we present some other simple methods of improving grades which require no work:

Make the Marker Happy - I don't mean anything immoral here! A marker may have 100 papers to mark each week, and if you make it easy to get through yours quickly we are happy - and when we are happy we are generous. So write neat, explain your work, highlight the answer, etc - but make my job easier and you get rewarded.

Neatness - Officially neatness does not count for much, as we officially give marks for the material learned and the solutions to assignments rather than tidy writing. But let's be honest - if the marker has to hunt for your answer, and has to try to decipher illegible writing, they are likely going to take off marks and force you to prove you know the subject. And again, if you make the marker unhappy they will make you unhappy.

Don't Argue - If a marker makes a mistake you should definitely get it corrected. If you are sick and have to delay submitting an assignment, that is fine. But if you make me mark one assignment after I have marked a stack of papers -and no valid reason- I may not be so generous. I have other things to do, and having to change my schedule to mark your late paper does not make me happy. Nor does coming to me after every assignment and arguing that you should get full marks for a wrong answer make me happy.

Write Anything - The right answer is always best, but something is better than nothing. If you submit an assignment in which you copy an equation out of the book I can justify giving a mark for that. If you submit an assignment which is blank, I cannot justify any marks. Many instructors want their students to do well, and often any excuse to give a few more marks is welcome. Even if your answer makes no sense at all, it will still earn a few more points than blank pages - and every marker I know has seen papers earn an extra 20%-30% from a good effort. That is the difference between passing and failing in many cases.

Nothing I have listed here is difficult, and yet my friends and I have seen many students fail because they didn't have any interest in passing a class. It is shocking how many students hand in blank assignments weeks late and are then surprised when they fail the class!

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