Thursday, April 10, 2014

Big Thirsty:

When I returned to school a few years ago I decided to pursue Hamsters in Togas Thinking Thoughts.  One of those classes dealt with the very foundations of the discipline - Toga Hamsters Thinking Thoughts in the Ancient World.  The professor used two books written by two of the Founding Fathers: Hamster-o and Hamster-otle.  We started out the term with 1 1/2 classes being devoted to Hamstero's book and the rest of the semester was given over to Hamster-otle. 

I was a good note taker, paid attention, and did the assigned readings on time.  I organized study groups for any other interested students in the class and meet with professors during office hours.  I'm not a complete feckin' eejit.

Then we come to finals week.  I spent extra time studying the material, as it was a LOT of material and I had done more poorly than I'd expected at mid-term (the only two grades in the class were the two exams).  As the class had focused almost solely on one of the two books, I put the vast majority of my time into studying the notes and reading from THAT book.  I did go over notes on the book we'd started with as well, but to a lesser degree.

Imagine my surprise - and utter, gut-wrenching disgust - then to sit down to exam that contained seven essay prompts but only the dealt with the book we'd spent about 93% of the class on.  I could barely answer one of the other five questions.

Fighting the equal urge to throw up and/or cry, I walked up to the professor, placed my exam sheet on the desk and quietly apologized to hir and said I could not take the exam.  I explained that I had devoted almost all my prep time to the book we'd focused so much of the semester on.  The professor offered to let me resit the exam, in one hour's time. I did, and passed with a high B.  Without that kindness, I don't know for certain that I'd have graduated on time.  To say I appreciate it would be a gross understatement.

I bore the professor no ill will and it was MY fault but I've always wondered if other professors would organize an exam in the same way, especially given the weight it carried in terms of the final grade.

Was I a complete flake for studying this way or what?


The Leprrkan


  1. I will be interested in what others have to say, but I'd have made it very clear to my students if I was going to be focusing more on one text than the other in the exam. And NO, I'd never write a cumulative exam that consisted primarily of material we had not covered, ignoring the material on which we had spent lots of time. (Sorry about that sentence; I have not had my coffee yet.)

    1. With the stipulation that "covered" includes a lot more than "things mentioned in class," I am fully with Bella. If you spent 1½ lectures out of 45 on Book A and 43½ lectures on Book B, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that (at most) one or two of the seven questions will be on Book A and the remainder will be on Book B.

      That's not to say that things assigned but never covered in class shouldn't be on exams, only that there should be some assignments over that material -- just to remind students that it hasn't been lost.

  2. Mostly agreeing with the above. However. I CAN imagine running the class and giving the exams as described, IF I had told the kiddies sometime reasonably early in the semester: "Ya know how we're doing all this analysis on Hamster-otle? I expect you ought to be able to apply similar analysis to Hamster-o. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink."

  3. I was thinking somewhat along the same lines as HMP: I might expect students to make connections or apply analytical techniques that we used in class to a text on which we'd spent last time, but I'd tell them (probably even more explicitly than nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Unless you somehow missed that the professor thought that all of Hamster-otle was in some way derivative and/or reacting to Hamster-o (or, in other words, that there was a lot more in the class about Hamster-o than you realized), the proportion of questions on the final strikes me as off. Given what you describe, I'd expect one or two -o or combined -o/-otle questions (perhaps with a requirement that you make substantial mention of -o in one response), and the rest on -otle.

  4. I don't think you were a flake to study that way. Your proffie should improve at designing exams.