|The final exam||Grades in the course|
The final exam
The final exam [PDF|PS|TeX] was given from 4 to 7 PM on
Thursday, May 4. Several students who had conflicts or some other
exams on the same day took the exam on the following day.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---| 110 115 120 125 130 135 140 145 150 155 160 165 170 175 180 185 190 195The exam was probably at an appropriate level. If I were teaching a course to engineering students, such an outcome unfortunately would be quite unlikely, and would certainly be cause for celebration. What do these grades mean? The exam itself should be contrasted with review material which was gone over in class and with ample office hours, both in person and electronically. In addition, the exam was "open book". Although three hours is allotted for final exams at Rutgers, students began leaving after scarcely more than an hour, and almost no student remained for more than two hours. Note that in our engineering calculus courses, however, review material is also prepared, and students are frequently allowed to use formula sheets. Nevertheless, grades on final exams in such courses are almost always much lower, with means of 100--110 out of 200 not uncommon, and unsatisfactory grades (D/F/W) frequently making up a third of all grades.
Grades in the course
I gave grades based on homework, grades on papers, and the grade on
the final exam. Certainly in the fall I didn't know what to expect
about student performance, especially about writing.
I read the first essays with great trepidation. I spent more time reading 20 essays one or two pages long than I would have grading a standard exam in a calculus course with 100 students! I wanted my grades to be consistent and justified, and I wanted the remarks I wrote on papers to be useful and temperate. I tried to satisfy myself that a paper getting an A- was weaker than one getting an A, and stronger than one getting a B or B+. It was possible to do this because the classes were small. I think I could handle papers from a larger class now, with the experience I have.
The writing was better than I expected. I refused to accept grades less than B. I handed papers back and urged students to rewrite any paper with such a grade and submit it again. Only five or six students in the fall got such treatment, and one in the spring. There were a total of 46 students in both semesters' classes. Only one student out of a total of 46 in both semesters had real difficulty writing. Many of the other students wrote very well. I don't think that this is typical of our students, unfortunately. First, these students were almost all students in honors programs. Second, based on letters and e-mail messages from hundreds of students in our large calculus courses, many of our students can't write clearly and grammatically. I had worried that non-native English speakers would not write well. There were about a half-dozen such students, and the quality of their writing was generally the same as that produced by the rest of the class. Also, I was advised by several people to be very clear to students about what I expected in writing assignments. I did this better in the spring than the fall. This was a useful suggestion.
I worried about how to grade this course. Almost all of the writing was in the A range. I graded the homework assignments and they did not significantly separate students. Almost everyone did well on the final. In the fall, I gave 16 A's and 4 B+'s. In the spring, I gave 23 A's, 2 B+'s, and 1 C. I have not previously given out such high grades in an undergraduate course. These were honors students and the grades were appropriate. Students in the fall had complained about the workload in the course. I reduced the work by about a third for the spring course whose details are recorded here. I didn't get such complaints in the spring. But there were no first-year students in the course in the spring. I'd probably give an additional (midterm) exam if "The Mathematics of Communication" were offered as a standard course.