Crotchety’s Difficult Exams

The verdict is in. After three tests, even students who are doing well in my class agree: Mr. Rupured’s exams are REALLY hard.

Well I’ll be damned.

Some would take pride in the reputation. For a different course, I might too, but this class is not supposed to be difficult.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bunny either. The content is easy to understand (says the professor), but students have to do the work. The final grade is based on assignments (20%), four exams (50%) a comprehensive final (20%) and attendance (10%).

The class (Consumers in Society) is a broad overview of the field of consumer economics. It’s the only 1000-level (freshmen) class our department offers.  The class isn’t a prerequisite for anything, but does count toward the university’s Social Studies requirement.

Consumer Economics is a great major for anyone unsure of what they want to do when they grow up. The consumer-oriented focus is valued by employers in many different industries, making it one of the fifteen highest-paying majors on campus. Unfortunately, few know it’s an option.

My course is an opportunity to recruit students for the major. Kids from all over campus enroll for the Social Studies credit. Most have already declared a major, but some remain undecided. All are fair game.

Which brings me back to my REALLY hard exams. Bad grades are counter-productive. Weeding out students is NOT my objective. I want them to succeed in hopes that success will lead them to major in Consumer Economics.

Each test is worth 125 points with three parts: 25 multiple choice questions (3 points each), 4 short-answer questions (5 points each), and 6 definitions (5 points each). Much to my surprise, students struggle most with the multiple choice — the part I thought was the easiest.

After grading, I always check to see if the top five or ten students missed the same questions. If so, I’m likely to throw out the question.  I’ve thrown out one or two on each exam.

Still, lots of questions were missed by numerous students. Were bad questions the problem? A gracious colleague reviewed the multiple choice questions for all three exams — 75 in all. She thought the correct answer for five questions was open to debate, including two I’d already thrown out. I tossed out the other three, too, and adjusted scores accordingly. In her opinion, the remaining 70 questions were fair.

So it’s not me. Dumbing down the tests isn’t an option — for me, anyway. I ain’t givin’ nothin’ away. No sirree bob.

Lots of students are worried about their grade. I changed the way the attendance grade is calculated. Students who come to class can earn up to 20 points extra credit by the end of the semester. Would that be enough?

Grades for the assignments (for those who turn them in) are much better. I calculated the current grade for each student. Even without the extra credit, the majority have solid As or Bs. The rest, for the most part, rarely make it to class.

With more than 375 points outstanding, the jury is still out on the final grade. The last assignment is due this week, the fourth exam is the following week, and the final is in the first week of December. So far, things are looking good. I’ll keep you posted.