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Topic: [MATHEDU] Re: Common Finals
Replies: 2   Last Post: May 27, 1997 7:05 AM

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Chih-Han sah

Posts: 75
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [MATHEDU] Re: Common Finals
Posted: May 27, 1997 12:22 AM
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It appears to me that the discussion of *common finals*
has splintered into directions that no longer has much to do with
the original question.

The original question concerned the process where a department
wishes to have some inputs on the pros and cons of scheduling a

final examination in a multiple-sectioned beginning level
calculus course at a *common* time.

Pros and cons should be accompanied by a fairly detailed description
of the local scene. What works at one location may be totally
unreasonable at another location. Philosophical and theoretical
discussions without any accompanying scenario do not provide much

Many departments may decide to give, for administrative
reasons, to give one set of examination questions to all the
students taking the same course. In fact, there is no reason
why this has to be the case. Indeed, it is quite common that
several versions of the exams questions may be given to lessen
the chance of students copying from neighbors in crammed spaces.
In universities with adequate resources, it is perfectly feasible
for the exams to be customized by the individual teachers so that
the only thing that is *common* about the exam is the *time*.

Moreover, the weighting of the final exam can also be customized. There
is really no shortage of ideas which allow faculty members to implement

As for trusting individual teachers, in institutions where
most of the teaching/learning take place in recitations
staffed by teaching assistants, there is often a tremendous
variation in the past experiences of the teachers. It is
often quite helpful that the less experienced teachers are
not burdened with the decision on the make up of a final
examination. Of course, input from all the teaching staff
should be heard. One can easily include choices on the
exam. For example, students can be told that there are
11 questions on the exam, 10 would be considered as a *perfect*
score and the *11-th* would be considered as *bonus*. A
*common content* can, in fact, be a fair test on how well
students have mastered the content of the course because
the test may include problems that had not been touched
by the individual teachers.

Having a common time often has the following advantages:

Students taking the exam at a later time would no longer
be spending a large amount of time trying to get hold
of the content of the earlier exams.

Students taking the exam at an earlier time would no longer
spend time dreaming up excuses in order to take the exam
at a later time.

In the case of a *common content*, the question of *uniform grading*
may be dealt with by having a *grading party* where each teacher
is assigned to grading one problem for all the sections (it could be
increased to two or three depending on the number of problems and
the number of teachers). With the distribution of a grading key,
it is not all that difficult to achieve *reasonble uniformity in
grading*. One rationale for *uniform content* is often connected
with the fact that a beginning course is most likely to be a
pre-requisite or co-requisite to other courses. As such, *final*
exam has more to do with the fact that it is the *last* exam for
that course, rather than *the last* exam which tests for a
comprehensive understanding of the field. In addition,
one should also note that U.S. is a litigation-minded society. There
are many cases where students lodge official complaints about unfair
grades. In such cases, having a *final exam* in a course provides
some evidence in terms of student performance in the course.

In some U.S. institutions, undergraduate students may have to
pass a *comprehensive* exam in their major subject. Unlike many of
the European universities, U.S. students do not usually declare a
major until the end of their second year. In many cases, students
are still taking courses to satisfy their *distribution* requirements
during their junior and senior year. Thus, a comprehensive exam may
not be appropriate.

Ultimately, the question on how best to assess the students
is best dealt with on a *local basis*.

Han Sah,

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