Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Those Sweet Freshpersons." Coming to a theater near you. From Dr. Amelia.

Prologue: Quiet room full of students taking final exam, where they have been hard at work for 8 minutes or so.

Opening credits: Thought bubbles over their heads.

Act 1: Late student enters. Takes exam and sits down and begins to work. An hour passes.

Act 2: Late student asks to go to the bathroom. Goes, and returns a full 15-minutes later. Prof gives student the side-eye as s/he erases several answers and chooses new ones immediately upon sitting back down. Having not accompanied the student to the bathroom, prof can't prove anything. Silently, sarcastically thanks student for ruining the bathroom for everyone.

Act 3: Late student signs honor code, turns in paper and leaves. Prof looks at paper and sees that of the 5 answers student changed, 4 became false following erasure, and one became true.

Post-credits scene: Prof. is sitting at a diner table with Wonder Woman and Thor. "Kids these days!" she says. Everyone has a good laugh.


  1. That is both misery-inducing and baffling.

  2. Judging from the company you keep, can you lift 10 tons and beat up Batman? I'm impressed!

  3. And...scene! Ahh, there is still some justice in this world.

  4. In some test centers/colleges/etc., you are not allowed to leave a test without it being cancelled. I remember taking the SAT, GRE, and US Post Office exam and feeling like I was in a prison whenever we were given our designated breaks. Those monitors watch you like hawks... well... most of them. I know some professors would require the student taking an alternative exam which usually was much harder than the original.

    Another student and I needed some more time on an exam. The professor said "Go to the library, finish the exam, remember the Honor Code, and drop them by my (rather "shared adjunct office") office before X:XX." Sadly, because of the freshpersons, he probably is not able to do that anymore.

    1. I've taught at two places that worked this way. In fact, they relied even more on the honor code than you describe: professors and others instructors were banished from the testing room during the exam. We did come in at the beginning and the end, and were supposed to be available in our offices, which were nearby -- these were smallish campuses with clearly-defined disciplinary areas -- in case anyone had a question (in which case they'd walk over, with or without the exam, to ask it).

      I'm not sure undergrads had the opportunity to take an exam anywhere they chose, but I took my Ph.D. generals, field exam, and language exam that way (at home and, in one case, in the music library in the basement of the chapel, where I worked part-time; that was a shorter test than the ones I took home, and the venue was convenient and quiet).

      I have no idea if either school still does things exactly this way (but I'm pretty sure my grad institution still has basically the same honor code; I would have heard if that had changed, since it's a signature attribute of the institution). As far as I could tell, it worked, but I'm in a discipline where nearly all exams are short- and long-answer written ones. Still, we did have things like passage i.d.s (which might have been harder to cheat on that you'd think then, but would be very easy now, thanks to the ability to search digital texts). There was definitely a tendency toward things like handing out a list of possible questions in advance, with students knowing that only some of them would be on the test, but, at least in my field, that's good pedagogy (and making students write their own questions, or write possible questions, is even better).

      All this sounds impossibly utopian, but it really did seem to work pretty well most of the time. But it was only most of the time; it was at one of these institutions that I had a student steal a paper (not an exam) from her roommate, which resulted in much anguish for the roommate until who had stolen from whom had been cleared up (and even after that, because who wants to learn that someone you thought was your friend stole your paper?)

    2. We had a similar arrangement at my undergraduate institution. The profs provided all the final exams to the registrar's office at the beginning of finals week. You could take any of your exams during any of the scheduled three-hour time slots—you picked it up from the registrar's table, took it to one of the designated classrooms or lecture halls (we were limited to specific ones), wrote the exam, and turned it back in to the registrar's table at the end of the period. The exam rooms were not monitored by faculty or anyone else, although there were student monitors in the hallways to keep the noise down and to help anyone who might fall ill or freak out during an exam. (It did occasionally happen.) We were on our honor not to cheat, and not to reveal the contents of an exam to any classmates who might not have taken that particular exam yet. It meant you could take your exams in any order, whenever you felt prepared, and didn't have to worry about having two or three exams scheduled for the same day.

      As you say, Cassandra, it's fairly utopian, and every semester generated a few cases of honor proceedings, but in the main it was a good and much-appreciated system. It would never work in a huge university, of course, but this was a very small college of mostly very serious students.

  5. The way I prevent this is by making tests intentionally too long to finish within the allowed time.

    If you've studied for my communications tests, they're designed to about five-ten minutes more than the period allows. The sacrifice is that, yes, I'm that professor that occasionally makes students five minutes late to their next class.

    Somehow, some way everyone manages to hold it in and nobody has a bladder burst.

    If you do NOT study, well, you're fucked anyway.

  6. At my graduate institution, when undergrads took exams (at least in my department), they were forbidden from going to the bathroom. These were three-hour exams. Once, and only once, I had a student who was allowed to go to the bathroom, since he'd had bladder surgery mid-semester. His doctor's note was like magic. (He was a really good student, and I have no doubt he used the bathroom only for bathroom purposes. But man, you should have seen the looks the other students gave him when he walked out of the room and then returned.)

    I once asked the prof (I was a TA) why bathroom breaks were forbidden. She said, "We used to allow them, but it was like a library in there."

  7. We've developed an dizzying array of procedures and logistics to deal with bathroom breaks at exam time (and was one of the issues I wrote about in one of my earliest posts, whereupon RYS named me with the pseudonym I now use).


    We have (in a very, very large course) multiple TAs that escort students from their desk to the bathroom entrance, with other TAs sending them cell phone messages (e.g. "seat 24A") so that they are picked up according to a defined queue so that they are not allowed to exclaim "emergency circumstances" in leaving their seat unescorted (students are previously given a laundry list of rules and expectations about bathroom use, including "expect a long line-up and wait times after 2 hours. please be sure to use a bathroom just before exam time to simply avoid the situation"). Students have to surrender a cell phone before being let into the washroom. We have a TA that stands in each washroom, but just out of view of "the business", monitoring their use. TAs periodically open up the toilet roll dispensers to see if anything has been inserted within. And the private one-person handicapped washroom is totally off limits.

    In the smaller courses I teach, where I have only 1 TA (or none at all), I have to fill out a special request for extra TAs so that students of multiple genders can be escorted to the washroom. My requests for extra TAs are always granted, but it always comes with a lot of eye-rolling and grumbling attitude at the extra expense I am incurring on the department, but I let it roll off my back because no way I'm letting the little shits go by themselves, too much water has flowed under that bridge for me to let it go.

  8. Yikes! I'm glad I don't give tests (much).

    It seems to me that Dr. A's student has (inadvertently) discovered a cardinal rule of cheating: you need to begin with a reliable source from which to cheat (which, in itself, requires some knowledge, judgment, etc. -- which is why the allowed one-age "cheat sheet" is often a useful exercise). I suspect that even googling isn't as easy a solution as student tend to think, since google often doesn't understand complex questions very well, and results still have to be vetted.

    1. Yeah, Google was definitely the problem here. The things that were changed are common terms in a several contexts, and poor freshie apparently hadn't studied enough to know how to pick the correct ones. My dept doesn't have TAs and I do take phones. S/he must have had more than one. Not that it made a difference. Kids these days...

  9. I just tell my students in advance (in the syllabus and on the front cover of the exam): NO BATHROOM BREAKS. If any student absolutely must have one during a Final Exam, the student gets an Incomplete, which is what I do if the student had fallen ill for any other reason. Not being able to hold it for longer than the time it takes an exam may indicate a genuine medical problem, so this policy may be doing some good.

  10. Sometimes I'll break the exam in two parts, with one part to be turned in before starting the second one. If someone wants a bathroom break, it's after turning in Part 1, and before getting Part 2. There's an amount of time management that then falls to the students, but I try to predict the relative time requirements of the two parts to them ahead of time.


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