Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And now, a beam of sucking doom...

like the Dementors from Harry Potter.

Remember my ray of light? Here is its antithesis, re: the same exam:


I have been studying since Saturday and i'm still feeling really stressed out about the test! I have re-read all of the chapters, made flashcards for all the terms and taken all of the practice exams online! I still feel like I don't know anything. I'm worried because I felt like a lot of small details were on the online quizzes and i'm having a rough time trying to remember all the little details that I read in all of the chapters. I was just wondering if you had any tips on what I should focus my attention on when studying because right now i'm stressing out way too much. I'm completely terrified of not doing well on this test and then having my whole grade ruined and I am just not really sure of what to do since I have already been studying for three days and will continue to study up until Thursday! Let me know if you have any recommendations for me please; That would be very helpful!

-OMG Imadie

I have not yet responded per a colleague's recommendation that I address these concerns in class rather than over email because they like to...oh...SUE and stuff. I have actually never encountered an email with quite this level of obsessive craziness, possibly because I generally assign papers instead of tests.

It is worth noting that this test is 25% of her grade, so she's hardly going to "ruin" her "whole grade."


  1. Tell her to keep studying. Tell her also that it's not healthy to stress so much before any exam. A little stress is good, because it shows that a student is eager to do well, but such a high level of stress isn't helpful. If it really becomes a problem, she should go to the campus health center and talk to one of the medical staff there about it. This exam will only be worth 25% of her grade and she will encounter many other similar exams and similar situations throughout the rest of college and in life after graduation too.

    I'm telling you not to worry about being sued. Your colleague was off base in even bringing this up. Students may threaten to sue every so often, but they almost never go through with it. Even in the extremely rare cases in which they do, very few lawyers will go near any case involving academics.

    We had a discussion about being sued by students in RYS, although I can't find it in the archive, so it may not be readable. I prompted the discussion as a Thirsty post. What prompted me was how an affable old administrator observed that in his 30 years at our university, students had often threatened to sue him (most often when they found they wouldn't be able to graduate when they wanted), but never once did this result in an actual lawsuit.

    Several RYS readers, some of them deans and other administrators, replied with comments that they had similar observations. We got only one report of an actual lawsuit, and this was from a student with quite clear emotional problems, and this lawsuit was dismissed. It was a wonder the student could find a lawyer willing to take the case.

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  3. P.S. Our affable old administrator told us that not only were faculty protected from student lawsuits by our university's legal counsel, but also that we were indemnified, in the case any lawsuit brought by a student might win. This is likely the case at your university too, even for contingent faculty. Frankly, I worry more about asteroid impacts, which is hardly at all. (OK, so the dinosaurs were done in by one, but that was 65 million years ago.)

  4. Maybe I'm missing something, but what would she sue over? Emotional distress? (Actually, she might really try to pull that one off...) Truthfully, though, what would be the basis of a lawsuit? I'm with Froderick. Tell her to keep studying and not to worry so much.

  5. Krunner Dunning "Incompetence Study" 1999, journal of social psychology I think -- those who think they're going to do wonderfully on tests tend to score in the bottom quartile, those who do well think they did worse than they did, because they assume everyone did as well as they did AND they are aware of the specific issues they missed. So in short, her stress attack MAY indicate she's actually on the path to doing well.

    (ok, horribly designed study in some ways, but my FroshComp students like it for a critical response paper option)

  6. There's a nice little bombshell in there: "I was just wondering if you had any tips on what I should focus my attention on when studying because right now i'm stressing out way too much."

    Um, no, child, I can't tell you "what to focus your attention on" because then I'd be giving away the test questions.

    Although truthfully I do review sheets now, I got so sick of this. I hate the idea ("here's the only stuff that's important; everything else I said or you read was meaningless blabber"). But it cuts down on the panicked e-mails.

    Tell her to be sure she's getting enough sleep. Memory goes kerblooey if you're sleep deprived.

  7. Definitely, give her some gentle advice not to stress out too much. But please don't direct her to the campus medical centre, or she's risking a pharmaceutical prescription. There must be non-medical campus counseling available? (On our campus, the counselors are all social workers, so no danger for students of getting sucked into the psycho-drug realm.)

    I don't think it's a problem to give her general pointers about what areas to focus on, assuming the same information is then repeated in class for the other students. If you won't have a class meeting between then and the test, and you don't have an online forum for the course in which to post such advice, I'd be very vague with the pointers, though.

  8. Sounds to me like someone who's eager, maybe too eager to do well. Sometimes students who seem to be hinting that you should reveal exam answers are really looking for (or are satisfied with) reinforcement of the kinds of things you'll be looking for on the test. Sometimes that's unpleasant--yes, you really do need to know all those "details" AKA core knowledge.

    But even then, a student may be happy with a strategy (e.g., review the chapter headings first, study thereview sheet, carefully review the quiz answers,etc.) The very same stuff that you share with the rest f the class--or that you assume the rest of the class will do.

    Sometimes they just want encouragement to know they can do it with a little patience and focus.

    Yeah, she's a bit panicked. She needs to be calmed down, and I imagine encouraged. If it's more than that, she may need a tutor or counseling center help.

  9. "Dear Freaking-Out Student,

    I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling so stressed! My advice is that you take a break, right now, and go and do something you enjoy. It's hard to study when you're feeling as anxious as your email sounds. Go for a swim, rent a video, spend some time with a friend. Get a decent night's sleep. Come back to it tomorrow, if you still feel that you need to study.

    Please feel free to come by my office hours if you have any specific concerns about the material, or make an appointment with me if my office hours aren't possible.

    If you are so anxious that you can't concentrate or can't sleep, I'd like to suggest that you contact Student Counselling for an appointment. They're at xxx-xxxx. They are really very good, and see a lot of anxious students around midterms. Believe me, you're not alone!

    All the best, and I'll see you Thursday (or before, if you'd like to come by my office hours).

    Yours sincerely,

    Helpful Prof"

  10. I don't have posting access, so I'm asking this question here, in the comments of the most recent semi-relevant post.

    Here is a copy of an email I sent my professor when I couldn't make it to class. Is this good/bad/indifferent?

    Hi, Professor X,

    Unfortunately, I am unable to attend class today. I understand that this may affect my grade, and I'm enclosing a copy of my lecture summary for the day (though I know I also need to bring a hard copy on Friday).

    Again, sorry for the late notice, and I hope everything goes well today.




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