Frequently Asked Questions

How are grades determined?

Suppose you score 84.8% on midterm 1, 76.1% on midterm 2, and 50.2% on midterm 3. Your final exam is 79.3%. Your homework and quizzes give a total of 130 points out of 160 points, which is 81.25%. The syllabus weights the midterms 25% (0.25) for the best, 16.67% (0.1667) middle and 8.33% (0.0833) worst, the final 30% (0.30) and the assignments and quizzes 20% (0.20).

[0.25(84.8) + 0.1667(76.1) + 0.0833(50.2) + 0.30(79.3) + 0.20(81.25) = 78.11 your course average

The instructor guarantees the grading scale published on the syllabus: an average of 78.11 earns you a C+. (Note that if the exams had been equally weighted, your course average would be 75.23 - guaranteeing only a C.)

How can an exam score be something like 84.8%?

In the example above, the first exam score is given to the nearest 0.1%. This happens when the point total for an exam is not 100. For instance, the instructor assigns point values to exam questions such that the point total is125. Rescaling this, question by question, to total 100 might be tricky -- who wants a question worth 2.4 points? So, instead, the total will be computed, then rescaled to 100. For example, 106 out of 125 on an exam would be 84.8%.

Will there be "pop" quizzes?

Unannounced quizzes are possible. Generally these cover practice exercises or assigned reading. These quizzes are worth small amounts (see the next item).

A certain % of the final grade is for "homework assignments and quizzes." How is this computed?

Each item is assigned a point value as it is graded. Quizzes are worth 5-15 points each; assigned homework is worth 5-30 points per assignment. An unannounced quiz will be worth no more than 5 points. In the end, your total for all these items is divided by the total worth of all these items, resulting in a percentage for this part of your average.

Is “extra credit” available?

The phrase “extra credit” implies that the work would be above and beyond that available in the formal course offering. The formal course offering is important; consequently it will constitute at least 50% of all credit – even if you elect to pursue extra credit.

You may complete an extra credit project that will count for up to 50% of your final mark. Extra credit will be weighted according to the amount of time you spend on it, as well as the quality of your work. Roughly, each 3 hours of productive work on such a project would amount to a weighting of 1% additionally for the project (assuming that it’s of high quality). If you accept this option, you must declare your intention to pursue no later than March 1, 2003. It is your responsibility to produce a proposal for a worthy extra credit project (you may well find faculty in your major who can provide guidance here).

Assessment of your work will be through a combination of written summary and in-class presentation. You may be required to defend your work to the instructor. Collaborations are acceptable; however, the weighting allocated to each collaborator is then p%/n where p% is the total weighting of the project and n is the number of collaborators.

Is there a "curve" on exams? How is a curve determined?

Exams are constructed and scored with the hope that a curve will not be necessary. An exam will never be curved because of poor student performance. Exams are only curved if the instructor determines that exam scoring is not representative of the associated grade. For example, it may turn out that the instructor determines that a C- student should get 64% on the exam. Then the instructor will curve the exam so that a score of 64% is rescaled to become a score of 70% (which, by definition, is the lowest possible C-).

The instructor will never reverse curve. That is: If its determined that a C- student should earn a 75% on an exam, 70% -- the nominal cut-off for a C- -- will remain the C- criteria. A curve will not penalize relative to the nominal cut-offs.

A curve may be assigned to an exam -- but not to your overall average. Curves for exams will be announced in class -- sometimes well after the return of the exam (this will the instructor can get student feedback regarding unclear questions, etc., before making a final determination). The instructor intends to be fair and equitable about this, and will by default consider a curve for each exam.

Some of the homework assignments and quizzes are graded differently than others. Why is this, and is it fair?

Students have noticed this in the past. One quiz may be really hard, another trivial. Scores on one homework assignment may range only to 60%; yet on others to 100%. In fact, for some homework assignments it is possible that everyone in the class who has attempted the assignment will receive 100%. This may happen for a number of reasons: I may feel that discussing the assignment immediately in class is more important than waiting until the papers have been graded for the next class period. (It may also happen when I get backed up and realistically understand that grading the papers quickly is not going to happen.) On the other hand, there may be a really tough assignment that no one gets a “good” mark on (such an assignment is almost sure to be revisited on an exam where you can demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistakes). This is, admittedly, somewhat arbitrary. I do not consider each assignment for a “curve” the way I do each exam. However, I will guarantee that a student who knows the material at a minimal level of competence (congruent with a grade of C-), and submits all assignments and quizzes, will get an overall assignments and quizzes total of at least 70%.

My assignment/quiz score is really good, but my test average is not. Is this fair?

I go to lengths to ensure that exams are scaled to expectations (see above about exam curves). The assignments and quizzes are different: they are designed in part to determine what you have learned, but also in part to help you determine what you have not learned so that you can make things right. In part assignments and quizzes are intended to be something you can learn from. Rather than excessively penalize students, the assignments and quizzes, if attended to conscientiously, will not hurt you and may help a little.

If you feel you consistently underrepresent your knowledge on exams – check below “I have problems taking tests…what do I do?”

Is there anyone who understands what the book is saying?

In past years a number of texts have been used. All of them got miserable ratings in student evaluations. This book was chosen in the spring of 2002 by a committee of those people who teach Math 158, 179 and 258.

Is tutoring available for this course?

Yes -- visit the Office of Learning Services, located in 5 Poucher. You are welcome to visit the instructor as well.

How fast will my work be returned?

The instructor would like to return everything by the next class meeting. However, because he has other responsibilities, and works in conjunction with a grading assistant, this is often impractical. The instructor guarantees that all assigned homework and quizzes will be returned no later than one week after the date of submission. If the instructor fails to meet such a deadline, the entire class will receive a perfect score on the item. This guarantee does not apply to late submissions. While this deal does not apply to exams, the instructor will make every effort to return graded exams within the same time frame.

How do I find out my current grade?

If at any point you want to know your grade, ask me. While I may not be able to give it to you on the spot, I will have it for you by the next class meeting.

What's the policy on late homework?

If your paper is late, get it to the instructor before the start of the class following the due date -- papers submitted after this may not be accepted for any credit. Late homework that is accepted may not receive a score higher than the lowest of all on-time submissions. Make every effort to submit late work at the earliest possible time -- even on days class does not meet. The instructor's mailbox is in Room 217. The work is considered submitted when the instructor receives it. The instructor keeps track of late homework -- the second, and subsequent, late submissions will be scored 0.

What about "take home exams"?

Actually, in theory this is a terrific idea. Many people would benefit. However, experience indicates that many people take undue advantage of such situations. If you are given the privilege, treat it as such. If instructed to "work alone" then work alone. No responsible student would ever even contemplate submitting a take-home exam late for any but the most dramatic of reasons (which would easily be documented and excused in any case). If you are sick or stuck at home, either mail it in (the postmark suffices as proof), or endure an unpleasant trip to campus to submit the work. Otherwise you will earn a 0 for the work.

Can I dispute the instructor's grading?

You are encouraged to do so when you believe an item is marked improperly. Not only might you earn back your fair share of deserved points, but the entire class may benefit. The instructor learns a lot about how students think from engagements such as these. You may also contest an issue anonymously in writing; however, you forfeit the chance to recover points (after all – how would the instructor know who to credit?).

Also, realize that with over 100 students, each of whom will have score for 20 quizzes, homeworks and exams in the end, the instructor is dealing with about 2000 individual marks in a semester. It would be surprising if the instructor made no mistakes in maintaining this gradebook. (On the other hand, once scores are properly input, the use of a spreadsheet virtually assures that final averages will be computed correctly.) You should keep track of your marks, and hang on to all graded materials. You may consult with the instructor to see your official record. Near the end of the semester, summaries will be produced and distributed. At this point you can check for errors in the instructor's gradebook.

Is it possible to take the final exam early?

No. Unless there's a legitimate emergency (this does not include your travel plans for the ensuing break) you must sit for the final exam at the scheduled time. This is a department policy and no exceptions are made.

What kind of grades does the instructor give?

You can examine recent grade distributions for the course the instructor has taught. There is absolutely no guarantee that the distribution for the current course and semester will in any way resemble these distributions. It is the instructor’s biggest hope that everyone in the class will do very well.

Can I get Minitab on my own PC?

Minitab may be rented for a semester or a year. Check at www.minitab.com for details. A trial version will run on your PC for one month. Otherwise, Minitab is freely available on all campus PCs. It runs much better on the PCs: Do not use MACs for Minitab.

What needs to be known about academic honesty?

The student handbook is the ultimate authority. If you are unsure of your actions, consult that document and, if still unclear, see the instructor for further guidance. College professors are notoriously prickly about this issue -- what you think is acceptable may not be so. You should always proceed carefully when you contemplate submitting any work that doesn't derive from the universally acceptable resources (for homework, generally this means a) your brain, b) the text and c) your notes).

The work you submit should be your own. If you do consult references outside of the textbook and class notes you are obligated to provide citations. Even if you learn from doing so, you may end up being penalized. Be careful here: consult with the instructor for guidance on the use of outside sources. If you get answers from other students -- you must cite this source (consequently, you may forfeit some credit).

You may not "sign-off" on group work merely to get credit for an assignment. That is: If groups of 3 are allowed for an assignment, and you do nothing, you may not merely sign a paper completed by two others.

If an assignment states "Work alone" you should work entirely alone.

There are two other issues that arise during in-class exams:

1.      You may not continue working on an in-class exam after the instructor has called for the papers to be turned in. If you do this, the instructor will not accept your paper, and will assign it a mark of 0.

2.      This instructor generally likes the idea of allowing a note sheet, or sheets, for students to reference. Occasionally this will be allowed. Limitations will be in place, and they will be strictly enforced – according to the letter of the law. If “one sheet of notes” is allowed, then one sheet is what you may use. By “sheet” is meant one 8-1/2 by 11 sheet (standard paper). By “notecard” is meant 3 by 5 (inch) card. It does not matter how many sheets your notes “could have” fit in. If you bring in more than the stated guidelines, you are cheating.

Is this enough?

Actually, for most students - yes, it is. However, inevitably, issues arise. Consequently, the remainder of the FAQs -- the "Infrequently Asked Questions" (IAQs) -- is shown below to both gloss the obvious and be specific about this instructor's expectations.

IAQs

You might be wise to consider the following. College professors may be isolated from the "real world," living in their quaint little universe (however, you'd be surprised how many have or had successful careers outside of academia), and you may believe that they do not sympathize with your needs and concerns. However -- believe it or not, they probably do understand you. There's one thing you can guarantee that virtually all of your professors have excelled at: SCHOOL. College professors are experts at college. They went to college, and they succeeded on merit. You can bet that, in addition to succeeding in their chosen fields of study, they performed admirably in courses in other fields. College professors recognize -- from personal experience -- that in the vast majority of cases, students who do the work succeed. There should really be little wonder that professors seem unsympathetic to all sorts of excuses and so forth: Their own experience informs them that the majority of these excuses are unwarranted or avoidable.

The basic problem with the relationship between instructor and student is a perception that grades = power. You are far better served in the long run by refusing to succumb to this "equation." Be forthright, act honestly, and take adult responsibility for your own actions, and you will gain at least the instructor's respect, while certainly retaining your own sense of dignity.

Are there any pertinent statistical findings?

Sure...they're probably obvious.

What about missed classes?

You miss class at your own risk. If you submit all the homework and take the quizzes (outside of missing perhaps an occasional pop quiz) -- this is of little concern to the instructor. On the other hand -- you are making a huge statement when you miss an announced quiz, or, especially, an exam. Leaving school early for the weekend or a break -- let's say your "ride home" leaves earlier than expected -- and missing an exam as a result, shows where your priorities are. You may risk some inconvenience being present for scheduled class activities; on the other hand, you will retain the instuctor's good graces and your own sense of dignity. School is a job -- treat it as such.

Are late homework, missed quizzes and missed exams preventable?

Almost always YES. With the exception of pop quizzes, every assignment and quiz will be announced in class, and posted on the internet. When you miss a class, you should consult the course calendar frequently (at least each day) to check for announcements.

If you inform the instructor in advance that you will miss an appointment due to an important personal, family or college-related obligation, you will be accommodated.

What's reasonable in-class behavior?

College professors tend to think they have many important things to say, and that everyone should be sitting on the edge of the chairs waiting for the next word. College professors have studied considerably in their fields, and are (usually) genuinely interested in and enthused by the material. They would like you join them! The reality is possibly something entirely different. However, you are sending the wrong message in class to your instructor by: conducting social activities (conversation, etc.); sleeping; frequently walking out. You are much more likely to be remembered (and not favorably) by the instructor for consistently sending these messages.

Further, if you have spent much time in front of an audience, you certainly understand how distracting it is when people are ignoring your wonderful presentation in favor of far more pedestrian concerns. Instead of thinking about what you're saying, you're wondering why some people don't care! This disrupts the concentration and weakens the presentation. That is why many instructors take exception to extraneous activities -- not because the individual is not listening, but because the act of not listening is impressed on the presenter. Please understand this if and when your instructor indicates displeasure at activities unrelated to the learning process.

What about questions I have about the material?

A good question, timely placed, is priceless. No single action can make a more favorable impression on your instructor than a really good question. Good questions have a way of including information that makes it clear that the person doing the asking has tried the exercises and thought about the issues. Questions about day-to-day assignments, etc., are best left to a simple encounter with the course calendar on the internet. Any question at all is fair game out of class.

What can be done about unfair treatment?

If you feel you are being singled out negatively, or unfairly treated, it is your obligation to confront the instructor immediately. This may not be pleasant for you, but it is necessary. It is necessary that you vigorously protect your rights and defend your dignity. This instructor does not want to treat anyone unfairly -- and if your perception is otherwise (even if you feel the instructor is singling out others) you must step forward and see to it that matters are cleared up. See to it that you document the times and content of any discussions you have with the instructor -- and that the instructor does so as well. If you cannot resolve matters with the instructor, then you should make an appointment to discuss matters with your adviser to seek further guidance.

What about complaints?

Is the instructor unreasonable? Is there something he can do better? Why not complain? What can it hurt? There is a perception that college professors are tyrants who pursue vendettas against those who disagree with their policies, viewpoints or methods. It is possible, instead, that professors are genuinely interested in serving students (your instructor is) and getting better at teaching students. However, because students are afraid that professors will wield the "ultimate" weapon (grades) as retribution, students refrain from criticism. Then, when students finally get to criticize (end of semester course evaluations), they do so anonymously. This causes professors to discount the criticism (the thinking is "It's only the people doing poorly who are complaining -- and they're doing it to get back at me.") This cycle is not good. The best critiques I have ever gotten were delivered directly to my face -- in advance of assigning grades. If you have constructive criticism about the material, the methods -- about anything -- your instructor should be willing to listen. Suggestions that seem exist for the defense and/or benefit of a single person in a single situation (say, a "predicament") carry much less weight.

I'm doing poorly -- the pressure's on -- if only I had a little more time. Can I get a grade of incomplete and finish the work next semester?

The college's incomplete policy is spelled out in the catalog. An incomplete (grade of "I") will be submitted "only if a student is unable to complete course requirements for reasons beyond the student's control." Such reasons are always documentable, and must be documented as they occur. If a documented sickness (or other circumstance beyond your control) causes you to miss a substantial amount of class, then it is perhaps reasonable (if not wise) for you to request an incomplete. End-of-semester requests for incompletes that are based on circumstances that occurred much earlier in the semester will be denied. It is assumed that you are working in good faith to complete course requirements by the end of the semester. When an incomplete is submitted you will then enter into an agreement with the instructor to get the work completed.

Here's what the dean's office has to say about incompletes.

The point is that a mark of INCOMPLETE is a grade assigned at the end of the semester like all other grades. It should not be used to allow a student to "make up" the work of the semester because the student was "having trouble" all semester and failed to turn in assignments throughout the semester. It is not to be given so a student may, you hope, eventually "get" the material. Likewise, it may not be "retrofitted" after grades have been issued because a student returns to you "begging" because she/he did not "like" an E grade earned.

I’m thinking about leaving a message for the instructor about my personal situation. What can I expect?

These matters need to be handled in person – in a face-to-face meeting. Phone messages will not be returned. At best, email messages will get a short reply asking you to meet with the instructor in person. Perhaps also you will be referred to the answers provided to all the questions listed here.

Why doesn’t the instructor reply to the message I left?

I do not keep up with phone messages, and it is my policy not to return calls (there is a reason for this). I generally reply to emails about content. But: No matter what, it is best if you speak to me in person. Also: My email is filtered, and it is possible your mail to me will automatically be deleted.

Can I take the final exam early?

Almost always: No. The mathematics department has a policy that requires each student to sit for the final at the designated time. Exceptions to this policy will not be granted to accommodate travel plans. Documented medical situations will be accommodated.

I’m not happy with my final grade. What can I do?

Contact the instructor. Please.

The process works like this:

        A review of your final exam, checking for scoring errors. (Students who are given grades of D or E can assume that their final exams have been tripled-checked already, with all benefit of the doubt credited to them.)

        A review of your record in the gradebook. (Recording errors do occur. However, you will get a chance to review your record at the end of the semester.)

        A review of computations leading to your final average. (The computations are done in a spreadsheet – chances are unlikely that errors will be made.)

A written report on these items will be provided to you.

If your final average does not meet the standards established in the syllabus for a given grade, then you may not petition that grade. (For example: If your final average is 69.23 and you receive a grade of D+, you may not contest the D+, as the syllabus clearly states that 69.23 converts to a grade of D+.) However, you are welcome to petition the scoring on any exam. (For the final, the instructor will provide you with a copy of your exam, and a meeting will be set to discuss the scoring of that exam.)

I have problems taking tests…what do I do?

The instructor is amenable to alternate assessment criteria for students who merit it. However, the instructor is not qualified to determine whether any student does merit such accommodations. You need to see the Office of Learning Services (5 Poucher) and get formally evaluated.

What's the one thing this instructor most does not want to hear?

"I really need a [substitute the grade you really need here -- often a C-] to graduate [or whatever]." This remark carries with it a subtle, if subconscious, appeal for leniency in cases of personal exigency. Your personal situation will in no way impact the instructor’s standards (nor should it). The instructor’s grading system is designed to be as objective as possible; in no way can this remark be construed as constructive.

What comes in second place?

"Is there any 'extra credit' I can do to improve my grade?" (This question is usually heard well into the semester.) Guidelines for pursuing extra credit are given above. If you have an idea for a substantial, and rigorous, outside project that would make use of statistics, then the instructor will be happy to discuss your proposal (which will involve substantial amounts of time to produce) and, finding it of sufficient merit, would in advance accept such a project. Note: This would in all cases amount to an increase in a student's work load.

Anything else the instructor could do without hearing?

For one -- "I hate math." This may well be true, but if you're going to say it, say it out of the instructor's earshot. A related statement is "I'm no good at math." (In fact, the two seem to go together.) In reality, very few people are incapable of doing well in mathematics. There may be a number of good reasons why your experiences in the past have been discouraging. Reinforcing them with statements such as these cannot possibly help. If you do poorly in mathematics you would be wise to investigate the reasons why this is so. Generally, loudly and publicly proclaiming your deficiencies is not a good idea. (Imagine an instructor who says, "I hate teaching?")

Discussions among students that could be interpreted as "academic dishonesty." For example: There is an assignment, for which you've been asked to work alone. In the moments before class, the instructor hears students discussing the assignment. Granted: This could be an entirely innocent conversation -- two people discussing work that they consider finished. However, the instructor knows that people often spend in-class time putting finishing touches on an assignment. Consequently, this sort of conversation can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to solicit assistance in completing the assignment. Please read the selection above on academic dishonesty.

Are there any RAQs (Rarely Asked Questions)?

Sorry, no, not yet. But, if you have objections to the responses given to the questions above, or suggestions for changes, deletions or additions, let the instructor know. It would be interesting to compile a list of tactics that students find to be useful (not merely study tactics, but also: how to get along with your instructor and course in general).