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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tough Tests, Take 6: Have You Ever Given A Makeup Exam That Was Different Than Your Regular Exam?

Every semester, I get an e-mail from the administration at my school. It says something along the lines of: "Students A, B, and C need to take your exam early and/or Students D, E, and F need to take your exam late. Do you want me to use the original exam or do you prefer to use a makeup exam?" My response is always to use the original exam, and I wonder if/how any professors use a makeup exam. I suppose that the worry here is cheating. If some students are taking the exam early, they could disclose the questions to students taking the regularly scheduled exam. In turn, students taking the regularly scheduled exam could disclose the questions to students taking the exam late.

But is it feasible to give a different exam to students taking the exam early or late? The problem I see is that writing an exam for a class for me is a semester-long process, in which I am trying to ensure:  (1) that the exam has a fair sampling of questions covering a good breadth of material from the class; (2) that the exam is neither too easy nor too difficult but just right; (3) that students can finish the exam in the time allotted; and (4) that there are no grammatical/factual errors or ambiguities. Now, could I create a different makeup exam for a class in a given semester? Sure. Would it be exactly as long/difficult/fair as my regular exam? I doubt it. I'm reminded of the short story/film about Harold Swerg, the filing clerk/athlete, who was the greatest athlete in the world because...he could equal score/time of his best competitor. "Winning doesn't take my all," said Harold, "Equalling takes my all." I'm not Harold Swerg, so I don't give a makeup exam. I don't know how I could compare students taking the regular exam and students taking the makeup exam on the same curve (this is also why I am reluctant to give a Choose Your Own Adventure exam). But maybe others have had more success. Have you ever given a different makeup exam, and how did it go?

Have You Ever Given A Makeup Exam That Was Different Than Your Regular Exam?
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Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on September 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM | Permalink


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It is not true that there is no incentive for a classmate to disclose the exam to a makeup test-taker. While he might lose a little in relative standing, he may gain a lot from the test taker, even if only a psychic reward.

Posted by: Jimbino | Sep 30, 2011 11:44:39 AM

This is from the perspective of a student who just completed his 1L year.

On the one hand, there is undoubtedly the danger of cheating. With so much riding on an exam, the temptation might be too great for some. No doubt for these students, breaking the honor code is no problem. At least anecdotally, I've heard that some shady stuff goes on during supposedly "closed universe" law review write on competitions.

On the other hand, there is no incentive for a classmate to disclose the exam to a late test-taker. Given the nature of the forced curve, such a student would only be putting themselves at a disadvantage.

If I had to guess, more often than not, the fact that the curve is the curve prevents more cheating than would actually take place.

Posted by: Matt | Sep 30, 2011 2:22:05 AM

Trained in law and physics and having tried to teach pre-laws, it is my feeling that a professor should never give law students any chance to cheat, because they will. They were, after all, the college students who avoided math and science like the plague, who took "baby physics" and "baby math" in order to make the A's needed to get into law school. They are the ones who try to get to the top by putting on three-piece suits just for interviews, by praising colleagues and ass-kissing judges and anyone else who might help them rise above the competition. They concern themselves more with accolades than with knowledge. Some of my student cohort at UT Law even slept with professors, for "love" of course!

Posted by: Jimbino | Sep 29, 2011 6:12:49 PM

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