Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Dates in conflict
“Rob” was a good student, so I was unaccustomed to having him linger after class to ask questions. To make things even more unusual, Rob insisted on waiting till everyone else was gone from the room. Evidently he did not want any classmates to overhear his question. Rather tentatively, he voiced his query:
“Is it okay if I take our next exam a day early? On Thursday instead of Friday?”
Oh, no problem. I can answer that question easily: No.
I was, however, nice enough to give Rob a reason:
“Sorry, that's not possible. The exam doesn't even exist until the night before. I don't finish writing it till we've had our review session.”
In fact, I sometimes tweak an exam after I find out what students have questions about. If we spend a lot of time on a particular topic, I want to be sure that the topic is not neglected on the exam. For example, if my students want to work especially intensely on mixture problems, then I'm more likely to choose a problem of that type to include among the various application exercises on the exam. (And—I admit it—I don't worry too much about the likelihood that this slightly disadvantages the students who choose to skip the review session.)
Furthermore, I dislike the very notion of giving exams early. The student who gets special treatment by getting the exam in advance is obviously subject to the temptation to leak information to friends in the class. The less opportunity for that, the better.
Rob seemed to be surprised by my answer. Perhaps he had had instructors in the past who wrote all of their exams at the beginning of the semester. Not me. I'm much more adaptive than that. Or less farseeing.
Rob was also dismayed by my answer.
“It's not really my fault, Dr. Z. I got tickets to a concert before the semester started, and I wasn't expecting to enroll in a class that met on Fridays.”
“Nevertheless, that's what you did, Rob. The conflict is of your own making. You have a conflict between our exam date and the concert date. I don't have a good way to accommodate that and it's not my problem to resolve it anyway.”
“Well, could I take the exam later? Would that be okay?”
“Sorry, Rob. Think about it. I post the solution key on-line right after the exam. I'd have to withhold it from your classmates all weekend and leave them in suspense so that you could be accommodated. They wouldn't get the answers until Monday, until after you've taken the exam.”
Rob hesitated a moment.
“Oh, I was meaning to tell you. I'm going to be out on Monday, too.”
The conversation ended soon after that.