I’m about a week from being finished with classes and about 1.5 weeks from being finished, more or less. Although I’m not terribly worried finals for myself, I know some people are stressing a lot. I already wrote a list of advice for test-taking that should be applicable for many final exams. But what about handling papers, projects, and just finals period?

  • Organize yourself! I have a list of what’s due when in my calendar and have already begun to decide when I’m working (or can work) on what. Make sure you have everything you need as well.
  • Sleep, eat, etc. No one works or thinks well if they are not taking care of themselves. If you feel like you’re pressed for time now, imagine how pressed you’ll be if you are sick. If you do become sick, talk to your advisor or a dean to see about getting extensions.
  • Speaking of eating, eat well. A little indulgence in junk is okay, but I find almost always feel better when I eat healthy foods.
  • If you’re writing papers (like I am), I’d make sure you have adequate breaks away from the computer. After awhile, my hands need to not type and my brain needs to stop working so hard.
  • If your final exam is in-class open everything, be it a writing or math/science exam, review your notes and have everything organized. Open notes, etc. on a test can be a valuable tool, but they can be detrimental if you have no idea what is where. I like using these little sticky-note strips; they’re a sliver of the size of a sticky note and you can write on them.
  • Along the same vein, even with an open notes/book/everything exam, study before you get there. These items are only tools and are pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them or understand the underlying concepts before hand.
  • Address your grade concerns now. While my advice has always been to address grade concerns as soon as they come up, your grade still has not been submitted. Talk to your professor(s) about ways to improve.
  • My last piece of advice is DO NOT CHEAT OR PLAGIARIZE. The consequences can be very steep for cheating. I know people have successfully cheated, but there are plenty of people who have not. Not even looking at the ethics, the risk is not worth it. If you wish to collaborate with a student on something and are unsure if it is cheating, ask your professor!

Best of luck to everyone who is in finals or is about to enter finals.



I’ve completed 1 week of school. One week isn’t really that much, in terms of going to class. I go to class twice a week. Two 3-hour lectures one day, one 3-hour lecture another day. I was supposed to have a 4th class, but it was unfortunately canceled. The professor is very kind and said that I could do an independent study with him. I haven’t made a decision, because I haven’t read the papers I was sent home with and solidified a project. The topic is science and religion, by the way. I’ve mentioned these topics coming up in the past when I taught, and I’d like to know more about it.

In terms of schoolwork, I don’t feel overwhelmed, even when looking at the workload and punching it into my calendar. I have a lot on my plate in general, but it isn’t like school is overwhelming by itself. It’s more like having a bunch of small meals all together, which then becomes overwhelming as a result of so much together. The only thing that genuinely seems overwhelming is fighting this cold and allergies now; the cold is a result of rapid weather change, the allergies are (I think) from someone wearing perfume.

I’m proud of my students; most of them actually appear to have taken to heart my advice on studying. Most students passed their finals with Bs or As. Not bad at all, considering some of them were not A or B students in this class. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least and a great way to end the school year. I don’t think I can emphasize enough how much I dislike giving a student a failing grade, even when that is what s/he earned.

Even though I’m iffy about teaching next year, I’m already thinking about what to do. Thinking about the advice another professor at the school gave me (don’t do more work than the students do), I’m considering not assigning homework formally. As most people know, the odd numbered problems have some kind of answer. My students typically don’t do homework (this is par for the course), and when they realize it’s a part of their grades, they do a rush job that is more about credit than understanding. I’m not anti-grades, but I’m more pro-learning than anything. My reasoning for considering this is that the students who want to learn and grasp the material will, they can check answers without consulting with me, the homework thing won’t hurt those who are super busy and may turn it in late, and it creates less work for me to grade something poorly done. I’ll still give quizzes, so they won’t totally be devoid of feedback. However, I am strongly learning towards this model.

Has anyone ever done a quiz/exam/attendance only for grades? I’m torn, but I also come from a world where homework saved my behind and I genuinely worked hard on it. The student population I work with is different (homework ended up hurting everyone’s grade, even those who did well on exams), so I have to figure out something that works for them.

You know it’s the end of the year when the tutoring center has people show up and suddenly, you get to tutor everything. I tutored for about 2 hours today. I did physics, calc, and English.

Since final grades are due Friday, I have a lot of work ahead of me. My math students are taking their final now as I type this entry. My physics students take their final tomorrow and Wednesday. I’m more or less set up to just grade the final and then have the final grades done. There is some leeway, but on a whole, I feel most students have performed consistently throughout the semester. I don’t look forward to the grading; I used to not mind grading so much, but there is always so much to be done.

Although I enjoy teaching, I’m looking forward to the summer. It looks like I have employment (I have to do one last interview/talk with some people this week, but my new advisor basically told me that the job is mine). The pay isn’t amazing, but it is indeed enough to get through the summer. I’m also looking at other small ways to supplement my income.

In terms of next year with the school, I hope to teach one or two classes. Since I’ll be a full-time student, I can’t swing a lot. However, I want to stay actively involved with everyone here. I enjoy the environment a lot, and I’d like to become a better teacher. I’m not sure if I could ever teach full-time (I’m hoping to do more education research), but I think that part of me will always like teaching. Besides helping guide people in their education, I like that teaching helps keep things fresh in my brain.

I’ve seen that question bringing people to my blog. Well, it really depends on how you do it.

If you enter the conversation condescending and belligerent, it honestly annoys me. I don’t care for arrogance in general or people who are hostile. While I maintain professionalism, they aren’t pleasant conversations for either side. I think generally that it’s incredibly disrespectful to tell someone who has more experience/knowledge in the subject how things should be graded. I really recommend entering a grade dispute conversation calmly and respectfully.

If you enter the conversation with respect, I hope you also enter with a valid point. People who are petty really do bother me, because the issue appears to be based not on merit. Merit goes a long way with me, because it means you actually thought about why you’re arguing what you’re arguing and that it’s beyond wanting a better grade.

Timeliness also plays a huge role for how I feel about grade discussions. The responsibility is on the student to know his/her grade (if the professor isn’t returning work regularly, that’s a different issue). You should have a relative idea of how you’re doing in a class by that work. If you’re failing everything, you shouldn’t expect or demand to pass.  If you start talking about the unfairness of your overall grade at the end of the semester, I generally find that desperate and without merit. I hand out a syllabus, which is my contract/grading policy for students. Every last point is calculated and a general discussion of how the class is formatted is included. An argument about the overall grade being unfair seems even more invalid to me when people in the class do receive good grades.

So there you have it. There are obviously exceptions, but pretty much all grade disputes that I’ve had to deal with have been people who really do not have a leg to stand on. Again, as a final piece of advice, I really emphasize the idea of being respectful. Even if you have perfectly valid reasons for not respecting someone, you still have to demonstrate some kind of respect; you’re more likely to at least be heard and maintain a positive standing in that person’s eyes.

I found through my stats that someone came here looking to find out how to argue their graduate school grade. Because that’s not really a topic I’ve covered, I figured today (especially after receiving an email from a student re. his grade) would be a good day to talk about that.

My short advice? Unless the situation is particularly grave (see the last paragraph of this entry), don’t bother, no matter what level you are in your schooling. Unless it’s points added incorrectly, usually the professor feels s/he has done a fine a job grading/preparing you. Some people react terribly to having their grading questioned, and people leave upset and with no satisfactory results.

There have been a few times in grad school I thought the grading was terribly unfair, as did several other students. By unfair, I mean we were penalized every single point of the problem for not having plot labels formatted exactly as the professor wanted; the plots were only a small part of the problem and certainly not the topic of the class. Why did the bulk of us not argue? Too much to lose. For some, this was their advisor and maintaining good relations was more important at the end of the day. They had about a year or so they needed to work with this professor. For others, they had more things to worry about or knew that they would have this professor again in the future. I’d also add in that if you are expecting recommendations from a person, you should tread lightly. Regardless of whether you should be able to question your grade without fear, we live in a world where people have egos. People also talk, so you also don’t want your reputation viewed poorly by someone gossipy. I reiterate that these things shouldn’t matter, but they can, so you may as well beware. Tread very lightly.

If you chose to pursue arguing your grade, I’d think about the following questions:

  • Why are you arguing your grade? Why do you think your grade isn’t fair? In my story about being given 0 credit for improper labels on a plot, that exam question had more components than just plot labels and the exam was not on plot labels. Do I think that we should have been docked for incorrect plot labels? Absolutely, just not every single point if a student managed to get the spirit of the problem down pat. If you’re arguing your grade because you’ve always been an A student/you can’t fail this class/you tried really hard/you didn’t study hard enough/etc., those aren’t good reasons. Base your argument on something that is substantial to academics and the topic.
  • Are you being petty? Grading is somewhat subjective, even physics (I tend to grade on work more than the end answer). I personally think it’s a waste of time to attempt to argue your A- to an A or argue that 95/100 on your lab report to a 97/100. You’ve done good work, but according to your grader, it could be a bit better. Having discussed this issue with others, this again comes off poorly. Why? None of us have seen a case where the person has a good reason why they should receive a higher grade. For myself, I don’t like when students become more about the grade and less about the learning.
  • What is this professor like? Granted, even personable professors can become irritated easily, but I’d say your chances of having a good conversation with this professor re. your grade are slimmer if the person is already snappish about questions.
  • How are you going to approach the person? Catching them 5 minutes before class or stopping them in the middle of the hall is never a good idea. I’d send an email or ask to meet with the person. I’d be humble and not accusative towards the professor, even if you find the person to be a jerk.
  • Are you capable of remaining calm and professional, should the meeting go sour? This goes back to future contact with the professor. You may, regardless of how you behave, leave a bad impression on a professor, but again, your odds are quite that you will if you become belligerent, whiny, and overall unpleasant. People gossip, and if you need this person to not have a negative view of you (future prof for another class, your advisor, semester not over…), you need to put your best face forward.
  • Are you willing to discuss strategies on how to do better? Before you arrange to discuss your grade, you may want to also ask the professor, particularly if this isn’t your final grade, how you can improve. I like when people ask me how they can improve their grades. Not students who are digging for extra credit but students genuinely interested in learning how to write, solve physics, whatever. It shows that you realize you can improve and that you aren’t necessarily blaming the professor.

I have yet to argue a grade; at most, I’ve inquired why I’ve received some grades when the comments have not been apparent on the work. I’ve had numerous students attempt to argue their grades with me. Typically, they’ve been people who been any of the following: hostile, condescending, hysterical, insulting, or just plain nasty. They also have typically been people who don’t realize that we have the rest of the semester to get through together, and leaving a bad impression on anyone is always a terrible idea. I have yet to see someone argue his/her grade and present a good reason why a higher grade is deserved. That’s why I think it’s important to consider what you’re doing and why.

If your situation is grave (I’ve heard stories where professors allegedly have intentionally given inaccurate grades) and justifiable in arguing, I would talk to your department head or advisor on how to proceed. If that doesn’t go well, talk to a dean on campus. Go up the food chain in your school. While I think grade arguing is often not done for the right reasons, I know there are cases where it should be done. However, always proceed with caution and make sure you have all the information to present a strong case. It isn’t fair, but things can come back to bite you in the butt.

Good luck!

Everything was completed yesterday, just in the nick of time to go to dance class. It was also done in the nick of time for me to get sick today. I suspect it has something to do with my heat being broken. While I was planning a more productive day than lying around in bed, watching crime shows (I’m a fan of Law and Order: SVU and Castle), there are worse things to had. As long as I don’t leave my bed, I’m quite warm.

Actually, the semester cannot quite sleep soundly, I’m afraid. I had one student already try to argue his grade up because he wasn’t happy with it. Well, that’s not a good reason for getting a better grade; even though the holiday break has begun, he thought we should meet to discuss his grade. Final grades were due, and I don’t believe in grades being argued. This isn’t the movie Clueless, after all. I work out a rubric before I even begin grading. It’s simpler in the long run, and I think it’s more impartial; items are given various weights because I think they’re more important, not because a student I like did poorly on something and I think it shouldn’t be weighed as heavily as a result. I take my time grading and try to do things in their favor.

One of the biggest issues of contention for my exams was that I give them physics words or terms to give definitions to; unfortunately, the student who is upset about his grade is one of the ones who despises the whole vocab thing. I genuinely believe it’s important for people to articulate what they mean in science; otherwise, we’re just doing math. I think, if you have some genuine understanding of what’s going on, you should be able to write something. For this past exam, I wanted them to write things in their own words. I usually give definitions to them as an examples. The exam prior to the final- all the students memorized exactly what I gave them. I was surprised and not pleased; while I’m glad they took the initiative to study that part, memorizing definitions shows no understanding whatsoever. I can memorize Spanish or Arabic or a myriad of other languages, but I don’t know what they mean. They were not thrilled about this, but I genuinely believe that part of a class is communication and understanding what’s being communicated; you have to learn the lingo. Heck, I would be happy if they would write their own definitions prior to the exam, make sure they’re good, and then memorize the heck out of them.

I heard that it’s standard for some students to think that they can argue their grades and with time, they cool down and decide to concentrate their energies elsewhere.