Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, December 13, 2004

Excuses for Getting Out of an Exam

Many professors seem to think that students use "My grandmother died, and I have to go home to attend the funeral," as an excuse to avoid or delay writing exams. There was even a paper written back in 1990 about the topic, relating family death rates (FDRs) to students' grades and other variables. The author noted with tongue-in-cheek alarm that the FDR had been rising exponentially over time. He speculated that family members of students who were not doing well in university were especially likely to die just before the date for which the exam was scheduled and recommended as possible solutions:
  1. Stop giving exams.
  2. Allow only orphans to enrol in universities.
  3. Make students lie to their families - don't tell family members about upcoming exams, and maybe they'll stop worrying themselves to death.

The fact is that, to the best of my knowledge, in the approximately 50,000 student exam contacts I have had in my lengthy teaching career, I recall having had only one FDR request for a makeup exam. I think there might be a good explanation for this.

My regular exams are multiple choice (here and here are a few examples); my makeup exams require prose and/or graph answers (e.g. here and here). For reasons I cannot quite fathom, many students seem to think the latter would be harder, so they do their best to take the regular exams.

More evidence that people respond to incentives.

I'll leave the drawing of additional conclusions to the reader.
[thanks to Brian F (who received the link from Audrey) for the pointer]

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