Final thoughts. Or thoughts on finals. Whatever.

One of the most frustrating aspects of final examinations for me as a professor is that, though they take forfreakingever to grade, nine times out of ten they don’t actually change a student’s pre-final grade, either for better or for worse.   It does make a tad bit pointless  the week I spend grading exam 6 hours a day, but I suppose that’s the name of the game.

Of course, on closer inspection, this seeming invariance of grades across final examinations is  a good thing, since it suggests that no one is taking serious advantage of cheating on their final exam to make a last ditch effort to pull their grade out of the trash.   Indeed, it is precisely when someone with a lower grade going into a final comes out acing it that I pay any truly close attention to cheating.   And, sadly, it is frequently in such cases that cheating is found.

It is  cheating that seems to be the truly frustrating part of grading for many other professors.   So let me give this piece of advice to students about cheating on your final exams: don’t do it.

It’s not the fact that cheating is bad for your soul and you’ll probably end up swimming in a lake of fire and brimstone surrounded by ex-Jerry Springer guests and former Bush administration employees (although that is something to consider).   It’s instead the fact that if you’re doing so badly in a class that you feel required to cheat on the final to simply pass the course, then chances are that you are simply not smart enough to successfully pull it off.   I mean, it’s insulting enough to your professor that after 15 weeks you still haven’t learned that, say, cosine is negative in Quadrant II, or that not every matrix has an inverse.   But, man alive,  it goes beyond insulting when you demonstrate this lack of knowledge by cheating on an exam with all the skill and subterfuge of a retarded ground squirrel.

For example, I always hand out two different versions of  any exam to the same class.   Sometimes the two versions have the same problems, but are arranged in a different order; sometimes the tests look similar in organization, but have very different problems on them.    It’s just a simple means to discourage the wholesale copying of answers from one test to another.   It is in fact obvious that the two exams are not the same, since they are printed  on different colored paper and I make great pains to ensure that like-colored exams are never adjacent to one another.   Nevertheless, I will frequently find borderline students who hand in more or less perfect exams.

…of the wrong color.

It’s one thing to fail a class because you haven’t put in enough effort into mastering the material.   It’s quite another to fail a class because you are a complete moron when it comes to cheating.

This is nothing, however, compared to what happened to my colleague Professor X  this semester.   Student  Y begged and begged Professor  X to take the final exam early, because his family was moving to Nepal and his dog was diagnosed with testicular cancer and his grandfather was being buried that day (although he’d passed away, paradoxically enough, just before the previous exam) and his car was having undiagnosed engine problems and so on and could he please take the final exam early?   Professor  X relented and let Student  Y take the exam a week early, eliciting a promise to keep the exam problems a secret from fellow students.   Student  Y made the promise and took said exam, did marginally well on it, and life goes on.

The day before the exam, however, Professor  X got an email from Student Z, on behalf of her study group, saying that while she’s enjoyed the class so much and has done all the homework and understands everything from the class (because Professor X’s teaching style is so engaging) and feels really good about the final exam, there were still a couple of topics that she felt a little uneasy about and would Professor X  (the swell guy that he is) help  her with them by emailing  her answers to some questions she has?   The email then lists, word for word, all of the problems  from Student Y’s final exam.

“Subtlety” is a concept with which Student Z was not endowed.   Along with basic intelligence, apparently.

In this case, Professor X had the last laugh, by rewriting several of the problems on the final exam to look similar to those from the previous version, but with a distinct (and crucial) difference in each one.   And sure enough, all of the members of Student Z’s study group turned in admirable solutions to these problems — applicable to the other exam, not the one they took.

So again, I admonish thee: do not cheat on your final exam!

Or, at the very least, get some pointers from the nearest retarded ground squirrel before you do.   Seriously.

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