Finale

Sorry for the lack of posts, but ’tis the season for final exams, and those are always a massive timesuck.   But it is a chance to bask in the glory that is the idiot student.


Adam gave up on his two-hour final at the 60 minute mark, turned in a half-finished exam sheet, and disappeared.   When I arrived at my office, in my inbox was a message from him,  the whole of which read

Hey i’m in your calc 1 class… what can we do to make sure i pass?

My immediate response was “Pray like hell the rest of the class failed worse than you”, but I scratched it on the grounds that (a) it was unnecessarily mean and (b)   praying like hell was most likely a contradiction in terms.

Instead, I sent back a terse:

There is nothing you can do after the final exam.   That’s more or less what the “final” adjective of “final examination” implies.

A day later, Adam replied back.

Dr. K.   This is my fourth attempt at Calculus 1, I will not be able to take it a fifth time.   If I don’t pass this course, I will most likely have to quit school here, since my engineering major requires Calc  1 as a prerequisite.   I’ve seen all these   concepts before with Drs. X and Y, so I’m confident I know what’s important in Calculus I’m just not that good at tests.

I replied back that he was also not very good at turning in homework, or computer labs, or podcasts, or any of the other parts of the class for which a grade was assigned, and that his previous three semesters of attempts should have illustrated to him that that particular approach to Calculus be re-evaluated.

To which he replied back

Can you send me my grade in the course as soon as possible.   I have a very busy and stressful semester next semester with a lot of engineering classes I’ve had to put off while I was in Calc I, but I can’t enroll in them until I get a passing grade in Calculus.   This is very stressful for me.

The email I sent back began as follows:

Your final exam has been graded, and I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that your schedule for next semester just eased up a lot…


I had another student, who signed his exam with the moniker Joe XXX,  who apparently glommed onto the idea that “Calculus = Limit in every problem,” and hence spent his time on the test trying to solve calculus problems using the limit definitions of derivatives.

Seriously.   Every solution to a problem on the exam, whether it involved finding critical points or antiderivatives or areas bounded by curves, all began with

limlimits_{x to a} displaystyle frac{f(x) - f(a)}{x - a}

followed by some  ghastly mess of algebra that bore only some passing semblance of the problem in question, before finally devolving into a barely rectifiable plane curve.

On the one hand, it made the test easy to grade.   On the other hand, where had this Joe been?   He was not on my roster, although curiously enough he had taken the previous exam.

I remained confused by this until one of my colleagues sent out the following email

Dear Colleagues, I had a student send me an email indicating that he didn’t do well on the test this morning.   He said he didn’t recognize the material.    The only problem is, he wasn’t at the test this morning.   This student has been in class exactly two times this semester and didn’t know we changed rooms mid-semester.   So my question is, did anyone have an extra student take an exam this morning?   His name is Joe XXX.   I’m quite curious what exam he took.

This is certainly a first for me — a student who managed to fail two classes with a single exam.   Nice.

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