Ethical/student relations question for you

What do you tell a student who is taking a final exam in a day or two, but for whom it is mathematically impossible to pass the course even if they make a perfect score on the final? Do you tell them not to show up? Or are there ramifications (e.g. legal) for telling a student that their situation is hopeless?

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7 responses to “Ethical/student relations question for you

  1. Eric

    Couple questions:

    1. Define “can’t pass” (i.e. guaranteed “F”, or is it the case they can’t get a high enough grade to get course credit?)

    2. What are the potential transcript/G.P.A. ramifications of them not taking the final (big difference between an F and a D showing up on a transcript)

  2. I certainly wouldn’t bring it up if the student didn’t say something first. When they ask, I am usually vague: “It’s entirely up to you” or “You have to decide what’s right for you.”

    I let such students take the final. If they complain about the F, the final becomes one more piece of evidence showing that the student hasn’t mastered the material. I might not grade it except for a look-through.

    If the student dazzles you with a fantastic performance that doesn’t seem like cheating, then you can be soft and issue a passing grade if you want to.

  3. This, er, hypothetical student is not even close to not getting an F. Even with a perfect final exam score, the semester grade would be under a 50%. No amount of fudging on my part will help.

    My inclination is to just keep my mouth shut, but on the other hand, I hate to see somebody labor away at a lost cause.

  4. Eric

    I’d say nothing to the student. Basically, you could consider it a final exercise in problem solving for the class. If they figure the fact that they can’t pass on their own, and choose not to come to the final, so be it. If they don’t, well…you can probably shape the experience into a life lesson for him/her.

  5. That’s true, Eric — I’ve had lots of students come in at the end of the semester with “what do I need to make on the final to get a C” questions, and then fumble around with calculating percentages — which sort of highlights the real problem.

  6. Natalie

    I wouldn’t tell them not to show up (as Eric commented, let them try to figure things out for themselves), but I certainly wouldn’t spend a lot of time grading their final.

  7. We are not allowed by the university to advise students to drop or not drop. I have no idea why this came about, but it’s university policy. However, if a student comes in and says, “I need at least a C+ in this class,” we pull up the gradebook and tell the student what level work he will have to do for the rest of the semester to get that grade. In fact, because so many of our MBA instructors could not figure out how to do this, we wrote a VBA application to do it for them.