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Re: Reading the problem

One of the advantages of having small classes in a small school is that
students feel a sense of pride and responsibility for the work that
they do. In the 21 years that I have been giving take-home exams in
physics classes, there have been only two cases of possible cheating.
I am willing to accept that amount of cheating compared to the
benefits gained.
Don Greenberg

I am enjoying the conversation of how to test students; take-home vs in
class tests, and open-book vs crib sheet vs closed book. There have been
lots of good points on all sides of these issues. I'll throw in my two
cents worth of experience.

We also have the advantage of operating under an honor code, and over a 5
year period I have tried just about all of the different combinations
listed by others. I have seen the advantages and disadvantages mentioned
by others when it comes to open/closed book exams and crib notes. I used
to have an 8 by 10 sheet in which almost the whole book had been
transcribed by writing microscopically in different colors in different
directions across the page. On the other hand, making a crib sheet can
really cause students to think about what things are really important and
what are just special cases.

When I used open-book take-home exams without time limit, students liked
it, but worried that it took too much time. Later they complained that
when they got to MCATS they found they hadn't learned any of the equations
and were worse off for that. In-class tests in a 50 min format stressed
many students out and didn't allow for questions requiring any thought or

I have finally settled on an open-book take-home exam for each several
weeks worth of material, and an in-class closed-book exam on the day the
take-home exam is due. This seems to work pretty well. They need to learn
some equations but the take-home convinces them that not everything can be
done by equation matching.

Having tried this it occurred to me that this is exactly the traditional
way of teaching. Graded homework (which I call an exam to make sure they
understand it is an individual effort) followed by a closed-book in-class

Maybe there *is* something to traditional methods which should be carefully
considered before we scrap them for new ones.

(One question on every in-class test consists of a list of quantities and
constants along with symbols for them. They are asked for SI units for
each quantity, and whether that quantity is a vector. I DO encourage the
students to memorize the units for everything they use, because once
they've done that, they are more likely to check the units in problems.)

J. D. Sample (501) 698-4625
Math-Physics Dept
Lyon College
2300 Highland Road
Batesville, Arkansas 72501