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Exams: calculators, formula sheets, etc.

In my introductory calculus-level physics course at ISU, the rule is
all written questions (not multiple choice), no calculators of any type,
no crib or formula sheets. The cover sheet of the exam contains some
basic definitions and laws (about 1/2 a page in a large font) on the
order of Fnet=ma, v=dr/dt, a=dv/dt, etc. The written questions are
devised so formula memorization gets few if any points. Whereas on
multiple-choice exams (5 choices) the lowest scores might be 20-30%, scores
below 10% occur on the written exams.

Exams have numerical work - even some fairly complicated, with square
roots, for example - but only one-significant-figure accuracy is expected,
through estimation.

I have seen engineers with programmable calculators containing hundreds
of worked physics examples with algebraic solutions and the opportunity
to plug in numbers. I think there are even modules of such that can be
bought. I have had less-wealthy students point that out that calculators
give wealthier students a significant advantage when they can be used in
a course, and thank me for not allowing them.

Laurent Hodges, Professor of Physics
12 Physics Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-3160
(515) 294-1185 (office)