Variation on a Theme

We're all familiar with the common recurrent nightmare of having a college test for which you haven't studied or attended class all semester. Last night I had a frighteningly realistic variant on it. I dreamt I was attending the last lecture of a class I'm taking right now, Constitutional Law. It was taught by my professor. He wrapped up his lecture, then suddenly told us to boot up our exam software. His TAs began passing out exams. "Since you're all here right now," he said, and since you all have the same schedules and this is the absolute last lecture for anyone this semester, I've decided to just give you all the exam right now. You have four hours, answer the question that's asked and no other question."

My heart sank. I've been somewhat slacking, studying-wise, all semester, and had been counting on a week and a half of dead time between the last lecture and the final to prepare myself for the Con Law final. But I couldn't well say that to the professor. Luckily, some fellow student in a similar situation but possessed of more courage than I rose to my aid.

"But wait a minute, Professor! We've been counting on this study period! It's not fair to give us the exam on the spot like this!"

"Ah," replied the professor, "but it is fair! The test is graded on a curve, so your grade isn't dependent on any universal metric of performance, but rather on how well you do in relation to everyone else in the class. So the only way that this could be unfair is if it structurally favors some students over other students. No student has had any prior notice of my decision to move the exam up, so you've all been caught equally by surprise. You've all had the same amount of time to study. It's reasonable to assume that you'll all be putting every moment of time you have into studying over the week and a half until the scheduled exam time, so none of you is likely to gain or lose any advantage over anyone else in that period. Plus you are all presumably fully prepared to handle the test already, having been diligently keeping up with the reading in your preparations for each lecture. Therefore, why not give the exam now? You're all here, you're reasonably prepared (or at least, none of you is more prepared than anyone else), and you'll get it out of the way now and have one fewer exam to worry about. Plus I can then get a head start grading exams and hopefully get your grades posted before the exam period is done."

I don't recall the contents of my phantom exam, but I can't say that the professor's justification mollified me very much. Now I'm starting to think, with one week of lectures left, that it might behoove me to get a leg up preparing for some of my exams. Some of these professors are tricksy sorts...

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 16, 2006 11:17 AM.

Nervous Thoughts from Criminal Law was the previous entry in this blog.

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