Finals are over!

For my students, at least—now I just have to buckle down and do a lot of grading over the next few days.

I made my poor Human Physiology1 students suffer through a long comprehensive exam. For a lark, my son Connlann2 took the final, and I have to publicly shame him. I don’t normally publicize exam scores, but he got a mere 12.5%3 right! And he answered most of the questions that demanded a short answer with limericks. This is disgraceful; what do they teach students in those Wisconsin schools?4

1This is an upper level biology elective, packed full of pre-meds.

2Who is a freshman English/theater major at UW Madison.

3He did take some freshman biology course out there.

4I shall have to yank him out of that terrible place, and either enroll him in our superior local university or put him to work digging ditches.


  1. Coragyps says

    As long as he mentioned Nantucket in at least one limerick there is still hope. Otherwise……

  2. says

    There once was a squid from Nantucket
    Whose ink sac resembled a bucket.
    When some poor stumbling sod
    On his tentacle trod,
    He popped it in his mouth to suck it.

  3. says

    No Nantuckets. There was this, though, in answer to a question on the immune system:

    My doctor said I have hypermutation
    You couldn’t believe my elation
    I could have been Magneto
    Firing a metal torpedo
    But instead my power was immuno-adaptation.

  4. says

    John Avise, who is a famous evolutionary geneticist, writes lyrics in his spare time. He has been known to write one during seminars about the seminar.

  5. says

    Molly, this is a human physiology class:

    T-cells are specialized whites,
    a key and renowned lymphocyte.
    But when they misfire
    you’re system’s haywire,
    and your own poor body they fight

  6. justawriter says

    I took a class on “Bioscientific Terminology” and part of the class was to define a term and use it in a limerick. Mine was:

    There once was a lady from Vegas
    Whose behavior was considered outrageous
    Especially when
    Her taste in her men
    Turned out to be anthropophagous!

  7. says

    Maybe he decided he didn’t like the course after all. Or, his father was whining about his own students and their dads? ;)

  8. says

    Just for fun, he took a final exam? I am disbelieving. I think more limericks would be good proof.

    And from the Wisconsinners I know, I gather they teach them how to number footnotes.

  9. quork says

    and either enroll him in our superior local university or put him to work digging ditches.

    And really, what’s the difference?

  10. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Not being american, that was peculiar. I thought grades and scores were personal. Perhaps not a duty of silence, but at least a duty to not publish.

  11. says

    Connlann hasn’t been taking the class. He has friends who are, though, so he thought he’d just sit in on the exam.

    He did better than I thought he would — I expected he’d get totally lost in the terminology, so it’s actually pretty good that he answered a few questions correctly.

  12. cm says

    PZ, now that it’s almost over for the school year, can we get an exegesis on The Art of Making Exams? How difficult is too difficult? How many details to include and how many to skip? The tension between making the exam easy for you to grade (multiple choice) and allowing them flexibility in how they express their knowledge.

    And do you know of any good sources on this? Like a good book or a chapter in a comprehensive view of college teaching? Maybe for some this would seem like an uninteresting topic, but I think it gets to the core of some very important issue in how we transmit knowledge and/or respect for evidence and method in our academic culture(s).

  13. says

    Dear Professor Person

    You have two footnote 3 references and an orphan footnote 4. I think you badly need to reread all of Terry Pratchett’s books to get an idea how footnotes work. I mean, I know you’re a science guy and hence unfamiliar with such niceties, but really

  14. NelC says

    How about publishing the exam so we can all have a go? 12.5% is a low enough benchmark to aim for.

  15. says

    I can’t claim great test-making skills. Physiology is huge, so I just have to sit back and make a list of a thousand things I want them to know, and then I pare it down to a sampling of ten or twenty, and ask questions about them.

    I guess I do have a reputation for making very hard exams (the word I hear most from students is “evil”), but it’s hard for me to judge. I usually just make them up off the top of my head using the knowledge I have sloshing around in my brain pan, so they always seem too easy to me.

  16. says

    PZ: Okay, so one can conclude – if any of your students get lower than ~13%, something’s grossly wrong.

    cm: I don’t know if you’re on faculty/teaching staff anywhere (or a graduate student), but if you are, your institution might have an “academic growth” or “teaching center” that you can attend talks at. I did that while a graduate student.

  17. says

    M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A . . . Morris?! Yeah, tell him I didn’t go to Madison because I already had a high school education. Or maybe I just say that because I’m jealous.

  18. lytefoot says

    Mostly, they teach us to write limericks in these Wisconsin universities. They usually teach us to watch our meter a little better, though–even the mathematicians.

    As for 12.5%… I had a course once where the first exam (grades from 0 to 100%) was graded on a bell curve (top 5% get an A, etc). Scores from 20 – 135% got A’s. That was 2. B went from 8 to 18. I kid you not.

    So I suppose the other thing they teach us at these Wisconsin universities is that 12.5% is a pretty good exam score, heh.