# Math problem

You have a class of 35 students. You give them an essay exam consisting of 5 questions. On average, each student writes 2 pages to answer each question.

How many times should you punch yourself in the face?

1. Bruce says

I calculate 350 times, at once per each turn of a page.
Maybe future exams can require just one such depth essay test question (maybe assigned from a rotating list of questions), while breadth of learning is documented through meaningful multiple choice questions? In my experience, such questions supplied by textbook publishers are often inadequate, being either too ambiguous or too obvious, so it takes in-depth understanding to develop fair yet probing questions. With appropriate software, a professor’s bank of questions can be used to generate equivalent exams for all students, in which no student has the same answers in the same order, so the temptation of cheating is minimized.

2. Bruce says

In science areas, another common pitfall of multiple choice questions is the category of questions which have two or more parts, such that students get zero credit even if they do all but one part perfectly. It is better to have each question be about only one aspect at a time. From my College teaching years, I saw it was too easy to make most students fail an exam, so it takes hard work to make fair questions to be clear enough that students can still get some A, B, and C grades.
To write good multiple choice questions, a fast way to start is with any question on a topic from the unit. Ask yourself what a smart student could legitimately complain about regarding such a question. Iterating on that idea by yourself will eventually give you a couple of meaningful yet fair questions inspired by each stupid question some publisher expected you to start with.
Being in the middle of a semester, you don’t have time to do this properly for a whole exam. Maybe convert one-fifth of your next exam to this and drop one or two essay questions. Doing such experiments this semester will let you tweak all exams thoroughly in future semesters.
Senior and junior courses may be better staying in the all-essay format.
An essay rotation scheme might be: if your student number ends in a zero or 1, you must do essay A, but if your student number or biology class number ends in a 2 or 3, you must answer question B. Or, answer the question your friends want to chat about. However you feel is appropriate.
There are lazy garbage ways to do all of this, but there are also fair and rigorous ways, if you don’t fall for over-trusting those textbook publishers.

3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

2 page answers for each of 35 questions? I would have flunked, as I can barely fill a page in essay form. I guess I focused on courses that needed at at most a full page of equations deriving the solution, rather than paragraphs of composition. oh dear, my oh my sigh

4. R. L. Foster says

Just once. To knock yourself out.

5. blf says

6. says

I don’t need a mask. I’m home alone with nothing but disillusionment and despair to keep me company.

7. blf says

@6, Is it disillusionment or despair who is the evil cat?

8. says

Make sure only a reduced number of students can participate, maybe because of plague. Future re-distribute based on willingness to submit to your rule. Then, go forth and conquer!

9. says

For once, the cat is totally innocent. It’s all my fault.

10. anxionnat says

Head-desk 25 times per student until (as noted above) you knock yourself out and don’t care anymore. The TAs and/or adjuncts will take over at that point, while you lie on the floor of your office and moan. (I was one of those unlucky TAs and one of those even-unluckier adjuncts, back in the day, so I know whereof I speak.)

11. nomdeplume says

Well, guess it keeps you off the streets…

12. Jazzlet says

PZ clean up required in “Professor” Edward Dutton is a fraud of faminazi slug slime

13. says

I have in the past stipulated that answers to essay questions cannot exceed two sentences. Since most of my students are hostile to semicolons and uncertain about conjunctions, the impact of this requirement is quite beneficial. (And those who exceed it did not follow instructions and can be promptly graded on that basis.)

14. steve1 says

I did the math and I’m punching myself in the face..

15. dogugotw says

Ah the travails of the first year professor.

16. dianne says

As many as you need to convince yourself to give a shorter exam next year?

17. federico r.bar says

Amusing question! I would say:
1. One – soft – punch is enough, being it the first and last time.
2. For the following exams, take the interesting suggestions made by Bruce and Anthonybarcellos to heart.
.-.

18. StonedRanger says

Do not punch yourself in the face. It will solve nothing. Instead, I suggest a nice warm snifter of brandy to imbibe whilst looking over all that stuff. It wont solve anything either, but it will feel much better than punching yourself.

19. Thomas Scott says

Hey PZ,
They say that it’s a poor workman that blames his tools, and
a poor teacher that blames his students.
It looks to me as though you’re off the hook.

20. microraptor says

42

21. bmatchick says

You just made coffee come out of my nose (and this is a brand new keyboard). Whatever you calculate, add a few extra from me!

22. consciousness razor says

(2^120)^35!

You’d better get started soon.

23. blf says

Perhaps this is an “applied maths” problem, not “pure maths” problem? An experiment is in order. Being a pure mathematician myself — albeit one employed as a software systems engineer — I’ll leave it to others to design the experiment. Very broadly, perhaps a double-blinded test, with varying levels of both self- and others-punching: None, low, …, lots. The (double-)blinding obviously doesn’t apply to the punching (excepting the recent transphobic homophobic troll which is too stoopid to notice), but to the (hand-waving) “quality” of the answers (all 2 pages long, legible, with good grammar and spelling in a language the examiner is fluent in).

A not-so-minor problem is it’s perhaps not too clear what the predicted or expected outcomes are. Maybe, high-quality no-punch ⇒ Examiner does it again; low-quality any-punch ⇒ Examiner does not do it again; high-quality many-punches ⇒ Examiner does not do it again… A possible prediction is self-punching episodes will be not-as-long as other-punching, perhaps because unconscious prevents further self-punching.

24. samuelfox says

I would not advise being biased towards mathematics. This is certainly not the queen of sciences, but still… In addition, a lot of mathematical processes are explained by humanitarian ones. Still, it’s best to teach her.
The answer is of course = 1.
It is better to teach yourself, otherwise, you will then have to order essays on the website https://bestessayservicesradar.com/ and look for ready-made solutions on the Internet.