George in Cat
Midterm

Four sections get herded into a single larger classroom for the midterms and finals. It makes proctoring easier, I suppose. Also, since two of us is enough to keep an eye on the entire crowd, we can take turns to make both versions of the test. That saves time with grading and on one occasion showed an error in the test before any of the students had reached it. Preventing a panic is always good.

Fifteen minutes in, a guy in the rightmost row signals he has a question. I walk over.

“How many inches are there in a mile?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you during the test.” I see the panic in his eyes. He doesn’t know. Blacked out. I tell him, “Try to calm down. You have plenty of time left. Close your eyes and think of something else for a bit. Something you like.”

He looks at me.

“I know, I forgot to wear my flower dress. But I’m serious. It really does help. Try it.”

Two minutes later, everybody is startled by a sudden “Yes!”

“Be quiet, please.”

He’s happy now; I guess the number 63,360 will be pleased to see him too.

Chard's picture
Has this ever really happened to you? A kid in a college class freaking out over not knowing inches to miles conversion? How hard is it to just railroad the number out? (12 in/ft)(5280 ft/mile) And what type of remedial math class goes over stuff like that?
Rob's picture
That was Math 070, which I taught for a year. I saw that particular midterm six times (2 sections in each of fall, winter, spring quarter). It happened at least once during every one of those.I wasn't always the TA proctoring on that side of the room, so I didn't personally take all of those questions, but I was there when they were asked.

The answer is easy to brute force, if you know the 5280 magic number (or the 1760 magic number, or...). If you don't know, you're stuck.

The problems this came up with were problems of the variety, "You have a 1:50,000 map. A distance is 2 inches on the map. How far is it in the real world?"
Chard's picture
Did any of them take the "Well, I may not get the 100% right answer but I can get the 98% right by showing the thought/math behind getting the answer? So... Assume 1 mi = 5000 feet (or something similar) and here is the conversion." ?
Rob's picture
I don't know. None of the students asking the question were in my sections, so I didn't grade those tests.
Chard's picture
"That saves time with grading and on one occasion showed up an error in the test before any of the students had reached it."

Grammar is a bit odd. I think "..on one occasion showed an error..." or something else. "Showed up" is awkward.
Rob's picture
Good point. I've changed it.