This fall I’ll be teaching my first regular college class (I’d only taught sections at Berkeley, though I suppose the summer sophomore tutorial I taught at Harvard might count). It’s on group representation theory, which is my favorite subject, so I’m excited about it. I was just thinking about some possible homework problems, and I got to thinking about creative and unusual grading schemes I’ve seen in previous classes I’d taken, and figured that might make a fun blog discussion topic. (Since this is my first time teaching I won’t be experimenting with any unusual grading this time around, though I think it might be interesting to try one of these in the future.)
At the Ross summer math program if you don’t answer a problem satisfactorily then you get a REDO. This means you’re expected to go back and redo the problem and get it right. I’ve never seen this tried in a regular class, but I think it could be a good idea for an “intro to proof writing” class. The point being that in such a class the material itself isn’t super important, and so if you do fewer homework problems total but learn how to do them right that’s a good tradeoff.
Grading out of many points:
When I took group representation theory from Richard Taylor, the exams were graded out of a ridiculous number of points. A 5 question midterm would be out of 600 or so points. At first glance this seems silly (and it certainly would be a bad idea for a class with multiple graders where you want consistency between graders), but it actually works very well. Here’s the point: if someone does something you don’t like no matter how small it is you can take off points! Unclear sentence? Minus 1. Used the wrong terminology? Minus 3 points. This way the grader can effectively communicate relatively small shortcomings in your write-ups, which wouldn’t be possible if you were grading out of a smaller number of points.
This idea comes from a class that I didn’t take our first year of grad school with Givental, so perhaps someone who took the class can correct me on the details. The basic idea that was for the final in addition to points for each problem you got, there was a pool of extra points which you got if you never wrote anything false on the exam. But as soon as you wrote something that was wrong you lost those points. This is good training for graduate students who soon won’t have graders telling them when they made a mistake, and it’s a good way to keep people from spewing nonsense in an attempt to get partial credit. If I remember correctly the perfection bonus was quite substantial (I want to say it was worth as much as a full question on an exam where you need a little more than 2 correct solutions.)
What do people think of these ideas? Any other interesting grading schemes you’ve heard of?