Thursday, January 22, 2004

That's a trick question 

How many times does a professor hear that? With me, all the time -- when you emphasize economics as a way of thinking, you have to test on their understanding of the way in many situations. Craig Newmark discusses a situation where a student is exasperated with not knowing what's on the test. In summary,
a large number of undergraduates, as well as even some graduate students, believe that the instructor's main function is to tell the students what to memorize. And if the students duly so memorize, they believe they deserve A's.
Prof. Newmark eventually asks his student whether "a college course should teach you to do more than memorize?" I'd have them look at Arnold Kling's discussion questions -- how would you study to answer three of those on an exam? Do I have to give you the questions in advance? Who gave them to Kling?

Nevertheless, the most common complaint on student evaluations are that my exams are hard and filled with trick questions. I may have told this story here before, but I was telling this to my wife one night, and the next morning I did my usual take-the-WSJ-to-the-bathroom routine. I found a story there that made me think of an exam question. I came upstairs -- the men's bathroom or men's crisis center is consigned to the basement -- and started writing the question down. She asks what I'm doing and I tell her. "See, you're students are right. You do pull your questions out of your ass." I tell this to students and inform them I'm irredeemable.