Never leave an exam task empty


I noticed that even at a higher level of education, some just don’t do this, and it’s bothering me.

In a scenario where you have time left for an exam after doing all tasks that you know how to do, don’t return your exam too rash. It may seem to you that you did your best and want to get over it quickly, while those partial points can be quite valuable. There’s a chance that you’ll understand the question after reading it once again, or that you possibly misread it the first time. Even making things up and writing literal crap is better than leaving the task empty, they can make the difference in the end. And even if the things you write are completely wrong, you’ll show the teacher that you at least tried and that you’re an encouraged learner. Why bother, you won’t lose points for wrong answers anyway

If you have trouble getting to the question: note down what you understand from it and how that connects to the lecture / topic. Restructuring the problem shows that you know how to approach difficult tasks and might get you some partial points. Another one if you don’t understand a question: Cross out the things that don’t matter. Like if a math question starts with: Martha and her son went to the store this morning and…etc. Cross that sentence and everything else that doesn’t matter, it’ll help you see what the question actually wants you to do and clear things up

Professor here. I tell my students do not leave questions blank. In fact, I review each exam as they are handed in and reject ones with blanks. Try again. Skip it, come back to it, make the sh!t up if you have to – one extra half point could make the difference.

Edit: Make an educated guess.
Isn’t that putting too much emphasis on grades rather than on knowledge? If a student makes something up and gets points for it, they have not learned something- they were just lucky/the person grading was nice. Surely knowing that you don’t know something is more valuable than making something up.

An educated guess is a different thing, but telling students to make shit up seems contrary to the point.

This is so goddamn true. I had a class this semester where the prof switched test styles halfway through. We went from straight multiple choice with a 90 min time limit, to multiple choice with a handful of essay questions and no time limit. It’s my own fault, but since it was online and I was busy that week, I didn’t look at it until like 3 hours until it was due and was totally blindsided by the essay part. I did the best I could, but was super unprepared for the essay portion, so I answered the ones I could well, and basically pencil whipped the ones I couldn’t. I figured I would get a D, maybe a C if I got lucky. Not the end of the world since I had done extremely well on the first 2 tests and had a paper and other test to help my grade. Ended up getting an 86% in the end. That’s what I realized that the prof and I had VERY different definitions of terms like “highly detailed”.

Sure, but there are better ways of doing that. I had a professor who would let us write “I don’t know” as an answer to gain 2 points on any question (generally each one was worth 5-25 points if you got it right, with partial credit given somewhat generously), which assigns value to knowing what you don’t know without punishing mistakes too harshly.

Okay, so it depends on what you are trying to evaluate, that makes a lot of sense to me. This possibly does more to test for a deeper, more confident understanding because a lot of students may not truly understand the topic but will do fine on an exam otherwise. For example, students will often just memorize the steps of textbook and homework problems and try to replicate it for a similar problem on the exam when in fact, someone with a deeper understanding will recognize that that particular method is not applicable because X, Y, and Z. The ability to memorize does not demonstrate a deeper working knowledge

There’s also harm to be found in not allowing people to go out on a limb without worrying about being punished for failure. If an exam is actually be given to help the students and to accurately gauge their ability learn then it would be a disservice to those students to not allow them to be graded on what they know even if they only know part of the answer.

I think this is overly simplistic. It’s not usually the case that someone doesn’t know something at all. If someone has a partial or even significant, yet incomplete understanding, then they should be graded for that partial understanding and not given worse marks than someone with no understanding who leaves it blank.

If something is partially correct, but still false overall, why does that deserve a worse mark than something that is completely blank?

There are certain facts and bits of information that certain fields need to be able to just recall instantly though, which is the point of a multiple choice exam usually.

If I am a doctor and I don’t know my body system, including muscles and bones and other easily memorizable thing, thag seems like an obvious issue. Of I am designing bridges and don’t know my basic algorithms and have to look them up all the time I am a very inefficient worker. If I am a music and cant tell you what all the different music notations mean thats an issue. For multiple choice, I think I 100% am behind this idea.

For more complex things, aren’t we going to grade them a different way?

Probably to encourage people to not guess where they aren’t really sure if they understand the question or topic. This allows the teacher to know what everyone in the class is struggling with or not sure about.

If you guessed and got it right, the professor will just think you understand the question/topic but in reality you didn’t understand it.

Though this is can cause a lot of stress on students and I think it’s a bad move by the teacher. If the student doesn’t want to learn the topic or go to the professor for help because they didn’t understand the question then that’s on the student.

On a multiple choice test, that makes sense. When I was in high school, the SAT and ACT (assessment tests that many universities and colleges in the US look at for people who don’t know) both penalized wrong answers. We were told that if we really didn’t know the answer, we should leave it blank, but if we were able to narrow it down to between two answers, we should just put one of them as the answer (after finishing the rest of the test, and going back and looking a second time).

It makes a lot less sense on tests where you’re filling in the answers yourself, like a math test, or English test. In fact, on the SAT they had a section of the math test where instead of choosing between multiple choice we were told to actually do the math and write in the answers, and on that test they didn’t penalize any wrong answers.

Except if the exam takes place in Spain where they deduct extra points for wrong answers.

Example: if a question is worth 1 point but you get it wrong they subtract 1.3 points from your total score. You’ve got to calculate how sure you are about all your answers.

I already commented somewhere else in this thread but here’s a pasta:

I remember working out that the points lost would be made up probability wise. It’s been a long time since i wrote my SATs but it’s something like .25 points taken away for every wrong answer, but if you were to guess only, the chances of guessing correctly is 0.20 (since there are 5 choices). So probability wise, for every 5 questions guessed, there would be 4 wrong answers and 1 right answer. Every right answer is 1 point – (0.25)(4) = 0. You break even with blind guessing. This means that even if you can eliminate one answer as being incorrect, statistically speaking: always guess.

Test protocol:

Answer all the easy ones
Go back and work the harder ones, in ascending order of difficulty. If there’s any you still can’t get, don’t get stuck on them forever, proceed to next step.
Go back over every single question and double check your answers.
If necessary, guess or make a seemingly futile effort on the questions you still don’t have.
Turn in exam at the last minute.

This is the best test taking advice. I didnt do this for a long time, would get low A’s and B’s. Ended up making a lot of dumb mistakes in my rush to finish, too.

Once I started this method of test taking, I found: 1) i started catching a lot of my own dumb mistakes that would have otherwise been points left on the table, and 2) sometimes a problem or question later on can actually HELP answer an earlier question!!! I cannot count how many times this would happen, it’s a lot.

My test grades shot up to high A’s every time. I wish I could have started doing this earlier, but oh well. For anyone reading this still in HS or college, please please please use all the time allotted to you for test taking. It makes a HUGE difference.

Throughout college I’ve learned it’s better, at least for me, to not go over my answers after I finish the exam. I marked difficult questions that I couldn’t answer the first time around and went back to those, but I made it a rule that once I fill it out I don’t go back to it. I found I had better outcomes this way because otherwise I overthink it. The worst thing is getting an answer wrong that you had originally marked with the right answer.

As someone who grades papers, I agree that you should try as hard as possible to not leave an answer empty. But please don’t “make things up and write literal crap”: there’s nothing worse for the grader than have to wade through paragraphs of rubbish when it’s obvious that the person who wrote them knew they were rubbish. Writing and reading that is a waste of time for everyone involved, and it leaves a pretty bad impression of the paper in the end so won’t do you any favors.

I’ve also graded tests. You get quite a large amount of leeway when grading tests, even in the hard science like mathematics (which I graded).

When grading, I was constantly just trying to see if the student understood the question or not. If they convinced me they understood, they could get away with great amounts of mistakes in computations. If they didn’t understand, it’s rare that they got any points for that question.

As an example, if you used the correct methods but made a connotation mistake you’d get 80% of the points. If you then include something like “I checked my answer and see it’s incorrect, but I don’t have enough time to find the mistake” you’d get 95%.

It’s honestly quite rare for students to only do half a question correctly. The grades (for both the test and any particular question) tended to have 2 peaks: one at 30% and one at 80%.

Writing literal crap for any question really lowers my opinion about a student. And that has an effect whenever what I read is technically wrong and need to assess that the student understood the subject or not. If they have written literal garbage elsewhere, I’m more inclined to believe they don’t understand.

I was a physics TA for 5 years while I was getting my PhD. As a TA grading your tests, we WANT to give you points. The point of a test isn’t to fail, it’s to learn. I would always tell my students to write literally anything on the page that they think relates to the question being asked, even along the lines of “I have no idea how to do this problem but I think it has to do with XYZ” or some attempt at a force diagram (no matter how wrong it was). Boom! +1

I even had someone say “I have no idea how to do this, so here’s a duck.” And they drew a duck. Boom! +1

Another thing too, I’m not sure if anyone commented this yet or not, but what if you guess and get it right? If you guess and get the question you don’t know correct, then you’ll receive full credit for the question. Therefore, just by simply having a curious attitude in this scenario, you could go from receiving no credit on a question, to full credit. This happened to me before on a final, and it ended up being the difference between me losing and keeping my scholarship. It was crazy. I was shocked, and it was literally because of a correct, intuitive guess.

You’re not wrong except some testing will dock you points for incorrect answers. I don’t know that this is still in practice but it was when i was in school. And i can tell you ot sucked sweaty goat balls. And gave an entire generation a complex. And just to add insult to injury now as an adult student in her mid 30s i get extreme test anxiety and will often default to “no answer is better than a wrong answer” in ALL aspects of life



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