Grading Puzzle

Here's a nice grading puzzle, smaller versions of which sometimes come up in law school exams: How should you deal with students who make mistakes about basic facts that are not directly relevant to the question:

Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk: “If only we had forgiven Iraq for 9/11”,

I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq's attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed “the Iraq's” to attack us on 9/11.

The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.

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4 Responses to Grading Puzzle

  1. Joe says:

    Whether you subtract points from them for discussing irrelevancies in an exam is up to you. However, at the least, you should let them know that they are mistaken about 9/11. Let them know that they were lucky this time, but that other faculty members (and judges and opposing attorneys) may not be so forgiving in the future.

  2. michael says:

    I never take points off for accurately discussing irrelevancies — the wasted time, the lack of points gained, is penalty enough. But what about being wrong about irrelevancies (assuming they are legal matters)?

    My gut feeling is that if it’s something fundamental — a constitutional provision for example — that’s serious enough to take into account. Most other stuff, I’d probably let slide.

  3. Joe says:

    For example, I can tell you that Admiral Yamamoto died in 1943 when his aircraft was ambushed by eight P-38’s. I don’t expect anybody not alive at the time to remember that fact, and I don’t expect non-military historians to remember it. (Can you tell me the name of the sole US aircraft carrier to operate throughout World War II, from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo? Bill Shatner knows.) However, knowledge about the Cuban Missile Crisis is fundamental to a White House press secretary. But, since 97% of the voting American public probably doesn’t know any of the above facts, I will just cringe at her lack of knowledge and move on the next laughable idiocy.

  4. Sue Ann says:

    Can some kind of footnote/endnote requirement be required for all “quoted historical facts?” Make the students PROVE that the statement they assume to be true is historically accurate. Is there a way to put those kinds of comments on the paper when marking it? Such as “Where is the documation for this? From what source have you taken this information?” That way you can make a deduction in points on a technical basis. And if the student objects to the mark down then let them produce the proof of what they have said is acurate. They might learn something, actually they might learn two things: Never make assumptions and always check your sources.

    Perhpas the LRW instructors should make it clear that if a student puts a “fact” it in writing there had better be some documentation to prove it.

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