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Is it appropriate for a professor to give an exam to section A and then give the same exact exam to section B 2 weeks later?

Would this be a proper argument towards the professor and/or university to either curve or do something about the grades of the two sections?

It's an engineering course with the same prof in both sections.

(note: in the original version sections A and B are called "the English section" and "the French section", respectively, but these names have been edited out because they seem to be a red herring.)

  • What is the subject? A test on math is very different than a test on French grammar in this instance. – Vladhagen Oct 29 '18 at 19:13
  • I just made edits. Sorry, I forgot to clarify. – George Oct 29 '18 at 19:14
  • @Vladhagen How so? – Azor Ahai Oct 29 '18 at 19:37
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    I think "Is it ethical?" is not quite the question you want to ask. Rather I think you mean "Is this a good practice?" A practice can lead to worse outcomes than another practice without being unethical. – Pete L. Clark Oct 29 '18 at 19:41
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    @George I see that I have misinterpreted the question. It seems that the actual language used is irrelevant and we are speaking of timing. – Vladhagen Oct 29 '18 at 19:46
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While it may not be wise to do this it isn't unethical unless grading is competitive in some way. It potentially gives an advantage to those who take it later, but that doesn't necessarily imply a disadvantage to those who take it earlier.

But "grading on the curve" where some students must fail so that others can excel makes the calculation much different. In my opinion, however, that sort of grading is unethical in any case.

While I'm guessing that the exam is translated from one language to the other, that doesn't change the ethics of it, unless it is given to students in a language they can't be expected to know. Then again, it is unethical, as it disadvantages some students whether or not it advantages others.


One reason to question the wisdom of this is that it may change the behavior of students for future exams to their detriment. If they think they will get a time window in which they see the exam then they may not learn the material. This is bad in the long term, of course, but also in the short term if the future exam is changed.

Another reason that such actions are unwise is that the professor and others responsible for the student's education get much less information about the state of knowledge of the students. If students can easily provide answers because they have seen the questions, you can hardly know what they understand or would be able to do in less advantageous circumstances. If you believe, as I do, that one of the main purposes of testing (number one in my reckoning) is to know how to further guide the progress of the course and its individual students, then you have lost an important tool and indicator.

  • I see. Sorry by curving I meant boosting. As you say curving is not too ethical. – George Oct 29 '18 at 19:29
  • Ethically you can give a gift to one that you don't give to another as long as the other is treated fairly. So boosting isn't the same as competitive grading, though it may also be unwise. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Workers_in_the_Vineyard – Buffy Oct 29 '18 at 19:32
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I deduce that one section is taught in French and another section is taught in English? The tests should be given in the language that the class is taught in. However, if there is reason to believe that all students are fluent in one language (e.g. English), it is debatable whether the language of the exam is actually of consequence.

Does your university require all students to be competent in English (or in French)? I guess it could be argued that students who only speak English should not be required to take a test in French.

Seeing as this is an engineering course, it would seem that there would not be a significant advantage to students who attend the French section versus the English section.

  • I think part of the issue has to deal with the timing, rather than just the language of the exam. Most people would frown upon giving the exact same exam in the exact same language two weeks apart to different sections of the same class, for fear that the later group may gain information about the exam from the earlier group. – Nuclear Wang Oct 29 '18 at 19:26
  • I know of a set of French exams that were given to both engineering students who studied in France and language students who also studied in France where the grades for the engineers were reduced as they scored higher than the language students... The dean was not happy the engineers did so well so made their grades lower... Unethical or what... – Solar Mike Oct 29 '18 at 19:27

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