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A student of mine has asked to take his final early because he is "going out of town." He has only just mentioned this to me and we are already halfway through the quarter.

I have spoken with some faculty in my department and one has suggested that if not taking the exam early would impose an undue financial burden (i.e. he bought tickets months ago and didn't know he would have a final this day) then he should be allowed to take the exam early, but if he planned a road trip with his friends last week, for example, then he should have to take the exam at the scheduled time.

I like this policy, so my question at the moment is: how can I ask this student for more information about his vacation? It certainly seems as if it will be the latter since he has not mentioned it to me until now, but I would like to be sure before I decide.

Additional comments: I would obviously rather him not take the exam on an earlier date because I am worried he might share test information with other students. This is a calculus final so it takes effort on my part to write a different exam, and I feel a bit miffed at having to write an entire new test so someone can go on vacation.

Edit: The syllabus statement on makeup exams: "In this course, we will have one midterm and a final exam on the dates mentioned above. These dates are firm and cannot be changed except under extraordinary circumstances. Make-up exams will be permitted at my discretion.'

  • When was the final scheduled? At my university, you know your final schedule when you register for classes; which is about six weeks before the quarter starts. – Azor Ahai Feb 11 at 16:52
  • @AzorAhai That is a good question- I am not positive but it is definitely published by the time the quarter begins. – MathStudent1324 Feb 11 at 16:53
  • So, allow an early final for a documented medical reason but not for a “party” just planned... – Solar Mike Feb 11 at 16:55
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    "Going out of town" and "buying tickets early" are explicitly not sufficient justifications to miss a final exam in my department. (So my answer to your student would be "No.") But this policy is explicit, so students know in advance not to buy tickets until final exam schedules are announced ("only" four months before finals). – JeffE Feb 12 at 16:19
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Unless this is a very urgent trip, then there's no way I'd allow the change. There are always students who want to play "airfare wars." They buy airline tickets for a date half-way through finals, knowing full well they might have an exam scheduled late. They think that coming to me and showing me their ticket, "But I already spent $480 on tickets!" will leverage compliance from me. The best they'll get from me for their manipulation is that I'll give them an incomplete and give them their final MUCH later (so they have to retain their fresh knowledge a couple months.)

If his sister is getting married or the Army Reserves has called him up or is mother is hit by a bus, then OK, I'm happy to accommodate. But I didn't take "But I have plans" from my own children as an excuse.

I'll mention here that my syllabus contains a sentence that says plainly that I won't budge just because you already bought your ticket.

To your specific question, I'd say to, or e-mail the student and say something like, "Unless this is a crisis, then I can't move the date of your exam." Then it's up to him to convince you that it's a crisis.

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Since no extraordinary circumstances have been mentioned, I would not allow change. I personally think you should take a more extreme stance than what you are describing here. It's irrelevant if he bought the tickets a while ago (in fact, it would argue against offering a dispensation because he could have bought them after the end of all exams, versus gambling.)

You gotta draw the line when tested like this or all kinds of excuses will come out of the woodwork to take advantage.

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I would not grant them a makeup exam unless they can show me that it is indeed an extraordinary circumstance. They're adults and should be treated like ones.

Here's why I think that you should stick to your guns (and how I explain things to my students when they're asking me to bend the rules for them). What about all of the other students in class that did not approach me for an additional exam? As far as I know, there are some students in the class that canceled vacation plans, missed a friend's wedding or their sister giving birth because they knew that this was exam period and Prof. Spark does not grant makeup exams unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

So, by letting this student off the hook, you're telling all those other students that they were being idiots for following the policy that you put in place!

I like this explanation because it doesn't make you sound like it's too much trouble ("of course I would love to set up another final just for you, but think of the other students..."), or that you don't trust the student not to leak the final exam details. Plus it is extremely difficult to argue against. I use this reasoning for almost every unreasonable request - from grade forgiveness to pushing deadlines.

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If, as you say in the comments, the final was known by the time the quarter began, you certainly have no obligation to make any accommodations for them. (The university I did my undergraduate study abroad at announced finals like halfway through the semester. It was really weird.) Yes, 10 weeks ahead of time means tickets will not be very cheap, but that's a risk you take when buying tickets around finals.

When I was in school, we often planned trips around having a final on the last possible date (Thursday afternoon). Once or twice it paid off, most of the time it didn't.

Your other options when your final conflicts with your travel is to change classes. This person didn't, and is now hoping you'll feel bad that they completed half the quarter and you don't want to toss it all.

I don't see "undue financial burden" as mattering here. They had all the information they needed.

If they have extraordinary circumstances, such as needing to visit an ill family member, then by all means, help them out. But, since they didn't already mention an extraordinary issue, I suspect that's not why they're traveling.

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I usually accommodate such requests. It makes a big difference to me if the student has asked about an accommodation 4 or 5 weeks in advance of the final, since then it is relatively easy to be creative about a solution that is fair to me (not a lot more work) and fair to the class. However, most courses in my university (US state school) have several lesser exams that combined may count as much as the final exam. If the majority of the course grade was based on the final, I'd probably feel differently.

So my primary motivation is to make sure that the student is going to show good faith effort to cover any final material that wasn't on earlier exams.

I make a contract with the student to weight the other exams more. That way I don't have to create a separate final.

The contract usually also specifies additional required work/assignments. The student has to do 'more' to show me their mastery of material that would have been on the final. (I try to figure out things easy for me to 'grade'. If making it easy for me to grade means that it takes more time and energy on the part of the student, that's fine!)

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I don't see why the circumstances of the trip matter, unless it's for a funeral or similar unforeseen emergency. It's incredibly unlikely that your university doesn't have final exam schedules posted long in advance, so the student either knew or should have known the date of the final when he registered for the course and bought his tickets. You really should have put this in the syllabus, but there's probably a university policy stating that the instructor doesn't have to give a final at any time other than the time in the official schedule.

On the other hand, it's entirely up to you whether or not you want to give the exam early. Making a distinction between a road trip and a "financial burden" is irrelevant and leads down a slippery slope. Is it a financial burden if the student's rich family paid for the ticket or if it's a cheap flight? Regardless of the circumstances, the student wants to start spring break early and wants you to do extra work so that he can do that. Taking that additional work on is your decision.

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