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I am a teaching assistant (TA) in a second-year undergraduate course and have just received the results of my students' multiple choice midterm exam, which were marked by an optical marking ("Scantron") machine. The students are required to print their name in pencil, and are also asked to fill in a clearly-marked set of bubbles with their student number so that the Scantron machine can create an overview printout with each individual student's mark for me (as well as statistics related to the test, i.e. class average, percentage of students who selected the correct answer, etc.). These forms are standardized across our university, and all of my students have used them before. There are 4 students who did not fill in their student numbers, even though they are explicitly directed to do so before the start of the exam.

We check photo ID at the door of the exam to ensure that students are on our class list, and the course instructor may still have the list of highlighted names of students that attended. This means that I very likely can identify which four students these no-name exams belong to. The bigger issue in my mind is that we require students to fill in their student number so the scanner will be able to identify them, but also as an extra measure to ensure that students are writing a test in their own name, and not impersonating another student. Even if I can go back and look at the students' individual bubble sheets, I still need them to understand the importance of filling in their testing sheet correctly. Other instructors or TA's are not necessarily so understanding.

How can I address this issue with these students? It feels very unfair to say, "Sorry, you didn't write your student number, so you get a zero," but I also need to ensure that we aren't allowing students to cheat because we are being lenient in verifying student identity. Is this something I should just say at the beginning of the next lecture, or do I need to approach these students individually and remind them of the requirement?

  • If you are going to warn these students rather than give them a 0, then you should issue the same warning to all of the students in the course as a reminder- some other students could easily be unaware that this happened during the first exam and make the same mistake during the second exam. If you only warn the four students who didn't fill out the form properly this time, then you'll basically be forced out of fairness to warn any students (rather than assigning a zero) who might do this on the second exam. – Brian Borchers Mar 5 at 3:14
  • You should definitely discuss this issue with your supervisor to see what the supervisor would like to have done. – Brian Borchers Mar 5 at 3:14
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    A future alternative might be checking IDs during the exam instead, at least that is how things always have been done where I studied/taught. Before you start the exam remind them to put their ID on the desk. Then after a few minutes into the exam, go round, just go round, check IDs and check if they put their name correctly on the exam. This also prevents against the unlikely case of two students impersonating each other and it definitely helps against the boredom of proctoring. – mlk Mar 5 at 8:39
  • Please clarify whether the students names were on the exams as well - your title and the content of the post do not match in this regard. – Jeff Mar 5 at 15:21
  • How is a student number deterring cheating when photo IDs are being checked at the door of the exam to ensure that students are on the class list? – Luck Mar 5 at 18:28
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This is definitely something you want to avoid in the future, as it takes time to cross-check everything to ensure you have the correct four student names (without relying on self-identification by students). However, I recommend not deducting points now or in the future, although you do want the professor to explicitly tell students to do this. Probably the simplest way to avoid students forgetting is to simply have a reminder note about this written on the blackboard (or whatever equivalent is used for that classroom) when the exam papers are being handed out. Also, the TAs should be glancing at the exam sheets as they are turned in to ensure that each has a student name and number. In fact, I've actually had to do this for at least one large lecture course I was a TA for — a student would give their completed exam sheet to a TA, who would then glance at it for two or three seconds to make sure that everything appeared to be OK before dismissing the student.

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  • Reasonable, although I find there can be a rush at the end of a testing session, majority of students drop off tests all at once (maybe they start dropping them in a pile on the desk), and one can't crowd-control them enough to check all the tests. – Daniel R. Collins Mar 5 at 13:19
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    @DanielR.Collins, but that is just a consequence of how you let things roll. You can, I'm pretty sure, find a way to manage it. Even announcing with five minutes to go that names/numbers need to be properly entered will avoid some problems. – Buffy Mar 5 at 14:09
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    @Buffy: Totally done that, totally did not work. (At that moment students are even more heads-down, furiously scribbling, ignoring anything the proctor says.) – Daniel R. Collins Mar 5 at 14:10
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    @Daniel R. Collins: For the situations I was involved with, there were 3-5 TAs in a large (150 to 300 students) lecture hall, which made it more manageable. Something I used to worry about, however, was a student, who knew they were doing very badly, deciding to leave without turning in the answer sheet (hides it in their pocket or knapsack), and then later claims we must lost it. I don't think we had much control over all the exits at the end, as we were all up at the front of the room collecting answer sheets from students. However, the scenario I worried about never happened. – Dave L Renfro Mar 5 at 14:50
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Y'all have never proctored or taken SATs?

Give only the answer sheets out first, and have students complete the important information before they even get the questions.

If you don't give the questions until students have filled out the relevant information on the answer sheet, they won't be able to ignore the answer sheets, in lieu of answering questions.

It may require a bit of a rethink as to the time available for the test (i.e. take five minutes away from testing and put it onto "administrivia"), but this might just be time well spent.

You could even incentivize students to arrive early to complete this task quickly by saying that the question packs will be given out as soon as all students have filled out their information; any student who shows up to class (up to five minutes) early will be given their answer sheet to fill out. If all students have their answer sheets filled out by the time "##:##", the tests will be handed out then. Anyone who shows up late will have to complete their information on the answer sheet at the front of the room before being given the questions.

Or, have part of the ID process be that students have to show you their IDs AND a completed information section on their answer sheet before they get the questions (or, maybe before they take their seats).

If it's an important step in the process, make sure it has a defined step in the process.

To forestall the comments I know are coming: Yeah, I know: Young adults should be able to follow directions. OTOH, negative reinforcement doesn't have the learning results you think it does. Don't penalize students for a bad process.

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  • This is good advice on how to avoid a repeat of the problem, but what to do with the current situation? – ObscureOwl Mar 6 at 8:49
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I think your instincts are good. I would also not want to give students a zero in this case -- but your taking extra time to track down identifiers, and possibly signal that the IDs are not required, requires incentives/correction.

I would recommend a relatively small penalty, like 5% off the exam or something like that. Usually I find that students respond to fairly small adjustments like that with greater attention than I would expect; likely that's all it would take to not see it anymore. (E.g.: My syllabus says no writing exams in weird colors like red/purple that make marking difficult; 5% penalty when that happens corrects the problem.)

There is a downside, in that extracurricular penalties like this might corrupt the statistics on the exam (the per-question total and the overall exam results won't synch up, actual average won't reflect skill performance, etc.) That may or may not be a concern to you or your supervisor.

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  • I guess I disagree that there should be academic punishment. A good talking to and better procedures for avoiding it seem to be better. – Buffy Mar 5 at 14:06
  • @Buffy: IME (and I'm not alone), students generally ignore talking-to, and only take action based on points on the line. – Daniel R. Collins Mar 5 at 14:09
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    Similar experience with Dan. We tell students that they'll lose 2/100 points if they don't put their name and number on their exams. A few students lose points on the first, and none lose it on the second. – pip install frisbee Mar 5 at 17:19
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I agree with not hitting students with a zero, at least not right at the start. But this isn't just an arbitrary convenience; you said yourself that it's done to help make sure the student taking the exam is who they say they are.

What I would do here is leave those students with a zero when grades are uploaded, then announce to the class that their exam grades are posted and they should come to you with any questions.

The students who failed to fill in their student id will discover that they did, in fact, get a zero, and will then come to you to figure out why, whereupon you explain the problem and fix their grade. In that way you've minimized your own extra work, avoided unfounded academic penalties, and driven home the importance of filling in their information.

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  • I worry, however, that if there are more than one, it might be difficult to match a person to a paper. Especially on an auto-graded exam. – Buffy Mar 5 at 15:12
  • I was under the impression from the OP that names were hand-written on the exams, at least. If that's not the case then I would definitely change my answer to "give a zero". – Jeff Mar 5 at 15:14
  • Or you could assign the lowest of the four grades to all four students. Second-year undergraduates ought to be able to follow instructions. – shoover Mar 5 at 16:35
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    @shoover: If the instructor can reasonably identify those four students, this does not seem fair or human. – user111388 Mar 5 at 16:48

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