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So there's a Statistics exam in my Uni (in Germany). It's more of an application to Surveying. The Prof. who teaches this class gives really easy assignments which made me believe the exam would be in a similar pattern. We were even given a mock exam and it's a pre-requisite to sit for the main exam. But even this doesn't correspond what's asked in the exam. I gave two attempts already. And this is a nightmare, because in Germany you'll out of the program if you don't pass 3rd attempt too, and you can be kicked out and can never study the same program anywhere in Germany. The last semester, everyone who passed got just a pass grade. So it's like luck and it's terrifying. I passed all the courses except this, which again is a pre-requisite to start thesis. I feel like I have two options, transfer to another Uni, or just toil and give this semester whatever the outcome might be. How do I approach this? Should I talk to the Prof about the assignments and exam has just 0.4 correlation. :(. Super stressed and not able to sleep properly.

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    Do the other students also struggle with this class (does it have a very low pass rate)? Since you already took the exam twice, did you try to write down the questions after the exam so you can use them for studying this time? Sometimes the student council has old exams available for studying.
    – Claude
    May 2, 2022 at 8:51
  • Yeah as I already mentioned, the exam has been like a luck, like I'm at a Casino. We have old exam papers but they don't seem to help much. Probably I should contact the student council and see how to take this. We asked for an oral exam and sent a mail for an early exam. I hope they do that atleast.
    – keinerhier
    May 2, 2022 at 13:30
  • There's definitely a tradition in some places in Europe that exams should only be passed by people who not only study hard but are also geniuses. I can see both the pros and cons of this attitude. May 2, 2022 at 15:40
  • Yeah Masters coursework is super intensive. You practically will not have a lot of time to go out unless you make a proper schedule, which you'll have to fit in your already tight schedule.
    – keinerhier
    May 3, 2022 at 9:39
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    @Squary94 In my understanding, OP is claiming that the correlation coefficient between the assignment scores and the exam scores was 0.4. I am asking if there is a baseline that we can use to tell if this value is unusually low or if it is just normal and unremarkable. It seems that you interpret "correlation" in a different non-quantitative way, though. May 4, 2022 at 16:32

2 Answers 2

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I have been in your exact situation twice (Hochschule) so maybe I can provide some insight into what your options are. In my situation, the average grade in math basics for computer science was about 4.8 with once the entire class failing to pass. Due to corona regulations, third attempts were forgiven and I was essentially allowed to try it 5 times and each semester I saw dropping people out left, right and center.

Based on the experiences I had, I can suggest trying to contact the professor responsible for the exam though I doubt that it would lead to anything useful. When arguing grades, many professors become immediately defensive and argumentative. It may not be the case for the professor in question hence it's worth a shot. It didn't lead to anything for my colleagues and I.

What worked for us was to group together and try to build a strong case by gathering whatever information we could get and present it to the dean together. By showing the poor passing grades, the dwindling number of students even attempting the exam held by the prof, our current amount of credit points (Many of us had 140 or 145 out of 150 with the last 5 points being held hostage by the professor) and many more data points, we managed to convice the dean to help us find a solution.

If this leads to no good results either, your only other options remain to either change majors, change university or possibly change your "Prüfungsordnung". A change in "PO" or majors may help you to avoid the Prof. in question while not losing to many Credit Points in the process. For example, changing from economic computer science to applied computer science was not a costly switch for many who didn't want to put up with the situation at hand.

A change of university is unfortunately a questionable solution since you can not know whether or not you change one problematic professor for another but if you do consider it, try to contact other universities early. The process of evaluating how many credit points you can carry over usually takes many weeks.

I assume you would have already done so but if you do consider reattempting the exam, try to sit down with the professor and get a hold of the exam questions somehow. Either memorize and bring them to paper or sneakily record them if the session is held online. Trying to ask the Prof for solving the exercises in front of you during the consultation hour may prove invaluable as well.

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  • Thank you so much for answering. The Geography department has a nice programme. I believe that maybe I can ask them if I can study there. Yeah maybe PO change could help. But as you said, because of Corona, there were more attempts, it was the same situation, and I wish I used more attempts. Let's see there are other students as well. We are thinking of making a study group to start studying. It's frustrating you know, I just want to start my Master Thesis, but I cannot because of one stupid exam.
    – keinerhier
    May 2, 2022 at 13:34
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    -1 "Either memorize and bring them to paper or sneakily record them if the session is held online." Some of this advice sound like cheating, even possibly against the law in some jurisdictions. May 2, 2022 at 16:31
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    "the average grade ... was about 4.8" -- for those of us not in Germany, can you give us a denominator for context? Is this 4.8 out of 5, 4.8 out of 10, 4.8 out of 100, or something else?
    – shoover
    May 2, 2022 at 19:15
  • @DanielR.Collins I wouldn't argue about the recording bit, we all know what that is about. But about memorizing the exam questions and writing them down moments after having having a talk with the prof is not condemable in my opinion.
    – Squary94
    May 2, 2022 at 21:30
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    @shoover my apologies. Grades in german universities range from 1.0 being the best down to 4.0 being the worst grade you can obtain while still passing. If you score lower than 4.0 then it automatically gets set to 5.0 which means failing the test. In my particular class, 5 out of 48 managed to pass the exam. The 5 that passed barely did so as well scoring a very low grade.
    – Squary94
    May 2, 2022 at 21:38
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My students told me the same thing and I noticed that their view (maybe mine too when I was a student) was distorted.

What is the purpose of the assignments? The weekly assignments have to cover the same topics as the exam. However, they are not necessarily similar to the exam tasks or have the same difficulty level. It is not to trick the students but the goals are different:

  • The assignments need to cover as much as possible of a specific topic. The difficulty level does not matter in my opinion because the student has to understand the topic to the best extent. The time needed to solve the assignment is important (according to the ECTS points).
  • The exam assesses the student and has to be made such that an average student can pass (not the average of that particular class but in general, i.e. the level of the entire class can be higher or lower than this average). Excellent students can pass with very good grades. Consequently, time is also important.

Do all subjects have the same level of difficulty? No, for some topics, the assignments are very similar to the exam because the topic itself is easy and there are no other questions that can be asked. on the side, subjects like Statistics, Probability theories, Math, Data Science, etc are very broad and are actually more challenging. Therefore, the assessment is different and you cannot pass just because you can resolve the same task but with different values. It is important to understand how it works.

Is the professor trying to intentionally give bad grades by making difficult exams? The majority of them do not because they care about the performance of their students as much as the students themselves. Remember that the professor is putting a lot of effort and wants to see the fruits of his work (the students succeeding in their careers). However, there is no (or very little) room for social work in academia and the professor's task is that you learn before you pass.

What is the answer to my question? In my institution (Uni in Germany), a student can ask for an oral exam if there is a good reason for not being able to pass a written exam. One of the common reasons: "I perfectly grasp the subject but am not able to perform well in written exams due to anxiety or a lot of calculations, etc. The professor is not an enemy and can understand this very well and I think it applies in all (or at least most) German academic institutions.

Is there anything else? Yes, do not prepare for the exam by just resolving the assignments but by understanding the concepts because even if you pass the exam, you won't have a copy of the assignment in the business world. Also, if you want to master any subject, teach it! You can explain it to a friend or ask higher-level questions to the professor, etc.

Should I talk to the Prof about the assignments and exam has just 0.4 correlation?

Why not? the professor is a human being and is supposed to improve the lectures, assignments and exams regularly given (1) the performance of the students, (2) the feedback of the students (Note that they are not necessarily helpful and can be considered), (3) the feedback of the peers and (4) the development of the subject.

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  • I don't think you are wrong in your overall assessment. The sentiment of the professors wanting you to succeed is true for a majority. However, professors that prefer the inverse approach of weeding out students exist too and a simple talk to the professor wouldn't help in that case. Asking for a oral exam sounds like a perfect idea though.
    – Squary94
    May 3, 2022 at 12:14
  • @Squary94 It should be noted, though, that it is much easier to check for understanding, rather than memorizing, in oral exams. Thus, if the issue is a lack of in-depth understanding, an oral exam won't help.
    – user151413
    May 3, 2022 at 21:33
  • @user151413 If the issue is a lack of in-depth understanding, the student does not deserve to pass. The student needs either to put more effort to understand or to change the program/discipline.
    – Yacine
    May 3, 2022 at 22:02
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    @Younes I agree. I just want to point out if that's the reason for failing, asking for an oral exam will hurt, not help.
    – user151413
    May 3, 2022 at 22:19
  • @user151413 I may be projecting here since what OP described is what I experienced twice, however I can tell you the following. The subjects I experienced couldn't be passed by a mere intricate understanding of it. Questions intentionally obfuscated by using weird, never before used abbreviations, instructions that are written to confuse and waste time or trick questions. All designed to waste your 60 minutes of exam time. There wasn't a check for in depth understanding. Passing percentages of less than 10% (bachelors) wouldn't have been the norm in those subjects if they had.
    – Squary94
    May 4, 2022 at 7:09

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