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I am in a class that has 2 sections. My class is now 2 days behind in material compared to the other section due to class cancellations. We have a test coming up and there is a stark difference in the amount of time that each section has had to study. The other section completed the most recent chapter and got the entire weekend to review that entire chapter before the test. My section is finishing that chapter the day before the test, so we only get one day to review the entire chapter before the test. The tests will be the exact same between sections despite differences in the amount of time to study, and I do not believe this is fair.

Is this just a situation where I need to tough it out even though the other section got 4 days with the full material and my section got 1?

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    What do you want to happen differently?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:36
  • Talk to the professor(s), talk to the department chair if you don't get help from the prof. Is there one professor or two involved here? Different profs for different sections?
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:42
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    How is the "time to study" different? The number of in class meetings doesn't affect elapsed time.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:46
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    You can always read the textbook (assuming the class follows one) and work on problems from the textbook. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:48
  • @Buffy: Probably (as it happend in my study time): There is no "textbook" and you don't know what the prof will be teaching beforehand. Then, students with no contact to the other group can only study after the lecture and this changes study time.
    – user111388
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 9:33

1 Answer 1

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I can think of three general purposes for assigning grades; it's not necessary that there be any one overall purpose, rather each person who assigns or receives grades likely sees some combination of these purposes:

  1. To assess/demonstrate mastery of material.

  2. To assess/demonstrate intrinsic ability to learn material.

  3. To provide a proximate reward/incentive structure to encourage learning, since the "real" benefits of that learning are distant and difficult to quantify in the moment.

At the same time, I can think of two ways that the current situation is unfair:

A. You've missed out on teaching opportunities that you paid for or that have been paid by some sponsor.

B. Assessment of your class section versus the other class section is occurring in a different surrounding context.


Depending on how you view grades/assessment and what aspect of unfairness you focus on, the possible solutions are very different. If you are more concerned with (A) than (B), then the existence of another section doesn't matter at all, but you could argue that the instruction time should be made up somehow. This may or may not be feasible. However, it seems you're most concerned with (B): the measurement against this other class.

If the purpose of grades is mostly (1), there is no unfairness. The exam will measure whether students in either section have mastered the material. If missing course sessions prevented mastery of material, that might affect grades but this effect is perfectly fair with respect to the measurement. If a student's goal is to minimize this difference in mastery, the solutions are things like spending more time outside of class than is typical, or seeking out alternative sources of instruction (textbooks, presentation of similar material in online lectures, attending office hours, etc). If, as a student, you choose not to do these added things, yet expect to have the same mastery, it's hard to see the validity of your complaint. Especially if you can't show you've made an independent effort to master the material through the avenues made available to you and you instead wait until the final class session to start studying on your own.

If the purpose of grades is (2), then there is unfairness: someone with the same "skill" or intrinsic ability in the subject is likely to test better in one section than another. However, this purpose of grades is more generally flawed. Everyone in each section has a different overall sum environment that impacts how their grades appear in comparison to their classmates. A student who suffers a health hardship (for themselves or someone close to them) during some interval is likely to score worse than someone else with no relationship to their learning ability. A student who has other responsibilities such as a job, other demanding courses, childcare, etc is likely to score worse than someone else with no relationship to their learning ability. These disadvantages are rarely (if ever) corrected for in assigning grades. The cancelled classes are just one example of a potential hardship, and it just happens to be one that affects an entire class section roughly equally. Even so, you could lobby for the instructor to make some adjustment, that is, to "curve" the grades on the exam to make the average in each section more similar, but you should be prepared that this will affect the ability of the grade to reflect purpose (1) - if the instructor finds purpose (1) to be important, they may not see any unfairness.

I don't see a difference between the groups for purpose (3).


I think it would be very appropriate when courses are mixed to ask the instructors for substitute material. That might include suggestions for certain textbook sections or chapters to read (even if these are already on the syllabus, the instructor may be able to help point to the things they will and will not reach during class). I'd also recommend that a student consider utilizing office hours or other opportunities for individual support outside scheduled classes, if these are provided. If instructors refuse to provide this sort of support, I would agree that this is unfair.

I think you could ask your instructor to consider applying a 'curve' or similar grade adjustment, but I would not necessarily take a refusal to do this as "unfair", at least not more unfair than all of life generally is. If you ask for this, I think you should recognize you're asking for a bit of a favor/special treatment, and should also make sure you've done everything you can on your own. If you're looking for a free lunch, then you're the one approaching things unfairly.

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    It might also be worth considering that if your goal is reason 1, then there may be a time at which testing mastery of the material is most useful. It may be that if the exam is coming at a different point with respect to the teaching it is sub-optimally placed. However, this is less about fairness, and more about whether the exam is achieving its aim. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 17:08

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