Why are so few grades in undergraduate formal math classes in most US colleges based on take home examinations or papers, barring one or two research/self study class?

The formal math classes I am referring to are topology, analysis, number theory, and calculus etc.

The writing class in my college is based on a take home paper, but I do not see similar grading schemes in math courses in other US colleges.

  • 3
    Saying that no math course in the country does this is most likely incorrect.
    – apnorton
    Feb 21, 2015 at 2:07
  • @anorton - 9 out of 10 college that i searched had most math course except one or two based on math test instead of paper .
    – Victor
    Feb 21, 2015 at 2:13
  • 1
    Because (the faculty believe that) too many students would cheat.
    – JeffE
    Apr 14, 2015 at 8:35
  • And, if you head over to meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/… , you'll see that there is a good reason to fear so. Apr 14, 2015 at 12:13

1 Answer 1


The American system often favors testing over project-based demonstrations of learning in mathematics and other quantitative subjects. The reason for this, at least at my university, is that you cannot be expected to do original work until you have a significant foundation in the field, and this original work is often extremely time- and resource- intensive. Thus, you will often find that for the first several semesters, the vast majority of courses in science and engineering are assessment-based. However, once you have gotten a solid baseline of knowledge, you can do original work in your upper-level classes (some people might even say this is a signature of a good program). This is in contrast to many humanities classes, where most of the papers you will write are inherently original, even without a well-rounded background.

  • 3
    You don't need to do "original" work. I have taught several math classes (regression, graph theory cryptography, coding theory) with a final project instead of a final exam. For some topics/courses, one is more appropriate than the other. Typically more applied or programming-oriented math courses are suitable for projects, even at the introductory level.
    – Kimball
    Feb 21, 2015 at 4:15
  • 1
    Agreed. To clarify, original work in my original post was meant to mean work cannot be found elsewhere. Clearly, proving something that has already been proved cannot be original, but a programming project, building a robot, etc. are all original in some sense. Some courses of study lend themselves to original work sooner than others. Feb 22, 2015 at 17:05

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