My course require students to take 2 mid-term exams and one final exam. What should I do if some students didn't attend the first mid-term exam or the second one. Should I mark them Zero or repeat the exam for them? What is the best strategy in this regard?

Update: Although I gave them instructions from the beginning of the course. Some of them said that they were absent when I gave those instructions. Some of them said that they were sick and some said that they had an appointment with a dentist at same time of the exam, for example!

  • Were these requirements clearly known to them or could they have known them without problems? If yes, then zero. But what are the reasons they missed a midterm? Jan 11, 2013 at 3:59
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    Your institution may have a standard policy for dealing with such things. Check whether such a thing exists first before, otherwise the students might have legal recourse against whatever you decide to do. Jan 11, 2013 at 4:29
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    Maybe next time you could add this kind of information to your syllabus. This makes any attempt to deny existence of the mid-term impossible. Jan 11, 2013 at 8:05
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    I don't know about illness case. For the dental appointment case, I wonder if the midterm exam date was the same as the class date. If so, why would your student make a dental appointment on the class date in the first place?
    – Nobody
    Jan 11, 2013 at 8:23
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    Surely this is a joke? They fail. Why is there even a discussion?
    – Jasmine
    May 13, 2014 at 16:33

5 Answers 5


If the instructions were only given orally, and not recorded in written form that is globally accessible (either in a printed syllabus, or an online forum), then you don't have documentary evidence of the instructions being given.

If this is the case, I would follow the standard university procedures, if there are some available, governing this situation. If there are none, then For this offering only, and only in the case where no printed instructions were given, I would allow students to take a make-up exam.

On the other hand, if there is documented evidence of your policy, then you should follow the policy as it's given.

In any case, however, it's always a good idea to allow "documented" reasons (for example, illness, court appearances, schedule conflicts if exams are scheduled outside of regular time slots) to be excused, with a clear policy for what will happen (students can take a makeup exam; other grades are reweighted).

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    Even with most of the documented reasons you list, I wouldn't see a reason to accept those unless I were notified of the justified absence before the exam. Oct 11, 2014 at 12:24
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    @O.R.Mapper: This is true, except for illness. However, the original situation also involved the policy only being announced orally, and was thus officially undocumented. Some latitude should be given in such circumstances that would not be true if a formal policy was in place.
    – aeismail
    Oct 11, 2014 at 14:04

I will talk from my own experience:

  • Being absent in the first class, is by no means a good excuse, back in my student days (before ubiquitous email information and professor's webpages) if you missed the first class, you would at least ask the sensible question of when the hell the midterm exam is.

  • As a student, their prime responsibility is to, well.. study! And while I understand that some of them would have conflicting issues if they have to work (which are usually solved if you have a nice enough boss), other scheduling issues like an appointment with the dentist (that can be done any other day) are also not a valid excuse.

  • Being a teacher of a 50+ student class, has a high likelihood that at least one of them may be sick the day of the exam, in those cases (hell, I've had teachers that were sick on the mid term's day), I agree that there should be some kind of Doctor's certificate around.

If you think the absence is somewhat justified, you can always make them retake the exam.

In my school, most teachers would make the student do this over finals.

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    +1 for being absent not being an excuse. I always tell my students they are responsible for everything I say in class. If they don't come, they better have a friend who takes really good notes.
    – earthling
    Jan 13, 2013 at 6:20

I would argue for consistency and responsibility.

You need to be consistent on how you apply the rule (i.e. what you told your students about missing exams at the beginning of the semester).

It is the responsibility of students to ensure they meet the requirements of the course (in order to obtain a satisfactory outcome). If there are any adverse circumstances, they need to be able to give you evidence (e.g. doctor's certificate).

Do remember, though, that we are all humans. A good teacher is also one who understands! (You hold the power in this case.)


Depending on the reason they weren't present at the tests, i would take the decision of giving them a Zero unless they provide a plausible reason on why did they end up missing those tests, and apply common reasoning. If they were sick or somewhat binded by "higher forces", you can lend them a hand, but if they missed because of something else (even a doctor's appointment) and did not justify themselves BEFORE the date was due, a Zero it is. You might be their teacher, but you have to tell them to be open about things and be able to ASK YOU if they need help on something.

As someone already said, you are not at fault for them not showing to your first class (Sylabus class), and they could simply "ask around" for information about your class (at least ask you about some guidelines). Take it like an employee: If someone misses a day of work, they must bring themselves "up to speed" on whatever happened on that missing day, and cannot abide by the "i wasn't here" to cover their asses. University courses should not be considered an exception (you can consider that for students, their courses should be like having a job, and adjust accordingly to those responsabilities).

Now, if you gave sufficient notice on which dates your tests would be done, and they have the means to contact you and let you know of any problems they might have, then there is no excuse for them to miss your tests.


If the information regarding the exam was published, then fail them and if no other screw ups, allow for makeup on last day of class. Kidnaping and torture by evil Nuns may be excepted with video proof. Life is tough and it is very unforgiving and it is their job to grow up and become responsible, it is not your job to teach them responsibility. It is your job to impart knowledge. You are not doing your job by allowing them leniency, nit to mention it is unfair to the others.

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