A friend of mine is a mathematics professor at a college in the southeast United States (where they're currently expecting significant snowfall) and just asked an interesting question that I'm reposting here:

I'm currently teaching a four-week class, and next week is the final week. There is a good chance that the college will be closed Friday due to the weather, but Friday is also scheduled to be an exam day.

How should I handle this? I cannot afford to use the last Monday as the new exam day. My initial thought is that I could post it as take-home exam with strict warnings about using resources, but we can probably guess how well that will go.

I'm sure that she would appreciate any suggestions you might have, and I am also curious to see what they might be.

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    Would increasing the difficulty of the exam be an option? From what I understand this is a common tactic for dealing with using resourced on a take home exam. Jan 22, 2016 at 19:11
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    "in the southeast"... of what?
    – jub0bs
    Jan 23, 2016 at 10:02
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    What is so hard about getting the time tabling department to find a time slot when all of your students are free that a new exam can be booked in after the end of your 4 weeks?
    – Ian
    Jan 23, 2016 at 15:43
  • @Ian: The "time-tabling department" (I've never heard of one) cannot know about all the extra-curricular constraints which affect students, such as part-time jobs (this might be why I've never encountered such a department). Scheduling new exam times is a significantly different task from setting up a lecture schedule prior to enrollment.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 24, 2016 at 23:13
  • @BenVoigt, without a time-tabling office how do you get the timetable created so that students can take the combination of courses they have chosen?
    – Ian
    Jan 25, 2016 at 10:26

6 Answers 6


This is a college level issue. The school should come up with a plan for how such a problem should be handled. It seems absurd to ask each individual professor to come up with a specific plan for his/her own students.

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    Indeed, but/and (here in Minnesota, where snow and ice are common), my own institution is historically negligent in planning for such things... instead declaring that it's just the usual, and that it is "against the rules" for instructors to cancel class just because there's a blizzard, for example. So I've resorted to announcing (in person or in email) "following the rules, class will not be cancelled, but the material will be repeated in its entirety the subsequent class time ..." That is, because the central admins don't necessarily have to cope with the fallout, they may choose delusion... Jan 22, 2016 at 0:00
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    It's only a college level issue at places with college level plans in place. That doesn't really help as an answer for those places that give professors autonomy (which isn't absurd — I know my class and its needs better than any administrator) Jan 22, 2016 at 1:09
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    @guifa it seems to me like logically this is a college level issue, whether or not a particular college recognizes that fact or not. Similarly, certain other issues like student mental health are college level issues, and we would not expect a professor encountering a student with mental issues to have to start figuring out how to help that student - there would be college-wide resources to deal with such problems, because that is the logical way to set things up. Anyway, you're correct my answer would not be helpful to professors in certain not so well-run colleges - sorry about that.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 22, 2016 at 2:36
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    @guifa: surely Tulane did have a blanket policy after Katrina. The school closed. Individual professors didn't decide whether or not to flunk their students for missing classes/exams, no matter how well those professors understood their course and its needs. The school decided. Of course, once your city is evacuating that should be a relatively easy blanket policy for individual professors to get behind. A few days of snow might generate more difference of opinion. Jan 23, 2016 at 2:16
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    @guifa I live in California so I'm not an expert on the response to such severe weather events, but I'd hazard the answer to your questions is Yes and Yes (if by "blanket" you mean "college-level"). And I'd ask similarly, should professors have to fix equipment that breaks in a classroom? Should they be in charge of classroom scheduling? Should they set up their own web servers and code their own Learning Management System? No, clearly professors are supported by a logistical infrastructure that takes care of such things. Planning for bad weather logically falls in precisely the same category.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 23, 2016 at 2:21

I think many of us are running into this. We've been back in for two weeks and I've lost four days in a four-day-a-week class between MLK and weather-related incidents (yay building flooding too!). Thankfully it's early enough I can make reasonable adjustments.

At my university, we are given relatively wide berth to reschedule and work around campus closures and based on the question, it seems the situation is similar, so here are some of the possibilities I'd see:

  • Take home exam with regularly scheduled Monday
    Not optimal, because they'd end up just cheating as it will be hard to rewrite a test designed for classroom-taking for home-taking in such a short time, but essay-style tests may work okay (doubt that's the case for a math course, though)
  • Reschedule the test day on the weekend.
    It may seem a bit dickish, but you could reschedule for Sunday and then handle the handful of no shows individually (this presumes that the weather is okay by Sunday, Saturday looks to be a no-go all over). Students will kill you on evals for this.
  • Move the test to Monday and have a special session to cover Monday's material
    Presuming one of the remaining days is a review-like day, cancel it to fit in the rest of the days. The review day will then be rescheduled as a special session at a time that the vast majority of students can make (perhaps consulted via a survey).
  • Cancel the test and integrate into the final
    This presumes there is a final. Some students may balk at this, and since it would involve the modification of the syllabus may require approval of higher ups or be subject to other university rules.

Some universities may have more codified policies that explicitly add on extra days, in which case you should modify the schedule in accordance with that policy. No doubt that a department head or dean would remind you of such a policy in advance (our provost did, which is to say, we were encouraged to hold virtual classes, but were reminded that we were free to handle the situation — including rescheduling classes outside of normal hours — in the ways that best fit our courses)

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    I am mildly, and happily, surprised to hear of an administration that grants autonomous decision-making to individual faculty... On the other hand, then I guess they won't have to field any complaints, and it'll be on faculty members' heads. Jan 22, 2016 at 0:02
  • Give everyone an A and be done with it. You will get good evals. If your students are full time students then you can do things like reschedule on the weekend. Otherwise they are busy taking care of their kids, working their second job, etc and that is just not going to work. Save yourself the headache and give everyone an A.
    – emory
    Jan 22, 2016 at 22:32
  • @emory I'm not sure where you think I actually recommended that course of action. But, despite your snark (1) there are places where it's a safe assumption that all students are full time or even live on campus (for example, my freshman lit class that was even given in our dorm), and (2) for contingent faculty, student satisfaction is a fact of life. Bad student evals will mean non-renewal of contracts. My personal recommendation is the third, but that's because I always have a buffer day or two at the end and I'm okay having my reviews out of the normal schedule. Jan 23, 2016 at 1:57
  • @emory Your students give evals after they get grades????
    – JeffE
    Jan 23, 2016 at 13:28
  • @guifa That is not your recommended course of action, it is my recommended course of action. Student evals are no joke. If you are being judged primarily on student evals, then it makes sense to optimize them.
    – emory
    Jan 23, 2016 at 16:06

Give the exam in class on Monday and deliver the material scheduled for Monday via an on-line mechanism. Schedule a help session during office hours (book a classroom if possible) for those who need additional help with the material delivered on line.

I'm not sure how this would work for a math course, but in my discipline (computing) narrated PowerPoint slides turned into a "video" work fairly well. I've done that a few times when participating in out of town conferences or symposia.


As an undergraduate math student, I've had plenty of take home exams and final exams that were impossible to cheat on. Because they were take home, difficulty was increased, and severe punishment threatened for cheating. For my topology course we had several difficult problems we had to provide proofs for, and my numerical analysis required us to write code to evaluate the problems. Unless it's a well known theorem or problem there's really no way to google solutions.

Of course you must trust the students to be honest and not plagiarize, but it's been my experience as a student and as a grader - when people cheat it's quite obvious. And if one does manage to get one past you, really they are only hurting themselves, as they are not gaining the knowledge they'll need for their next level courses.

Hopefully you won't be forced to cancel class. Stay warm up there!

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    They are not impossible to cheat on. Jan 23, 2016 at 13:17

If you have multiple assessments, I would make the missed exam optional and give students two opportunities to take the exam. Students who do not take the exam have some other assessment (e.g., the final exam) count more.

If you only have a single assessment, I would have the exam during the next scheduled session and offer a no penalty makeup exam session. I would then schedule two sessions where you can give the missed lecture.

  • If making the test optional, I'd probably recommend actually just tell students I'll drop their lowest (thus it's "optional" but wouldn't penalize students who didn't do well but made the effort to show up, and give an incentive to actually take it) Jan 23, 2016 at 16:09

Be honest and realize that the administrator(s) know the weather ,time have already decided the right thing you should do. If they saw how much you struggle with this you may lost your credentials to teach in la esquela? Comprende amigo

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