I am teaching a large undergraduate class this semester. One day a week (same day every week) we have a quiz. The syllabus doesn't specify at what moment of the class period the quiz will be given. It does say though that students who missed the quiz aren't allowed to make it up. So, I've had the following situation since the semester started. First and second week I gave the quiz at the end of the class. During week 3 I already had a few students coming more than 20 minutes late, but early enough not to miss the 15 min quiz, which I gave again at the end. So, this week (week 4) I gave the quiz 10 minutes after the start of the class. The actual time of the quiz wasn't announced in advance. And yes, I've had many students coming late and some came when the quiz was already over. These students couldn't have 15 minutes like others if any time at all. Now these students are claiming that I needed to tell them in advance at what time the quiz was supposed to be or emphasize that it can be at any time, or otherwise they follow the pattern.

All students who came in late were the ones who were late the previous week except one student.

I repeat that it's a big lecture hall, and I don't want to take notes when a specific student actually started his or her quiz and add 15 minutes to that time. Also, after quiz I want all of them to concentrate on the class material. And I don't want to give it at the end all the time as some students will come in late, and that disrupts the flow of a lecture, distracts other students and generally erodes class morale.

I drop quite a lot of lowest quiz grades at the end of the semester to meet those cases when students do have to be absent. So, a good student's grade won't be affected if he or she will miss a couple of quizzes.

I am currently facing lots of negative emails from students who were late and didn't get the grade they would get if they had the same time as everybody else. Do you think it's me being unreasonable? Their main argument is that it should be clearly stated when a quiz is given or emphasized that it can be given at any time, which I find unnecessary.

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    – ff524
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 19:56

17 Answers 17


Do you think it's me being unreasonable?

Sadly, yes. I see two problems here:

  1. You said in a comment that the policy of "the quiz can happen at any time" was not articulated at all. You gave the quiz near the end of the class a couple of times, and the students naturally assumed that that's when you'll always have it. Now you are trying to argue legalistically that since you didn't say when the quiz will occur, you were reserving the right to hold it at any time. However, in my opinion if you are going to argue based on legalisms, the burden is on you to dot all your i's and cross all your t's and make sure that you gave your students such amazingly clear information that they couldn't even imagine arguing with you.

    The thing to keep in mind here is that you are an educator, not a prosecutor trying to entrap a criminal in court. The students deserve to have clearly articulated rules so that they can focus their time and energy on the material; in particular, if there's a quiz, they deserve to know the precise time when it will be held, or at the very least to have an explicit announcement that the quiz can be held at variable times. Overall, your approach to dealing with the students who came late as I'm understanding it from your question seems to me to place you in an adversarial, combative position relative to your students, which is not where you want to be as a teacher - it can only serve to distract from your educational objectives and provides for a poor learning environment for your students.

  2. A second problem is that I'm getting a strong feeling from reading your question that you're trying to use the quiz as a crowd control mechanism, which feels wrong to me (and partially as a result has gotten you into the current messy situation). You've devised an elaborate strategy that consists of holding a quiz at a randomly selected time during the class as a solution to the problem of making students come to class, and come on time. The problem of students coming in late may be a very real concern, but random quizzes are simply an inappropriate and ineffective way to address it (and one that can potentially be perceived quite negatively by the students).

    A quiz is a form of assessment, and is a legitimate device to use for that purpose, but let's keep things in their right place: deal with the problem of disruptive late-coming students in the appropriate way, and have your assessment in the way that makes sense from an educational standpoint, whether it be quizzes, exams, homework, or even mandatory class attendance if that's important to you and your institution's policies allow it.

  • 18
    @DanRomik So, what about pop quizzes on the material being currently taught? They encourage students to be attentive during class. Is this also bad? Too controlling? I've had many great professors who taught me not only their subjects but also some values. Respect is one of them. It's inappropriate in my opinion to come to class late or leave it earlier on a regular basis without explaining the reason. It's inappropriate to use a cell phone when a lecturer delivers a lecture, etc. I understand there are differences in values, and different people employ different tools to promote theirs.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 2:48
  • 33
    @Vika: Quizzing about the material being currently taught may encourage students to be attentive during class, but it also punishes (unfairly IMHO) those students who internalize the knowledge only after the class, which is likely the majority, unless the pace is very slow. Besides, Dan didn't say the quizzes should be at the beginning, only that they should know when they would happen. As for respect, your students are adults, it is not your place to teach them manners. In any event, I think it would be better to lead by example, rather than antagonize them.
    – tomasz
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:07
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    And frankly, I see no problem when my students use cell phones or come in late for class, as long as they aren't too noisy (in which case I would remind them they may leave -- if they are not high schoolers...). If they don't learn something because they were busy doing something else, it's their loss. If anything, if they do that a lot, it might be my fault for not capturing their interest or setting a wrong pace. Or maybe they are simply brilliant enough that they easily get what you need to carefully explain to others. Either way, it's not my business.
    – tomasz
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:14
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    @Vika Regardless of whether they need to be taught manners or not, that's not what they're paying you to teach them. As far as pop quizzes, I would not recommend that at all, but, if you feel the need, you need to inform your students that it's a possibility beforehand. This is the same need to set clear expectations as needing to tell them that the quiz may be at any point in the period.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:42
  • 36
    @Vika Respect is always a two way street! If you want to teach them respect you should start by upholding these values on your own. Using tricks like random quizzes to penalize them like kids, doesn't treat them like peers. It is not something I would ever do in a professional environment to colleagues. All it teaches them is someone in a position with power above you can use it to enforce whatever rules they like by tricking you
    – Falco
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 11:36

In my opinion, yes, you are being unreasonable.

I don't know the specific regulations of your institution, but I firmly believe that attending classes should not be mandatory, and students are entitled to do self-study or otherwise learn the material without your help. They may even be forced to do so by external factors (say, other classes taking place at the same time, or a day-time job). Either way, this is no business of the teacher.

In that spirit, I think it is just unfair to do the quiz without setting the time in advance, doubly so if you have not given them any sort of heads-up, and only decided to change a set schedule after a few weeks. Moreover, given the tone of your post, it seems like this change of schedule is intentional retaliation against the students for coming in late, and again, in my opinion, this is not the right way to prevent this sort of behaviour. Even if it is not the case, I would not be surprised if they felt that way.

I see how it can create a disturbance, especially in a big class. The simplest solution I can see is to do the quizzes at a set time (preferably at the very beginning or the very end of the class), and, if you are afraid of the disturbance, make a short (2-3 minutes would be enough) break before and after the quiz so that those students who only want to take the quiz can come and go without making too big a commotion.

This way, those who actually want to attend your class can do so without much of a hassle, while those who don't or can't will have a predictable schedule. As an added bonus, it makes for fewer students who would not be paying attention.

If late arrivals are still a concern even after that, you can try to simply explain, politely, how big a problem that is -- assuming that it is indeed such a big problem -- are a few people arriving late to take the back seats really a big deal? I am in no position to judge that, obviously, but if the only thing that suffers because of that is your pride, perhaps you should just swallow it.

If that fails as well, you may follow @DaveRose's suggestion and just keep the doors locked except during the test (after giving them a heads-up in advance). In my opinion, this is still excessive, but as long as it is completely clear to everyone involved, I guess it is an acceptable policy, if at all allowed/possible.

  • 24
    As a side comment, in this year, I've been asked to teach high school students instead of undergrads. The absolute worst part of the experience is probably the fact that attendance is mandatory, and I can't kick out those who are not paying attention.
    – tomasz
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:12
  • 17
    I think at a lot of institutions locking the doors is not something instructors are physically allowed/capable of doing (in either direction). Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 23:37
  • 8
    IFC/IBC and OSHA compliance would dictate that fire route egress door may be locked from outside entry but must at all times allow for the exit of occupants with no special tools or knowledge. If your doors can't accomplish this they cannot be locked. Most institutions should have doors that are capable of this style of locking, however. IFC/IBC 1008.1.8 and OSHA 1910.36(d)(1)
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 0:33
  • 7
    @Vika: A mathematician ought to know that just because something is written somewhere doesn't mean it is necessarily true (for example, not every analytic set is Borel and not every limit of continuous functions is continuous). As I have said, I have had no knowledge of the policies of your school, and I am merely saying what (to me) is common sense. So in my opinion this policy is wrong, which is not to say that you can't enforce it - I'm not talking about legality.
    – tomasz
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:13
  • 10
    In any event, I think the burden of informing in advance is much greater on the part of the instructor than on the part of the students. Rules like times of quizzes and the like should be made clear in advance, particularly in a very large class.
    – tomasz
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:15

Either attendance in lectures is a required and graded component of the course or it isn't. If it is, then make sure everyone is aware of this, take attendance, and deduct grades from students who are late or absent. If it is not, then simply do not expect students to be present during your lectures. If there are lateness issues or if students coming late are disruptive then deal with this on its own merits. It should have no bearing on when you schedule formal evaluations.

Frankly, giving students grades in a course simply for being present at a lecture (or deducting them for being absent) sounds insane to me. It's easy to show up to a lecture and learn nothing. It's also easy to not show up to a lecture and learn everything.

This isn't elementary school - the primary purpose of a higher-education course is to provide to the student an objective, quantifed, and certified evaluation of their competence concerning the material in scope. Lectures are one of several services provided to assist students to that end, but they are just that - a means to an end.

If there are graded tests, quizzes, examinations, etc, you have a professional responsibility to let your students know in advance where and when they need to be to take that test. How else can you expect them to organize their time?!

In most higher education I've ever seen, attendance at lectures is strictly optional. Your lectures are there as a service to the students who feel that they help them learn the course material. Many students do not. Lectures consume a considerable amount of time and, quite often, are paced so slowly that for some they constitute an inefficient use of time. For those who can teach themselves the material covered in a lecture in much less time, forcing them to attend is nothing short of forcing them to waste their time.

Playing ridiculous games of bait and switch with randomly timed tests feels rather unprofessional. Your students are adults - treat them as such.

  • 14
    Wish I could give this more upvotes.
    – Shane
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 18:35
  • 12
    @Vika All I'm saying is that there will be students who will find more productive uses of their time than attending your lectures. If there are formal evaluations that they must be present for you should tell them where and when it will be in advance. If you insist on doing this randomly at some point during the lecture it should at least be clear so that students can arrange to be there. Assuming that students will be there, failing to set a clear schedule, and then changing the routine you establish without notice is just inconsiderate. You're making people guess and that is frustrating.
    – J...
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 20:40
  • 6
    @OswaldVeblen Canada, UK, primarily, but also incidentally in other places as well. I'm willing to accept that some cultures may be different, but all culture aside, it is not even logical that lecture attendance should have a bearing on grades. Managing to successfully sit in a chair for an appointed duration hardly seems like the stuff of merit...
    – J...
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 22:08
  • 7
    +1 for this. If you want the grade to be based on attendance, then just say in your syllabus that you grade on attendance. If you want to quiz the students, then tell them when the quizzes will be. If you insist on a pop-quiz, there's no reason that quiz needs to be at the beginning of the lecture.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:33
  • 7
    @OswaldVeblen Discussion format is clearly different, I'll grant. OP made reference to "a large lecture hall" - this is a rather typical sit-and-listen type of environment, I'm sure. And yes, for many students, attendance likely benefits their grades as the time is productively spent learning from the lecturer. That's not the point, nor can it be said to be universally true. The grade should reflect what they have learned, not the circumstances in which they learned it. If punctuality and schedule management are considered for the grade then the instructor needs to make clear what that means.
    – J...
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 0:23

My only concern about what you've done is how clearly the policy of "the quiz can happen at any time" was articulated. If you've not said that explicitly at some point, I would show a little bit of leeway—but not much. Students who are regularly tardy for class do impede the learning process for everyone, and therefore I don't have much sympathy for their claims.

What I would do in this case is let those students know that this bad grade will count against their allocation of dropped quizzes, but that in the future the quiz can occur at any point in class, and that there will be no prior announcement if the quiz will take place at the beginning or end of class.

  • 8
    the policy of "the quiz can happen at any time" was not articulated at all. Coming from a different country I didn't feel like I have to explain this.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 18:53
  • 14
    @Vika As a US graduate, what I've come to determine is that students will expect to know everything they should expect for the course from start to finish from the course syllabus. Surprises are frowned upon, and it results in a shock upon transition into graduate school.
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 0:47
  • 4
    Students coming late for class only impede the class if they're loud, which is independent of coming in late, or if the teacher interrupts class to complain about it, which happens far too often.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:51
  • 8
    Students who are regularly tardy for class do impede the learning process for everyone — how?
    – gerrit
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 10:46
  • 8
    This answer literally makes no sense to me. How are people being late, or even missing classes impeding on everyone's learning process? Also, what is the point of these quizzes? Demonstrating your ability to harass students?
    – Davor
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 14:57

Unless there's some institutional policy against it, then you're well within your rights and you're fine. The fact that some quizzes get dropped give you additional buffer in this regard.

In the future you can consider refining your syllabus by mentioning "quizzes can happen at any time during the class meeting". That would give you a third layer of authorization/documentation for that fact, if it's something that students are disputing.

Edit: Here's some supporting documentation on the issue.

In Washington State, this issue rose to the level of asking for input from the State Attorney General on the advisability and legality of attendance and related grading policies. The 1989 advice was somewhat restrictive on faculty (suggested not penalizing grades until attendance was below 80%). The 1992 and 1996 guidance was relatively more empowering to instructors, in permitting dropping students from a course for not attending in the first two days, and recognizing faculty authority to set attendance policies.

[1992] ... faculty members should be free to adopt the attendance policy as they choose. Some faculty members may feel that a mandatory attendance policy interferes with their academic freedom. By allowing them to accept or reject the school's policy, this concern should be obviated.

[1996]... it is not discriminatory to reduce student grades for noncompliance with a standard of attendance, "provided that students are given advance notice of the policy; that the instructor applies the policy evenly to all students; and the instructor is reasonable in his/her application of the policy by allowing excused absences for good cause."

Some research in 2013 found overall increased results from having daily quizzes in a large lecture class, and considered increased attendance to be a desirable side effect. Note that while grades went up, students still complained about the practice. (A point that Daniel Willingham has made in the past; students usually dislike the style of pedagogy that they learn the most from.)

Most students hated it at first, Dr. Pennebaker said. “Sam and I usually get really high course evaluations” from the students, he said; “these were the lowest ever.”...

By the end of the course, however, the class had outperformed a previous Psych 301 class of 935 students that used midterm exams — scoring 10 percent higher on a subset of 17 questions that appeared on both classes’ tests. The quizzed group also got slightly higher grades, the study found.

Minnesota State's review of research on the topic found that class attendance was the most valuable of all time that students spent interacting with course materials, and correlated well with final grades. Item #4 on their list of "Conclusions and Recommendations" for the university was:

Certain course practices can be used to encourage attendance. Testing extensively from material presented in class rather than material from the text can encourage better attendance. The use of in-class quizzes and other exercises will reward attendance.

  • Will do that in the future for sure.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 19:39

I grew up in what in the U.S. would be called a ghetto. Respect is a word and value that matters to you a lot there, and you go out of your way to retaliate to perceived slights. I had to dissuade a very intelligent and educated and caring friend with a similar background from filling the convertible of someone who had been hostile to him with sand, decades after leaving the ghetto. You are unlikely to go that far, but you used a quiz to teach those who didn't respect you a lesson.

It can be hard to lose that attitude, no matter where and how far you go in life; but it's very destructive for your own mental health. Some people are perennially late (certainly among mathematicians I know), but they don't "disrespect you." They're just late, that's all. Maybe it's cultural (despite the country's reputation to the contrary, people of my home country quite frequently are), maybe it's because they couldn't make it despite best efforts, or maybe it's just the way they are.

For your own success and happiness, try to work on learning to not relate other people's actions to you when they are not clearly targeting you (e.g., you don't have to put up with rude talkers). I suggest you mention in class that you appreciate reasonable punctuality, but if people don't follow suit, set a fixed time for quizzes, and shrug.


If the quiz is to test the students' academic abilities rather than their alarm clocks, then you should hold it during the last 15mins.

  • 7
    Being able to arrive on time is an academic ability too... Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:06
  • 11
    @MassimoOrtolano A very rare academic ability indeed.
    – gerrit
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 10:48
  • @MassimoOrtolano - no, it literally has nothing to do with academia.
    – Davor
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 10:24
  • @Davor Many students deem this and other qualities unrelated to their academic abilities, and then they wonder why they can't get stellar recommendation letters, a position in a certain group etc. Guess why? Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 11:13
  • 1
    @MassimoOrtolano - because other things besides pure academic ability affect your employability? Do you consider not being a raging racist to be academic ability? Eating your food every day? Everything that can mess up your career?
    – Davor
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 15:43

You are NOT being unreasonable. You never said the quiz would be at the end and I assume none of those students asked you if the quiz was going to always be at the end. You just need to clearly answer you never implied that the quiz was going to be at the end, that lowest scores will be dropped, and that if they have questions they should ask in advance, not complain later. Also, make sure they understand that they are responsible for doing well, and they cannot blame you for giving a quiz DURING class. Add that you do expect attendance, if that is important for you. Whether or not that is important for other teachers or the students it is irrelevant, YOU are giving that course and only you should decide what you want to expect from students.


Time for a little story?

I was teaching in a foreign country for a class with 55 students. Around 20 of them felt being gangster and they came like 15 minutes late. So calmly next week I closed the damn doors. So "gangsters" came late, and start knocking on the door, and the on time students start laughing. I repeatedly did the same and the number of "gangsters" dropped to none around week 4 or 5.

Note: Doors were closed but not locked.

  • 9
    Umm. That's a fire hazard, dude.
    – David Hill
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:23
  • 10
    I took this story to mean that the doors had a press bar that opened the door from the inside, but was locked from the outside. It's a common design in the US. I don't see a fire hazard in this case.
    – neontapir
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:26
  • 3
    Closing the doors is not something that can be done everywhere, and actually I'm wondering in how many countries this would be allowed. For instance in my country room doors cannot be locked from the inside and anyway professors usually don't have the keys: rooms are opened in the morning by the janitors and closed at night. Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:28
  • 8
    @neontapir this is off-topic, but "fire hazard" in a U.S. context can also mean a more general "emergency hazard", which these days would (sadly) include things like an active shooter incident. Locking the doors from inside, even with a metal bar allowing rapid egress, may be perceived as a very problematic thing to do from the point of view of such generalized emergency situations.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:32
  • 2
    @Davor I would be completely supportive of your right to file a lawsuit, and I would look forward to our day in court.
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 17:37

I personally believe this drastically depends on what country you are based in and also what your Universities culture is like?

Coming from the U.K. and from my past experiences (though I graduated a few years ago now) The University set out a clear lecture structure timetable at the start of each semester and as students we were obliged to attend those lectures, and tutorials, at that specific time. This, as well as other University obligations were disclosed to us in a students handbook at the start of the year. Whether you hold the quiz at the start middle or end of the class does not matter and is entirely up to you, as long as you hold it within the planned time slot for that lecture I don't see how any student has the right to complain?

Perhaps in other countries, and quite possibly even other UK Universities, students obligations are not so stringent when it comes to attendance and punctuality and there could be many good reasons for this. Certainly in my University it was important and the way our lectures were structured, I fully understand this and completely agree. Do you have any (specific to your university) student handbooks or official guidelines which contain details of any obligations or suggestions around attendance and punctuality for students, that you could refer to to support you?

I understand that some have opinions around students flexibility, for those who undertake in part time work to support their studies for example, but I strongly believe that if a student is struggling to be on time for classes due to part time work then he or she needs to have a discussion with the lecturer and/or a student liaison to discuss the best course of action (if any is required).

  • I am currently in the US. They have so called "syllabus". In the syllabus it's stated that every week, on a specific day the students have a quiz in class.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 22:37
  • 4
    I agree with this. Coming from the UK, to me it seems that the students are pushing boundaries for no good reason. They have been told that the class will contain a test, and it is their job to show up on time. However, I think this probably isn't an issue that is worth the battle.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 13:34

Since this is an undergrad class, take a few minutes the next session and explain why we show the "politeness of kings" by being on time for a class and committing to stay until the end. You are not a TV show. I sometimes will stop talking entirely when latecomers enter, and wait until they are settled. This so irritates those who were on time, they let the latecomers know that they are being disruptive. Peer pressure is much more effective!

  • 40
    As a recently graduated student, I disagree. Students showing up late is only minimally disruptive to their peers, while the professor stopping is extremely disruptive to the entire class, and in my opinion unprofessional.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:36
  • 12
    Peer pressure is much more effective! Highly depends on the culture. Also from my point of view as a student extremely cowardly from the professor's side. What am I supposed to do to those who are being troublesome? Break their bones? Find where they live and toss a brick through their window? Unless there is an established legal method for peers to provide pressure, don't try to assume that it can be effective.
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 23:40
  • 10
    I can't imagine a course in the undergraduate or graduate level where I would be anything but annoyed at the professor for an action like you suggest. The only time I've seen peer pressure work with a late or repeatedly absent student is when group work is required (so the grade depends on the late person) - even than I've seen groups just do that person's portion of the work in order to pass (not saying that is right) Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 1:55
  • 6
    The main reason students coming in late disrupts class is because of professors who stop what they're doing when it happens. This is creating the problem, not solving it.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:52
  • 10
    And the poor girl, coming back from a short toilet-break will probably hate you for the rest of her life, because you stopped the lecture to embarrass her in front of the class for the big disruption of leaving/entering the room to take a leak...
    – Falco
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 11:44

If your institution has a good LMS like Canvas, consider offering the quiz online. You'll want to make sure it's (1) reasonably timed, (2) ensured to close within a reasonable time frame, and (3) the grade and answers to questions don't become available until the quiz closes.

So say 10-15 questions, 15min limit, ~48hr to complete. You'd basically let them know at the end of the relevant lecture that the quiz will be open after class until the start of the next lecture, or what have you.

If this isn't possible, you do need to clearly state your intentions regardless if it's reasonable or not because especially undergrad students, they take advantage of a lot of the leeway they get and fall into habits (sometimes it's bad habits, we get it). The effect of being ambiguous is they're going to reluctantly accept that failure and learn from it, or they're just going to give you a bad rating as an instructor.

  • I think it's one of the system's weak points that instructors actually care about their rankings. Eventually this leads to the situation when students behave as the ones who set up rules, not instructors. Evaluations are useful to get feedback, but quite misleading as well. There are too many instructors in my school with perfect "5/5" due to being "nice, funny and easy" and some excellent educators with much worse rankings. I do care about my teaching. But as I am quite strict with my students, my evaluations usually fall into two categories: excellent (overwhelming majority) and really bad.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:12
  • The point of quizzes is that we have them in class. Take-home quizzes usually don't demonstrate what students really know.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:14
  • 1
    I think that this is a hurdle your students are going to need to learn how to jump, then. No foul on you, it's poor habits on the student's part. There is an impact being late for any obligation. A good policy I've seen: Tell them that you will have a quiz on [day], and that late students will have until the first student completes and submits their quiz to show up, otherwise they will not be allowed to take it.
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:14
  • Eventually this leads to the situation when students behave as the ones who set up rules, not instructors. — Speaking as someone with both very specific and moderately unpopular rules and high teaching evaluations: [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 17:40

Some answers to this question have been amazingly different than others. Clearly this issue demonstrates a deep split in culture, with most answers seeming to support students being permitted to make their own decisions.

The opposing view is that students do not have a "right" to be late, and there is no reason to honor that. For instance, tomasz's comment, "Either way, this is no business of the teacher."

That stance seems to not take into account that different teachers have different requirements, and it very well may be the business of the teacher. At the college where I had my first job, the college made a commitment to train students a certain number of hours, and there were major financial repercussions if students were absent. The college imposed rules on teachers, so attendance absolutely was the teacher's business.

I was also trained to use quizzes to effectively motivate attendance. Always pop a quiz if attendance was low. It could be a simple quiz, like "is it sunny outside today?" (in a windowed classroom).

We were, interestingly, forbidden from grading based on attendance. However, our grading methods were required to consider things like attitude and professionalism, and we could certainly use quizzes.

Since this was impressed upon me by my department chair (who was involved in hiring me), and later on by the new president of the college, it certainly wasn't unreasonable for me, as an employee, to follow the instructions provided by my supervisors.

Regarding the question poster (Vika)'s comment about dropping the lowest quizzes, these quizzes could simply be in a different category.

Regarding the comment by "J...", "This isn't elementary school - the primary purpose of a higher-education course is to provide to the student an objective, quantifed, and certified evaluation of their competence concerning the material in scope." If that is your goal, then using quizzes to track attendance is wrong. However, if your goal is to train people, preparing them to be ready to be useful members of a productive workforce, then abusing quizzes in this way is a way to achieve those means. Some people will not appreciate the approach's harshness, but this type of method may be more effective at achieving the ultimate aim. So, the desired goal may be a worthy consideration, and the answer might be different among different educational institutions.

Letting people know what to expect is a great idea for multiple reasons. One is because some people may feel entitled to sufficient warning, and I think that some legal actions (court cases) may back up that attitude. Another reason is to do the decent humanitarian thing. In America where I'm at, many of the young people are genuinely so unfamiliar with the expectations of older professional culture that the ideas seem unreasonable, which I've determined from reading numerous public postings on websites. The humanitarian thing is to, at very minimum, make sure that you close the cultural gap in a way that is clearly fair, by making sure that expectations are clearly communicated. Let people know things in writing, so that if anyone does come late, then they can see the note on the syllabus even if they miss in-class comments.

Once you let them know, then it's fair game (which is my concise answer, in case that wasn't clear among the other commentary). The instructor (and certainly not the students) should have control over how the class sessions operate. They (the students) might not like you (the teacher) doing things like scoring based on attendance. Heck, for that matter, even you (the teacher) might not like doing such things. However, in the interests of achieving the ultimate goal, demonstrating successful application of authority may be worth the discomfort of the students, and even yourself. Sometimes a good person simply has to do what's right, even when it isn't very pleasant (for them, or for you).


I drop quite a lot of lowest quiz grades at the end of the semester to meet those cases when students do have to be absent. So, a good student's grade won't be affected if he or she will miss a couple of quizzes.

I assume they don't know that yet.

Concede that you were wrong not to tell them in advance about the time.

Then tell them that because of this, at the end of the course, you will allow everyone to drop that grade (or if they elect to keep that particular grade, that you'll allow them to drop a different quiz grade of their choosing).

  • 1
    Why make it complicated? Just tell them you'll drop the lowest x grades and don't let their choices enter into it at all. Any reasonable person would pick the lowest grades anyway.
    – Kurt
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 21:47
  • @StephanBranczyk They know the policy about dropping lowest grades. It's on the syllabus.
    – Vika
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 22:52
  • 2
    They know the policy about dropping lowest grades. It's on the syllabus. — Alas, the first sentence does not follow from the second.
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 17:41

Part of the inherent agreement of a class is that the student attends during the time of the class and fulfills all learning obligations determined by the instructor. In return the student receives the benefit and gain of knowledge as specified by the class. The students who do not attend the entire class abrogate this contract and therefore have no claim when they are not present for the quiz. This is reflected also in real life and should also be viewed as one of the added instructions a student receives that adds up to far more than the classroom instruction. Simply tell your students that you will give half the quiz at the beginning of the period and half at the end!! This should absolve you from any misunderstanding or claims of unfairness. For those of you who may have misunderstood the penultimate paragraph I mean that if a quiz is 10 questions, 5 are to be posed at the beginning of class and 5 at the end!

  • 3
    One concern of this: "half the quiz at the beginning of the period and half at the end!!" -- that sounds neat. Until I think about it enough to realize that's really not any different than giving two quizzes in one day. You could just say you're giving two quizzes every day. Once students figure this out, they may despise the unnecessary confusion of the word games even more than the quizzes.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 16:25

I'd like to have you see yourself through the eyes of the student. The student may or may not know all about your classes and about all the things you're teaching. So I can imagine why they would want to stay away from your classes as it doesn't seem to be introducing anything new to them. However at the same time they still need to "prove" that they possess the skills and competences needed to complete the course. And that's where the tests, essays, papers, and other stuff come into play.

Now that see the great outline we can look a bit deeper into what a student would do in class if they are forced to attend. They will get in class, listen to whatever you're explaining and then get bored as they already know the material (This obviously doesn't go for everyone). There was a good picture I read saw before that pictured this in an entertaining way. Here : http://oddlydevelopedtypes.com/content/potential

What a school should want to do is assess the student based on their skills and competences. This is also where things get a bit complicated, depending on the school you will want to have the student be very independent. If the school wants to encourage students being independent, you'd want to give them the option to just show up for the tests and then get out. If they fail, then they themselves are to blame for it as they have had ample opportunity to get help if needed.

However, in order to do this, they need to know when the tests are. Is it the responsibility of the teacher to tell the students when these tests are "exactly"? No. The student is responsible for their classes and made the unjust assumption that the tests would be at the end of the classes. The kicker here being that they made an "assumption". The first thing you should learn is to NEVER take assumptions if you can help it. These students should have "ASKED" you when those tests would be held. I believe they had not done this. As a teacher you can expect a student to attend your whole class unless the student indicates otherwise.

If a student wants to not attend classes and just take tests. I don't see much of a problem. However it should still be the student's responsibility to ASK.

If a student wants to take responsibility of their own time allocation, then they should take FULL responsibility for it. Not half-ass this and then point fingers towards the teacher when they themselves don't plan their time correctly.

Also, this is coming from a student, Not a teacher. And as a student I feel you're being taken advantage of if these students can get away with something like this.


Students who are late should be allowed to start late, and take the quiz at a disadvantage. (The quiz ends at a certain time but no one says that you have to start on time.)

Students who are absent should be excused if they have a reasonable excuse, such as illness or death in the family. They should fail if they have no reasonable excuse for being absent.

  • 5
    Why should this be allowed? The word "should" causes the statement to have an ethical slant. I had a college president describe how he implemented college-wide policy (at another location) to have all doors be locked at class start time. Students who were late would get an absence. This quickly led to fewer instances of students entering late, which distracts other people (who may be taking a quiz). I'm not saying whether this example was the best approach, but am showing an actual other perspective that was done. Why should students have a right to cause such distraction?
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 16:32

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