I give quizzes in my recitation classes. I write down the problems on the board. My handwriting is okay but not great and most students can read what I'm writing but because of chalk marks, bad writing, bad vision or whatever some students copy down the problem incorrectly. Mostly the changes are trivial (I wrote a 2 and they wrote 12, but the computations are the same). Sometimes the way they copy down the problem significantly changes the problem.

I don't want to penalize the student for misreading. But I don't want to be unfair if the problem is harder or easier for that student.

How should I grade these problems?

EDIT: I have 80 students. I give 21 quizzes in a semester. That is 1680 quizzes in a semester. Maybe 1 or 2 of those are miscopied to the point of being different problems. I am not going to change how I give quizzes for such a tiny irrelevant fraction of quizzes.

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    Have you considered projecting the quizzes or giving them handouts?
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Feb 7 '17 at 6:11
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    Just out of curiosity, what are these reasons? Feb 7 '17 at 6:18
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    @FuzzyLeapfrog The department said not to give out handouts because of paper/ink usage. Projecting doesn't help, students still copy things down incorrectly. But this is not relevant to the question. The question is GIVEN that students copied down a problem incorrectly in a way that significantly changed it, how should I grade it?
    – user41631
    Feb 7 '17 at 6:26
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    I've downvoted this question because of its last sentence. You first describe a problem due to how you give quizzes and then proceed to say that you are not willing to change how you give quizzes. One should always try to fix the cause of a problem.
    – Roland
    Feb 8 '17 at 7:02
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    Agreement with @Roland. Stated differently, why are you even asking if you're not willing to change any behavior based on the feedback? If it's important, then fix it. If it's not important, then why ask in the first place?
    – eykanal
    Feb 8 '17 at 13:26

I was a TA for a class where an exam question asked students to find the inverse of an exponential function that had a constant added onto it. Since many of the students were new to logs, including that constant was important as it revealed whether or not students understood log rules (and many did not).

When solving the problem, several students left off the constant altogether- whether they missed it in the problem or chose to ignore it wasn't clear.

If they did that, and then solved the problem they wrote down correctly, they could get partial credit. We treated those answers the same as ones where students acknowledged but misused the constant.

So if you can identify how exactly the student has oversimplified the problem, then give them no credit for that part of the question, but let them earn partial credit for rest of the question.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure to state it up front- perhaps students will be more careful about copying down the problem in that case.

  • You state in your question "I don't want to penalize the student". This answer penalizes the student. I fail to see why you accepted this answer.
    – eykanal
    Feb 9 '17 at 19:52

My solution is rather boring and simple. What if, after writing the problems on the board, you read the problems outloud with and or to the students. Hearing the problems will reduce many mistakes due to mis-seeing what's on the board.

After reading with or to them you can then ask the students if anything is unclear on the board. They ask and you can clarify your handwriting.

  • In one semester of teaching, I give 1500-2000 quizzes. There is maybe one or two of those quizzes where someone copied down a problem incorrectly. I am not going to change how I give my quizzes for such a tiny irrelevant fraction of quizzes.
    – user41631
    Feb 8 '17 at 5:32
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    So are you going to give this reply to every answer?
    – JeffE
    Feb 9 '17 at 2:09

There is a real problem here in trying to deliver exercise/quiz questions to the students when they are not received in a consistent manner. Grading really should apply a consistent procedure so that it is fair to all the students. So it is my suggestion that when the problem arises just throw out this exercise/quiz. Then start again with a clean slate.

The clear solution here, in the absence of authorization to use paper and ink for physical handouts, is to leverage modern technology. Distribute the "handouts" in electronic format. The distribution method can take a number of paths:

  1. Each student would have submitted an email address as a requirement to attend the class or the institution. Paste the text of the handout into an email body and send to all.
  2. Create a PDF file of the handout and store that file at a commonly known file server location at the institution.
  3. Copy the handout as a downloadable file to a web site that is used by the department for such things. The download could also be the convenient PDF type file.
  4. Create an HTML web page at the department web site that shows the handout material.
  5. Utilize the educational cloud services package that is in use for this course and make the handout available using the appropriate features of that package.
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    This is a good suggestion for the future, but it does not answer the question. Note the OP's comment that explicitly says: "The question is GIVEN that students copied down a problem incorrectly in a way that significantly changed it, how should I grade it?" Feb 7 '17 at 8:35
  • @O.R.Mapper - I agree with regards to the specific question.......but I see a direct problem of trying to grade these exercise/quiz questions that are not communicated through to the student in an consistent manner. My direct answer I will edit into the above. Feb 7 '17 at 8:53
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    Seems like the XY problem. "Given students copy badly, how do I change marking to account for this?" - well, you fix the bad copying so that there's no need to change marking based on quality of copying the problem, such that any error is entirely within comprehension of problem and explanation of solution. So question is really "how do I minimise amounts of bad copying of problems?".
    – Nij
    Feb 7 '17 at 9:45
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    @Nij Agreed. Randomly introduced mistakes in a question setting can create arbitrary variations in the difficulty of a question. E.g. seek positive integers a, b, c such that a^2+b^2=c^2; change 2 to any other larger integer for an example. Thus, everything indeed hinges on making sure the students have an accurate version of the question, I do not see a way around it. Feb 7 '17 at 10:21
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    @CaptainEmacs the small change in your example doesn't make too much of a difference. I can explain, but my proof will not fit within this comment unfortunately.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 8 '17 at 6:06

If the problem the student solved is pretty similar to the one you intended, then don't take any points off. You really have to decide whether you are testing your students on their understanding and mastery of the material, or their ability to decipher your handwriting.

There are many reasons a student sometimes solves the wrong problem. Sometimes he simply misreads what he himself wrote. Sometimes he misreads a typed, xeroxed problem. But the important thing is whether he can solve a certain type of problem.

If the problem the student solved is significantly different, then treat the quiz the same as if s/he had missed class due to illness.

  • But what if it ISN'T similar to what I intended is my question.
    – user41631
    Feb 8 '17 at 5:31
  • @mmmmmmm - See comment above. Feb 8 '17 at 5:37

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