While this may seem unfair intuitively, I want to know whether if it is fair for a professor to have an extra question for specific students in the class.

A little background: In a calculus class, 3 out of a 16 ish students have taken calculus before at their high school, but the university requires them to take a similar class as per the university's rules. The professor knew that they had calculus, and so, during a quiz, he assigned them an extra question, and everyone else didn't have that question on their paper.

Now, it wasn't an extra credit problem, yet, it was graded as a normal problem.

So my question is, can the professor exclude those specific group of students and assign them an extra problem on a test or a quiz?

  • the rules are at fault - they should be given an exemption.
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 30, 2017 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


The goal of any kind of assessment in teaching is to check if each student has met the learning objectives of the teaching activity, and the test should therefore have essentially the same questions of the same level of difficulty for all students. Otherwise, we would ask more of certain students in order for them to have met the learning objectives.

  • 1
    The questions in the setting that you mention were randomly generated and of the same level of difficulty; this is not a problem. However, here we speaking of different questions having another level of difficulty aimed at specific students. Oct 30, 2017 at 14:43
  • 1
    I am of course of the opinion that the questions should be essentially the same; indeed, trivial variations of parameters and re-ordering of questions can be simple and useful safeguards against cheating, and I have indeed used these measures in my own teaching. In the case of an oral exam, we of course cannot ask the exact same questions to each and every student, but we can and should ask essentially the same questions. Oct 30, 2017 at 14:48
  • @StellaBiderman Please note that the OP is saying "to have an extra question for specific students in the class.".
    – Nobody
    Oct 30, 2017 at 14:52
  • @scaaahu Again, I am not saying that Hans's position is wrong, merely that his original justification for it on the grounds that the test should contain the same questions for every student is wrong. I agree with the answer and general and upvoted it after he reworded it. Oct 30, 2017 at 14:54

Whether is it ethical or not is completely dependent on certain university rules. Probably a discussion with the Dean (Instruction or Academic Studies) should help to clarify this fact.

There are few points to take care. If a few students had an advantage because they already had calculus in their high school, and now they are being tested on (probably) harder problems than what others are getting is "not fair".

Did they agree to be tested on the extra set of problems? How did the professor know about their previous high school course? What if few students didn't disclose the fact that they already had the course earlier.

  • Yes, I think a discussion with the Dean will clarify my question. They didn't agree to be tested on the extra set of problems, as a matter of fact, they didn't know about it until after the test. The professor asked them if they had calculus before, and they answered him. And for the latter question, he probably would not have included the extra question. Thanks for your answer.
    – MosabJ
    Oct 30, 2017 at 14:31

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