How to Get Free Marks

You want free marks? Sure, no problem--all you have to do is prove to me that I'm wrong.

It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Earlier this term, Melissa T. asked me why the teaching assistant had marked an answer wrong on one of her assignments. She had written an alternative answer that sounded plausible to me, so I told her about my free mark policy. Melissa came back a couple of days later with a strong journal article supporting her point, and she ended up with a free mark! (To be fair, my TA stuck to the marking guide I provided, so it's not the TA's fault Melissa initially lost a mark. It's impossible to create a marking guide that covers every possible answer, and every variation on an answer. But that's another post for another day.)

You might have learned something in another one of your classes that contradicts what I say (or what the textbook says). This shouldn't be surprising--"facts" change all the time in science. (Like, old-time doctors used to prescribe smoking. And cocaine. Nice going, stupid old-time doctors!) The instructor of one of your other classes might be up on some brand-new study that hasn't worked its way into the textbook I use, into my lectures, and into my exams. So why should you be penalized for knowing more? Or, perhaps, for knowing something in more detail?

So, to get a free mark, all you have to is:

  • find an error in the marking of an exam or assignment (sorry, no free marks for correcting an error in the textbook--that is worth $2, however--and no free marks for pointing out an error in my lectures, although you will have my genuine gratitude)
  • find good (i.e., peer-reviewed) evidence to support your answer (sorry, Googling some random website or even finding empirical evidence cited in a textbook is not good enough--it's got to make it through the peer-review process)
  • find current evidence (sorry, digging up a peer-reviewed paper from 1847 may not qualify if subsequent research has undermined it)
This is a great win-win situation: you end up getting a free mark, and I end up with a exam or assignment question that's more relevant, up-to-date, and fair.

Why aren't you studying?


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