Should exams in a course all count the same amount and should students have the option of dropping an exam grade?

An important part of teaching is being able to design an effective course syllabus. So that’s one of the course requirements for the graduate students in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930) at the University of Florida.

The students in the course each have determined an undergraduate communications course that they would like to teach. Now they are developing a syllabus for the course. I’ve asked them to share the questions they have about syllabus development. In the next few posts, I’ll answer some of those questions. And I’d be interested in your advice, too.

Q: If I have three exams in the semester and the total grade percentage for the exams is 70%, how should I distribute them among the three? Also is it beneficial to allow students to drop the lowest score of the three exams and only count two of them?

A: McKeachie’ Teaching Tips would encourage you to have your first exam count less than the next two exams. By taking your first exam, students will learn about the kind of questions you ask, which will help them in studying for the next two exams.

You also don’t want one exam to count much more than the other two so that doing poorly on that one exam would have a major impact on the student’s grade. So I might advise: Exam 1 = 20%, Exam 2 = 25%, Exam 3 = 25%.

Another issue for consideration is whether each exam covers a restricted section of material from the course or is cumulative, meaning that it covers material for the entire course.

If you decide to let students drop one of their grades, they need to know that from the beginning of the course. You don’t want to announce that midway through the course or that looks like a planning error on your part. You can see that dropping a grade (if they count different percentages) would cause some adjustments to be made with calculating the overall exam average. Also, you need to decide if you’d require students to take all three exams in order to be eligible to drop one of the exams or if you’d allow students to not take an exam.

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