austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Bounce the balls, break down the walls

I finished grading the programming midterm. It's easily the worst scores I've ever had: for the first time of any exam I've written, not only did nobody get 100 (that happens sometimes, usually in tiny classes) but nobody got an A. A few people hit 89, but overall it was dismal, with an average of 65. That's about ten points below what I expected, and far below what I try to write the tests to; I try to write them so the average score should be around 80.

What killed the scores was the ``debugging'' problem -- given a program for an intended task, what are the (multiple) bugs keeping it from working? I love this sort of problem, and in the past it's gone well, but this time students focused on things that weren't wrong or didn't matter, and missed the things that were so wrong it was hard to write them. (In creating the defective program I had to swap some lines around at random.)

In hindsight the exam was probably too long. It was student's choice of six out of seven questions (I keep giving six-question exams despite that being lousy for distributing 100 marks evenly); two were writing programs, one was debugging, and four were short answers. Among the short answer questions -- some multiple choice, some true/false, some actually just short answers -- there were 30 questions. For a two hour exam I didn't think that was too much. It's two minutes per short question and a half-hour for the two big questions, but if even my best students couldn't hit 90 there was probably something wrong.

Remarkably, nobody's complained about the length or difficulty of the exam. A few people said, pre-exam, the homeworks were too complicated. I gave them a surprisingly effective line about how I'd try to make them simpler, but I'd be failing my responsibility to them if I didn't give out challenging homeworks. That's one of the things that makes me fear that if I wanted to be slimy I could be really good at it. I cut the complexity of this week's homework way down.

Trivia: Illinois Avenue is the square most often landed upon in Monopoly. Source: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Paul Fargis, Sheree Bykofsky, Editors.

Currently Reading: The Odyssey File, Arthur C Clarke and Peter Hyams. E-mails exchanged in 1983-84 about the making of the movie 2010: Odyssey Two. Chock full of great old-time computer stuff, including instructions for file transfer in case you have to work with a Kaypro III anytime soon. It includes what must be one of the earliest presentations of that Internet cliche, the anticipation of meeting for the first time someone who's an old friend online.


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