Should you drop my class?

Every semester, I go through a very predictable song and dance routine in my class. The first exam happens, then I receive a stack of panicked email asking:

“Should I drop your class?” [w/ feeling!]

This is a near-impossible question for me to answer because the decision lies in whether or not you are willing to do the hard work of turning things around. Typically, people asking me this question haven’t attended office hours so I have no idea what type of student they are.

What follows are a smattering of observations on the topic.

  • A typical graded exam in my class has a mean of 75, max of 100 (usually n=2), min of 30, and a standard deviation of 16. Each exam is worth 20% of the final grade.
  • FAQ: “Mr. Deaton, is it still even possible for me to pass your class?” Answer: If that exam was worth only 20%, then obviously yes. Even if you made a 0 on exam 1, you can theoretically achieve a course average of 80—but not without significant effort.
  • Twice have I had a student make the low score on the first exam and the high score on the final. No lie. I have yet to determine whether sharing this fact with students right after exam 1 is motivating or if it inspires false hope.
  • You won’t increase your exam score from a 50 to a 90 with only a 10% increase in effort. I have collected a lot of empirical data on this one since I started teaching.
  • A question I would rather answer is: “Mr. Deaton, I realize statics is essential to my future as an engineer. Since failure is not an option, what changes do I need to make?”
  • As promised frequently in class and on the syllabus, I am accessible to a fault (i.e. to my own productivity detriment) to mentor students who want in-depth help. All you have to do is ask.
  • Do you need a new strategy for the class? Try this: How to succeed in engineering courses 101
  • Are you tempted to skip class? Read this: Before you skip my class

All that to say: You tell me—should you drop my class?

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