Tackling Makeup Exam Policies

Tackling Makeup Exam Policies








FEBRUARY 22ND, 2016

Three Guidelines and Two Workarounds for
Tackling Makeup Exam Policies
By: Sara M. Fulmer PhD
Are you one of the many instructors who loathe makeup exam requests? Makeup exams often create
more work and can put us in the awkward position of judging the truthfulness of our students’ excuses.
Although we can’t avoid makeup requests entirely, we can better prepare ourselves and our students by
having a transparent and fair makeup exam policy. When designing your policy, always ask yourself:
Does the policy allow students to learn what you want them to learn in your course?
Here are three guidelines for an effective makeup exam policy and two possible workarounds.
1. Alignment: Align your policy with the exam and course goals. Makeup policies are likely to differ
depending on the type of assessment (quizzes, exams), their frequency in the course, and the
weighting for students’ grades. For example, dropping the lowest grade won’t work for courses
with only one or two tests. If an early exam is an essential foundation for later concepts or is a
primary source of learning feedback, students shouldn’t be denied the opportunity for a
makeup.
2. Transparency: Share your policy with your students in advance, preferably in your syllabus. You
can invite students to read and offer feedback on your makeup policy to ensure that it is clear.
The policy should include necessary details for students to understand the policy. This may
include how and when students should notify you, the period of time in which the makeup must
be completed, acceptable excuses, and impact on grades (Weimer, 2012). Your policy should
also include a brief rationale to help students understand your thinking about how the policy
benefits (rather than punishes) them as learners (Paff, 2015).
3. Fairness: Students’ complaints about makeup policies are often due to perceptions of unfairness
regarding how the policy is enacted for different students and situations. Thus, your policy
should ensure that all students are treated fairly and “must be equitable, providing students
equal chances to earn a good grade by demonstrating equal knowledge” (Perlman, 2006). Your
makeup tests should not be more difficult, or assess learning in a different way, than the original
test (Perlman, 2006).
The workarounds: dropping or substituting the lowest score
Is it possible to structure your course so that missing a single test is not catastrophic? The workarounds
described below involve dropping or substituting one exam score for all students. This policy benefits
students who miss an exam, but also benefits students who take all exams. (Remember, fairness is key!)
The consequences of dealing with life challenges or having multiple exams in one day is lessened when
students can drop their lowest exam score. Students might also be less anxious because the stakes on
any one test are lower (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2013). Best of all, students do not have to give you an
excuse for missing an exam!
(Over)

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When deciding among the options below, the main consideration is whether students are required to
take the final exam. The final exam should be required if it is cumulative, or if it prepares students for a
professional exam, certification, or licensure. Also keep in mind that cumulative exams support deep
and durable learning (Lawrence, 2013).
Here are two options if students are required to take the final exam. For these options, all exams prior
to the final exam must be worth the same value (e.g., each exam is worth 15 percent of the final course
grade).
1. Drop the lowest score. The final exam score cannot be dropped, even if it is the lowest score.
The lowest exam score prior to the final is dropped.
2. Substitute the lowest score. The lowest grade prior to the final exam is substituted with the
final exam score. The final exam counts twice toward one’s grade in the class.
Here are two options if students are not required to take the final exam (i.e., students can miss any one
exam in the course). For these options, all exams, including the final, must be worth the same value.
1. Drop the lowest score. If students are satisfied with their grade in the course, they can skip the
final exam. They may also take the final exam in hopes that they can drop an earlier lower score
(which may be a missed exam). The final exam score can be dropped if it is the lowest score.
2. Substitute the lowest score. Students can skip the final exam or take the final exam in hopes
that they can substitute an earlier lower score. The lowest exam score (which may be the final)
is substituted with the average of the student’s other exam scores.
For these policies to work well, students need to know their overall grade in the course and potential
outcomes given your policy (e.g., their final course grade if they choose not to take the final exam). You
can set up your Learning Management System to automatically drop or substitute exam grades, or
provide students with a spreadsheet that helps them to compute possible outcomes.
When developing your policy, consider your course and students. Policies might be long or short, firm or
flexible. In all cases, they should be transparent, fair, and justified with a focus on their value for student
learning. Most importantly, your policy should ensure that students do not miss an essential learning
opportunity in your course.
References
Lawrence, N. K. (2013). Cumulative exams in the introductory psychology course.Teaching Psychology, 40, 15-19.
Paff, L. (2015). Why policies fail to promote better learning decisions. Faculty Focus,
http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/why-policies-fail-to-promote-betterlearning-decisions/
Perlman, B. (2005). Dealing with students missing exams and in-class graded assignments. Observer, 18, 6.
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2006/june-06/dealing-with-studentsmissing-exams-and-in-class-graded-assignments.html
Svinicki, M., & McKeachie, W. J. (2013). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and
university teachers (14th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Weimer, M. (2012). Makeup exams: Seeking answers in a sea of student excuses. Faculty
Focus, http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/makeup-exams-seeking-answers-in-a-seaof-student-excuses/
Sara M. Fulmer, Ph.D., is the program manager for faculty development at the Delphi Center for Teaching and
Learning at the University of Louisville.

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