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Policy & Philosophy
Philosophy | Exams | Grading | I Don't Like My Grade :-(

READ THIS MATERIAL CAREFULLY! - It will reduce significantly the likelihood of you receiving sarcastic e-mail replies from me later in the quarter... (trust me on this one)

Teaching Philosophy (kinda)

Organic chemistry is hard. Deal with it. And, believe it or not, I'm here to help you, I'm not an obstacle in your way, I'm your guide. In some classes you may get away with studying the night before exams. Not in my class. My exams are specifically designed to test understanding, simply memorising material will not result in good grades. Consider yourself forewarned! I strongly recommend that you attend the lectures for my class. I occasionally take attendance in class, and correlate that with exam performance. It is always very clear that those students who attend the lectures perform much better than those that don't.

For example, for Chem 30A in Winter 2005, I posted the following:

So, I took attendance in class today, and I thought that you might find these statistics interesting... On Wednesday, 116 people took the midterm, there were 74 people in class today. I've calculated everyone's cumulative percentage so far, and of the top 30 students, 27 of them were in class today. Contrast that with the bottom 30 students in the class - only 11 of them attended today's lecture... Draw your own conclusions. But anyway... I don't expect you to come to class, that's up to you, I won't make you. And if you can get an 'A' (or a grade you are happy with) without coming, then great. On the other hand, should you not be satisfied with your grade at the end of this class AND you did not come to lecture (or, more importantly, my office hours) - don't even think for one second about complaining about your grade... to me, or anyone else for that matter...

You may record my lectures, BUT for personal use only. They may not be reproduced, distributed or transcribed in any way without my consent. (I do, however, reserve the right to ask for copies of the electronic files, so that they may be posted on this website).

I strongly recommend that you attend at least one discussion section per week. I strongly suggest that you do the assigned homework and reading - organic chemistry is about practice - do problems until the concepts sink in. I highly recommend attending my office hours, and the office hours of the TAs. It routinely amazes me that the majority of students spurn the opportunity to have extra time with the instructors!

Recently, a student posted the following thoughtful enquiry on the VOH website:

Was this your dumbest class ever?

This posting was almost certainly in response to the low average (35%) obtained on the Final Exam for Chem 30A in Winter 2005. And here is my reply... (perhaps the closest to a 'philosophy' that I've ever written down).

No... and besides, I don't rate classes like that, just because there were low averages doesn't mean that students are dumb. I just like people to leave my class having a real sense of how tough organic chemistry is. Low averages don't mean that the students failed, and it also doesn't mean that I failed as a teacher (or at least that's what I believe), it just means that I write hard exams. Perhaps the reason why the averages are so low is that my exams are not like most others you will take in O-chem - I actually like my students to think... people will protest and say that they already do, but many don't. The ability to think critically and apply that process to problem solving IS what we as professors should be testing. Unfortunately, too many professors don't take the time or put in the effort to write challenging exams, and all students are expected to do is regurgitate information, which, don't get me wrong, is a skill, but it's not a terribly vital one. In those types of classes, the students tend to get better grades, the averages are higher, and everyone wins. WRONG. Most people will leave a class like that with a superficial understanding of the subject material, which will soon diminish in a short amount of time... as it was only ever in the short-term memory. Students may well dislike my class for how hard (and long) the exams are, but I make no apologies. I don't do it to be mean or sadistic (really!) - I do it because I care that you truly understand the material, and come the day of the MCATs, some of you may just think back to that evil Prof Cantrill - and maybe understand what I was trying to do. Having said that, I'm not sure that the MCAT is all that it is cracked up to be. Go ahead, memorise stuff, but someday it will come back and bite you in the a## - I guarantee it. In addition to that, some people may argue that the chemistry that you learn is not that useful to you in your later career(s) - and that may well be true (it may not, but we won't debate that here) - so, if that IS the case, the one thing that you should get from my class, is a sense of how to think critically and solve problems, whatever the subject material may be. OK, I'll get down off my soap-box now...

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Exam Policy

Every two weeks there will be an exam: in-class quizzes in Weeks 2, 6, 10, and midterms in Weeks 4 and 8. Then, of course, there will be a COMPREHENSIVE three hour Final Exam in Finals' Week.

NO calculators or ANY electronic devices are allowed during exams (I don't even want to see cell phones) - If I see one, I WILL assume that you are cheating and you WILL face the consequences, which could result in your expulsion from UCLA. If you are expecting an emergency call, leave your phone with me before the exam begins.

Molecular models are allowed in exams, but must be brought in unassembled.

If you miss a midterm or quiz because of illness, you may provide documentation proving that you were ill and visited a doctor/health center, and that exam may be excused. Unexcused absences count as ZERO. If you are not sick enough to require a visit to a doctor or health center, then you are not too ill to take the exam in the first place.

If, for any reason, you know that you cannot take one of the midterms or quizzes in advance of that exam, your reason/excuse will carry MUCH more weight if you tell me before the exam, rather than afterwards. That being said, there is no guarantee that your absence will be excused.

Traffic is part of life in Los Angeles - deal with it. If you are late for a job interview, do you think you would still have a good chance of getting the job? If you are late for an exam, that's not my fault, and you may not consider it to be yours, but don't worry, I will. There are NO make-up exams. End of story.

Finally, here's a hint about exam technique: don't freak out... READ the questions carefully, and THINK before you write.

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Grading Policy

If you do not take the Final Exam in the class, you will receive an F for the class, regardless of your performance up to that point. If you have a valid (and documented) reason why you missed the final, you will receive an Incomplete (I) for the class if, and only if, you currently have a passing grade (C- or higher). That being the case, you must make arrangements to take the Final Exam the following quarter... it is your responsibility to follow up, not mine.

Regrades - exams answered in pencil are not eligible for regrades. There are NO regrades on the Final Exam. Note: after each exam, a percentage of exam scripts (selected at random) are photocopied before being returned.

University rules state that you must take the Final Exam at its scheduled time, you CANNOT take it at an earlier or later time, even if you have three (or more!) finals in one day - you knew when the finals were when you signed up for classes.

Letter grades are NOT assigned for individual exams, only for the whole course.

If you want your Final Exam mailed back to you, bring three stamps on the day of the exam and affix them to the back of your exam script, where there will be a space to write your address. If your Final Exam is not mailed back to you, they will be available for pick-up from the Chemistry & Biochemistry stockroom on the third floor of Young Hall.

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I Don't Like My Grade :-(

Tough. Maybe you should have started worrying about your grade in Week 1 rather than Week 11...

Unfortunately UCLA does not give grades for effort, in fact, UCLA does not give grades, the students earn them, nothing more, nothing less. After grades are assigned, I usually receive many e-mails from students asking for their grades to be raised. Before you become one of 'those' students, check out the list below, figure out what category you fall in, read my response, and think twice before e-mailing me. If you do not fit into one of these categories, feel free to e-mail me, but it will most likely result in me extending the following list, rather than increasing your grade...

I worked really hard and tried my best.

I expect nothing less. Unfortunately there are A students, B students, and the rest. Not everyone has the ability to get an A. That's just a cold hard fact. If you try hard and do your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what your grade is. As I pointed out above, grades are not earned for effort - that's not my fault, that's the system.

My performance on the exams is not an accurate reflection of my level of understanding of the material.

That may, or may not, be true, on a case-by-case basis. But that is the ONLY method I have for evaluating you - and that is how it has to be, so as to be fair to everyone in the class, i.e., everyone gets treated the same. Do not offer to write papers, assignments or do anything else that you think could augment your grade - there is no option other than the exams. Again, that's the system we're in.

I had a very busy course load this quarter/I was taking a lot of hard classes.

That's your decision, not mine. If fact, if you are busy for ANY reason during a quarter, and that causes your grade to suffer, I cannot make any allowance. Your personal life/situation is inconsequential in my classes (indeed, it should be in any class at UCLA).

I may get kicked out of UCLA with my current grade/GPA.

There is no such thing as a mercy grade or a sympathy grade. If you are struggling with your academic requirements and responsibilities at UCLA, then you need to address the underlying reasons. Pleading for the next higher grade is not a way of addressing your problems. And again, I do not raise or lower grades arbitrarily. You get the grade you earn, nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, you get it in a vacuum, anything going on outside of your actual performance in my class is of NO consequence.

I may lose a scholarship (or similar) with my current grade/GPA.

Same reasons as above really - if you can't maintain the grades/GPA that your scholarship requires, maybe you don't deserve to keep it. I do not raise or lower grades arbitrarily. You get the grade you earn, nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, you get it in a vacuum, anything going on outside of your actual performance in my class is of NO consequence.

I had two, three, (or four!) finals on the same day.

You should have looked into this when you signed up for classes for this quarter. I cannot do anything about it, and your grade will not be changed because of it.

I came to all of the lectures, I was a regular attendee of your office hours - doesn't that count for anything?

No! - At least not in terms of your grade. The advantage conferred upon you for attending my lectures and office hours, is simply the fact that you attended them - that's your reward. Extra time and interaction with the instructor, during which maybe your understanding improved. Think what your grade may have been if you hadn't attended (maybe it would be the same, maybe not).

I got a C, can you drop it to a C- so that I can retake the class?

Sure - why not? And while I'm at it, I'll send an e-mail to the rest of the class and ask everyone what they would like their grades changed to... Grades will not be changed arbitrarily - dropping a C to a C- is just as unethical as arbitrarily increasing a B+ to an A-. It doesn't work that way. You get the grade you earn, nothing more, nothing less.

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