Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mathematics Educators Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those involved in the field of teaching mathematics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Several times, I have come close to losing a student's Calculus exam. These exams are usually common exams, with everyone grading 100's of stacks. I've had exams go in wrong piles or get squished in the bottom of backpacks.

If an exam were lost in such a class (with hundreds of students taking a common Calculus midterm), what could I do that would be fair to this student and to others? I'd like to have a plan before it happens.

share|improve this question
Ask the head of your department how to proceed. Also: If this has almost happened to you several times, then you might reconsider how you collect and keep track of examinations. –  Benjamin Dickman Mar 30 at 2:51
I tried to make an edit to put the letter "p" in "plan", but for some reason the software doesn't like me making one character edits. –  Steven Gubkin Mar 30 at 14:06
@StevenGubkin Fixed it. Thanks! –  Brian Rushton Mar 30 at 14:18
@StevenGubkin suggested edits must be at least six characters; thus this is to be expected. Once you have the editing privilege (1000 in beta) you will be able to make smaller edits too. –  quid Mar 30 at 14:27
I remember I was halfway through a highschool exam. I realized I was going to fail the class if I handed in that exam. Being the horrible person I am, I came up with an evil, genius masterplan. I didn't hand in my sheet: The teacher thought he lost it, apologized in tenfold and let me retake the exam. To avoid frauds like me it's probably a good idea to require each question on a different sheet! –  Mon Kee Poo May 5 at 4:31

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Get a sheet signed by each student who took the exam, use that to check nothing is amiss. I collect exams (and keep them during the whole grading process) into large, sturdy envelopes. So no sheet can wander away.

I separate exams by question, each question to be graded separately (some by TAs). Students are required to turn in all questions, with a sheet identifing the question and the student, even if otherwise blank. No chasing "where is question 5 from ..." (at least much, much less), and no suspect "I forgot to turn in question 3, and found it today" type requests.

Massive classes (hundreds of students, many graders) require a well-thought-out, orderly, and rigurously followed logistics process. Not only in handling the exams, but in making sure grading is uniform (detailed grade assignment, covering not only the typical solution but also alternatives is a must), and also reliable recording of the resulting grades.

share|improve this answer

Offer them a choice of retaking the exam or averaging their course grade without it. And apologize, of course.

share|improve this answer
Averaging their course grade is an interesting idea; I could see it working out. Have you ever tried that before in a classroom? If so, what was it like? –  Brian Rushton Mar 30 at 13:30
I have. Students appreciate the message about grade reflecting understanding and really value the idea of a grade being fair. I usually nudge towards the retake - connecting to the final if that's a comprehensive thing. Students also seem to be empowered by the choice being theirs instead of dictated. This is the love and logic approach of offering choices where you're okay with any option. I will say that now I do Standards Based Grading, and there's no worries there. I just have to collect evidence for each objective & there are multiple opportunities for that. –  John Golden Mar 31 at 14:53

Very unfortunate scenario, indeed, but I think the squeaky-clean thing is to give them a perfect score.

That is, if you screwed up, ... well, ...

EDIT: in light of other remarks... this presumes you do have a system to certify that the exam was handed in, so that students are not gaming you. Even in a large class, it's worth doing this. Having a list of names to check off can succeed even with a large class and in a large room, since you can take the viewpoint that there was no way for any exam to get lost _through_your_malfeasance_. Thus, in that situation, any missing exam is concluded to have not been handed in.

Then, subsequently, if someone's exam "is missing" (that was certified present earlier), you must have lost it.

Even if the student was not stellar, it would be presumptious (or worse) to exclude the possibility that they did well on the exam... Giving them the mean or any other quasi-uniform replacement score seems to me completely insufficient.

The fact that other students might resent ... your not having lost their paper? ... is a very secondary issue. I would think that, instead, they should understand that you feel responsible to the student whose paper you lost!

share|improve this answer
The problem is if the student never actually submitted the exam, but just claimed to submit it. –  Joel Reyes Noche Mar 30 at 5:50
How is this "fair to this student and to others" (my emph) Or do you propose to give everybody a perfect score? But this then fells a bit extreme. –  quid Mar 30 at 12:14

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.