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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.

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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 '14 at 2:51
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! – Ruben May 5 '14 at 4:31
@MonKeePoo Another solution (which I have done) is to make a roll sheet and check off each student as they turn in their exams. (Edit: Oops, I now realize this was one of the answers!) – Chris Phan Oct 8 '14 at 18:21
Maybe one way of keeping track of so many papers would be to number them sequentially, and keep them in order? Then at least you could spot lost papers more easily, and hopefully have more chance of locating them. – Jessica B Mar 9 at 9:29
@Ruben In the UK exams are generally run in such a way that such a plan would be very difficult to pull off. – Jessica B Mar 11 at 14:12
up vote 13 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.

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

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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 '14 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 '14 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!

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The problem is if the student never actually submitted the exam, but just claimed to submit it. – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 30 '14 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 '14 at 12:14
I don't see how it's fair to give a failing student a perfect score just because you lost his paper. He doesn't know the material and his grades should reflect that. – Amy B Mar 9 at 13:10
@AmyB, perhaps... and/but what about "come-back stories", where the student finally studied, and was gonna "pull it out"? In my experience, rare, in fact, but possible, and occasional. But we are to presume? What's the point of giving the exam at all to anyone we "know" should fail? – paul garrett Mar 9 at 13:25
@paulgarrett I never suggested that we should fail them. I was objecting to your suggestion that we automatically give them a perfect score since they may have failed. In my experience it is not often that my students get a perfect score, so it seems you are inflating their grade most of the time. – Amy B Mar 9 at 22:20

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