I am currently teaching a linear algebra course at a university and have chosen to assess my students using five quizzes throughout the semester, instead of assigning homework. I have encountered a situation where some students may not be able to attend a quiz due to personal reasons, such as internships.

I am considering implementing a policy that allows students to skip one quiz (or drop their lowest quiz score) during the semester. I would like to gather your thoughts and advice on this approach. Here are some points I have considered:


  • Flexibility: The policy could accommodate unexpected personal circumstances without overly penalizing students for missing an assessment.
  • Reduced anxiety: Students might feel less pressured, knowing they have a "safety net" in case they cannot attend a quiz.


  • Reduced motivation: The policy might inadvertently encourage some students to skip a quiz, leading to less overall engagement in the course.
  • Fairness: Students who consistently attend all quizzes might perceive the policy as unfair.

Alternatively, I have thought about offering make-up quizzes or alternative assessments for students who have legitimate reasons for missing a quiz. But this involves a lot of extra work for just a handful students.

I would greatly appreciate any advice or suggestions you may have based on your own experiences and teaching practices.

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    $\begingroup$ There isn’t a very focused question here, but my two cents are that this is a pretty common policy. I have never heard a student complain that “dropping the lowest quiz score” is unjust, but it does reduce the pressure and consequently the engagement is slightly less. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is a policy I always use, but I indeed give more quizzes (one short quiz per week). I drop approximately 20-30% of quizzes and permit no makeups. The pressure is lower, but I am okay with that; many students perform worse when they feel high pressure. And if you make it clear that the drop is intended to address unavoidable absences, most conscientious students will recognize that they might get sick later in the term, and avoid using it unless necessary. I have worked in a setting where I was required to permit make-ups for every student on request. Never again (too much work!) $\endgroup$
    – Opal E
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ I usually just give 10 quizzes and count 7 best scores. If somebody gets the perfect score from the first 8 and doesn't bother to take #9 and #10, I don't worry too much. Everybody else has an incentive to improve their score until the end and, except for really extreme situations that call for dropping the course altogether, accounting for 2 bad days out of 10 is enough. $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ My rather involved approach is described in this answer. The main aspect relevant to what you could be asking about is that I gave an indeterminate number of short quizzes (greater than 10) and kept the top 10 quiz grades in determining their quiz average. The reason I say "could be asking" is that, for me, quizzes were 5-15 minute affairs (usually 2-3 problems, one page handed out), as distinct from what you are referring to as "quizzes" (major tests that I suppose take the entire class period, since you only have 5 of them). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 23:58

4 Answers 4


I do recommend dropping a certain number of quizzes to handle cases like this.

You don't want a policy that makes more demands on your time and labor.

This is common enough to be familiar to students. When a student has a problem I remind them of the drop policy, and they always accept that as a good resolution.

This feature is built into many online learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard).

I've never seen reduced motivation or received any complaints from students about this policy.

This is what I've done for many years, and it's the best solution I've found or heard about; there's practically no downside to it.


My experience: I've used several times the method of having n quizzes but grading according to the average of the n-1 best ones. The consequences:

  • That's a lot easier to manage than having special rules for justified absences - at least, you don't need to worry about whether absences are justified or not.
  • Some students may drop the last quiz or do very little work on it if they know that they have already passed the quiz part of the course. If the quiz is useful homework and its topic is going to be in the test, students may be more motivated to take all quizzes.
  • Some students will still complain that not being able to take all quizzes due to a justified cause puts them at disadvantage compared with their peers that can do all quizzes.

My suggestion: I wouldn't drop any quizzes (why drop?) Instead, I would give all students the option of attempting each quiz multiple times. If a student misses a quiz, or even if they don't miss it, but don't do well on a quiz, I would give them an Incomplete on that quiz, which means the student has to come to your office hour at some point before the semester ends and complete that quiz. Of course, the new quiz will have different questions. A little bit more work for you, but this will increase students' motivation, is fair to everyone and solves the issue of missing a quiz. To reduce the amount of work, when a student comes to your office to take a quiz, I would just hand-write the quiz questions and give it to them to solve right there, no need to prepare and type quiz questions in advance.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is up to you what questions to include in the second attempt. I think students have to prove to you that they have mastered the topics that are in each quiz. You can include completely different type of questions on the same topics if you want. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ My office hour could also be flooded by students who did actually OK but want to try if they can do better. That is a concern. $\endgroup$
    – user19945
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ Since you are giving five quizzes only, and they have until the end of the semester, you can tell them anyone who wants to redo a quiz must make an appointment first. By appointment you can distribute the "load" evenly over the semester. In my experience the trouble starts the last week of the semester. That's when students come and want to suddenly redo all five quizzes! To avoid that, I have a few policies: (1) No more than one quiz per student, per day; (2) If other students have made appointments for a particular day and I am booked, then I cannot accommodate anyone else. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ In my experience, offering universal makeups is a great solution to the question of when to allow students to make up missed assessments. I've found it fastest to offer makeups on a question-by-question basis, get as many students taking makeups at once (including offering in-class "try again at everything you missed" midterms and finals), and reduce the resolution of my grading to 0 or 1 (did they demonstrate the tested skill?). $\endgroup$
    – TomKern
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with that. In fact, as you know, studies in math education as well as educational psychology can explain why this is pedagogically more beneficial to students' learning. It is not only about when to allow students to make up missed assessments. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 19:33

Here is a suggestion. Allow the students to drop one quiz, but offer a small bonus for those taking all quizzes. Or, even without offering an explicit bonus, make the students note that "four out of five" is better than "four out of four", so there is a natural bonus in taking all quizzes.

  • $\begingroup$ My faculty allowed students to drop or replace assessments for reason -- but students were then ineligible for competitive awards. $\endgroup$
    – david
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 0:20

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