It was a regular classroom, with regular students,
doing an average course, with average objectives and average
grading practices. In fact it could have been any course
on campus. There was nothing to suggest that in this course
the past would be re-entering my life. During the regulation
mid-November testing period, I entered a classroom and all
I felt was nostalgia. It wasn’t the students, the
topic or the professor; it was the test. There was something
different this time. Normally one answers some multiple
choice, writes a few short answer responses and drafts a
“coherent, well-organized” essay to the tune
of the course objectives. If the professor is really excited
about their topic one might even encounter some true or
false, or matching questions. Other than these slight variations
ultimately there is a systematic method. We learn how to
excel in this method. We anticipate it – draft possible
essays, and memorize terms for multiple choice tests. There
is a routine.
Then the routine changed for the better. There was someone
looking out for me.
There was a bonus question… an easy bonus question.
The bonus question read: “Plot all 15 of these countries
on the world map. Each correct answer is worth a half bonus
mark.” Yet what that sentence said was not the central
beauty of this occurrence. Its beauty stemmed from its presence
and its appropriate arrival.
When it had seemed that my entire high school career was
out of reach I sat down to a university test and saw an
item reminiscent of my secondary school days – the
bonus question. What had once been a standard operating
procedure on the unit test had vanished once a high school
diploma hung on my wall. The surprise, the shock, and the
sheer joy that is the bonus question had re-entered my life.
It was a joyous day.
After the test had been handed in I was faced with two questions:
first, why did the professor choose to place this bonus
question on the test and, secondly, why has this once accepted
practice seem to become obsolete?
As for why this professor chose to present what seemed to
me like an early Christmas gift, I cannot fully ascertain.
I can only assume it was to allow us to utilize our background
information and receive benefit for this. However since
these items did not fall directly within the objectives
for the course, testing specifically on them would be unfair.
The second question is a little easier to think about. Anyone
would likely say “It isn’t high school anymore,
these practices are not convention. Move on.” However
the entire idea of university seems to be more focused on
gaining a good grasp on the material and not simply providing
a student with the opportunity to achieve a favourable mark.
It is more of a self-help world here at Memorial. If one
knows a bonus question is going to present, however, it
becomes a part of the preparation for the test encouraging
students to push the boundaries and expand their knowledge
beyond what exists on the classroom PowerPoint presentations.
This led me to think of this paradox: if you study for a
bonus question, doesn’t this become part of the testing
procedure, thus diluting the nature of it being a bonus?
But I digress; enough philosophy for one day.
Naturally there are two approaches to the drafting of the
bonus question. You might present an impossibly difficult
question in an attempt to test who has really completed
the recommended outside readings or who has explored the
topics further than the classroom and the three-hour-a-week
system allow. The second option is to provide an easier
question to allow students to make up for other difficult
items in the test and ultimately boost their marks. The
irony of course is that this question may be the same question.
For what is obvious to one is not necessarily obvious to
all. Needless to say there have been some bonus questions
that I have not been able to take full advantage of.
The bonus question can be nothing worse than neutral. It
is nice to be given this type of question every once in
a while. While I will not expect an appearance from this
approach to learning during every test I do look forward
to the day when such a question arrives and allows me to
offset that tricky question that I know I circled the wrong
Oh, while I’m on the topic about school work; how
about this “mid-November testing period.” Do
all the professors get together and plan to have all the
assignments due and tests written in the same week to watch
us sweat or is this just coincidence?