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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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November 27, 2003
 Student View


Bonus points

Katie Norman
Katie Norman

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 answer for.

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?


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Next issue: December 11, 2003

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