Death is not an option: optimizing academic performance edition.

Let's say you're a college student.

You have a class meeting today at which a short essay (about 400 words) is due. The essay counts for about 5% of your grade for the course.

At that class meeting, your instructor will be lecturing on the reading assignment upon which that short essay is focused. The material from the reading assignment will likely appear on the final exam, which is only a few weeks away.

The thing is, you're not quite done with the essay (which needs to be handed in by the end of the class meeting), and class time is rapidly approaching.

Do you:

  1. Skip the lecture in order to finish the essay and turn it in as the instructor is leaving the classroom.
  2. Turn in what you have written so far (or, if that's not enough, just not turn this essay in) and go to lecture to make sure you learn what you need to about that reading assignment.

Any details you can share about your decision process would be appreciated.

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Skip the lecture to finish the essay. If this is happening today, the odds are that the professor's lecture notes will go up online shortly, or already are. Failing that, I can still probably get a classmate to give me a quick rundown on the salient parts. However, once that essay is gone, it's gone.

This might change depending on how much of the final exam was likely to be based on that reading assignment; if I stood to lose more than 5% of my total grade by skipping the lecture, I might go the other way. However, it's more probable I can bluff my way through an exam question than bluff my way through a missing essay.

By G.E. Wilker (not verified) on 20 Nov 2009 #permalink

Confining my answer to the choices you gave (as I have skipped lectures for reasons much less lofty than finishing an essay I was procrastinating on) I would say I'd go to the lecture and either talk to the professor, hat in hand after class (if no formal process for late work had been laid out) or just turn the essay in late if the process for how that works has already been established. There are lectures (as well as after class and office hours conversations) I have had with professors that stick with me to this day but very few homework assignments that are of any importance to me.

By Aaron Beagle (not verified) on 20 Nov 2009 #permalink

My solution - go to the lecture, write the essay during the lecture, finish it in time to email it to the instructor before the end of the lecture.
If the instructor won't accept emailed submissions, email it to a friend to print out and deliver to you in the classroom, again before the end of the lecture.
And since you are typing "notes" on your laptop, might as well use it to record the lecture, if school rules allow, so you can listen to the dulcet tones of the instructor's voice whenever you want to.

depends on what I think the class is worth. If I think it's a waste of time, skip the lecture. If I appreciate the class and instructor, go and ask for an extension. But really... Bob C FTW. Times they are a changin!

Richard, *officially* my essays are due at the beginning of class, but I get enough people drifting in late due to car problems, parking problems, uncooperative library printers, or what have you that I'll usually accept a physical paper slipped into my hand by someone who came in after I started lecturing. I'm not sure if being a hardass about papers people are bringing into class just as class is ending removes the dilemma, but I'll consider it.

Electronic submissions I'll take in case of illness (because I do not want germs to kill us all), but otherwise not so much.

I don't "post" my lecture notes (since they're probably not terribly informative to anyone but me -- they remind me what points to cover, in ways that make sens to me because I already know the material). And, for what it's worth, there seems to be a very strong correlation in my classes between attending lectures and doing well on exams (or, if you like, between blowing off lectures and bombing the exams). I'd like to think this points to some "value added" from my presentation of the material.

Bob C has my tried and tested solution. Though when I did it assignments were handwritten. It's also worth noting that I failed to graduate.

Depends on how large the class is. If it's large enough I can bring a laptop without being disruptive (say >70 people or so), I might try to work on the essay during class.
Also depends on how much I'm enjoying writing the essay. I procrastinate like crazy, but I procrastinate on *everything*- including *stopping* work. If I was in a groove, I'd keep writing.
Also depends on what the professor has stated the purpose of the assignment is. If they've stated it's expressly to ensure we did the reading (which the scenario assumes I have) before lecture, I'd probably hand it in partially finished. With bullet points if necessary. I'd then assume I'd get most of the points for the essay even if it wasn't finished.
OTOH, if they'd stated something like the essays were assigned to give a greater insight into our thinking processes than they can just get from a time-pressured exam, I'd be more likely to finish the essay.
Also depends if I have a friend in the class who can take notes for me.
Also depends how good the lecturing is, and if I've noticed any personal correlation between attendance and test performance.

Depends on a whole lot of factors, so I'll just list them:

(1) How important this is likely to be on the exam
(2) The number of people I trust to give me notes in the class
(3) Difficulty of the class / reading assignment - there are many classes that can safely be skipped because you can teach yourself from the readings.
(4) What I know about the Prof's willingness to (i) accept papers at the end of class or (ii) accept papers late for a markdown.
(5) Quality of teaching. As Becca said.
(6) Relationship with the teacher. If this is someone I expect to work with (advisor, potential recommendation writer, someone I would take a bunch of classes from) then I'm not going to feel comfortble turning in a cruddy essay.
(7) Importance of the class in the overall scheme of things. If I'm a senior with a job lined up and this is a gen ed requirement, I'm turning in the half-essay out of laziness.

In the end, I would probably write the essay. But that's because I hate not getting essays in.

Go to lecture and either a)ask for extension with penalty or b)hand in what I've got with apology for crappiness.

If 5% is what's going to save me, I'm screwed anyway and better off making sure I've got the final covered really, really well.

A 400-word essay is only about two or three paragraphs. If I couldn't write that much ...

Oops. My time ran out. Can't finish the thought.


What I used to tell my students when I was teaching (I'm now retired) is that 5% of the grade (actually, I usually made the point about something that was 3% of the grade) is bigger than it sounds. At my university, 50 was passing, and grades in the 90s were for work that was publishable in quality: two thirds of the students got between 70 and 79.

So 5% is the difference between average and VERY bad or VERY good. Or does the grading system where you teach allow something more sensible?

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 20 Nov 2009 #permalink

My initial answer was to have the assignment done by the given deadline. Then I started thinking about what some of the profs who have taught me the most do and I have to revise my answer. The best experiences with writing assignments that I have had were when the instructor was concerned solely with quality and extended the deadline to address questions with instructions, formatting, data analysis and editing.

Option 2. Attend the lecture and turn in what you have is the best choice you give. I choose that one.

400 words?? Show up to class 10 minutes late with a completed, if ill-thought-through, essay. Writing a short/drecky response will still likely garner significant credit. As I have learned, probably to my detriment.

1) Look over your notes to see which family member you have not yet killed in the last year (this ensures that you don't kill the same individual twice).

2) Go to the lecture. Talk to the Prof after class, explaining you could not complete the assignment due to the death of X in the family.

3) Promise that despite these hardships of life you will get the essay done by the end of the day.

4) Make sure you are the first to talk to the Prof after class. The effectiveness of this solution appears to depends highly on whether other student tried to use it before you.

By Dario Ringach (not verified) on 21 Nov 2009 #permalink

It never happens. I usually turn my essays in early and I NEVER miss a philosophy class. But I'm weird that way. (And, yes, I'm still in school. I take classes for fun.)

By Catharine (not verified) on 22 Nov 2009 #permalink

A 400-word essay is only about two or three paragraphs. If I couldn't write that much ...

Oops. My time ran out. Can't finish the thought.


From personaly experience? Early years (before getting serious), blow off both. Thought process: essay was only worth 5%, and I'll be acing the exam anyway.

Later years (after failing a few courses thanks to previous decision making, nearly getting booted out of university, and finally deciding that I was serious) the situation would not come up. But if it did, I'd have dashed off as good a version as I could of the essay (in under 30 minutes) and attended what I could of the class, in an attempt to get the best I could of both lecture and essay.

By Epinephrine (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

I would go to class. What the professor says about the reading assignment is going to be more important on the test than the 5% for the writing assignment.

However, you don't really deserve to be a college student if you can't bang out something close to 400 words that will get you some number of points greater than zero in 30 minutes or so. It's not that hard.

By katydid13 (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

Skip class.

I have an auditory processing disorder, which has never been accommodated in the classroom. When I was in school I was only able to follow what happened in class if I already really understood what was going on (in other words, if I arrived with a greater level of understanding than everybody else was expected to leave with). Therefore for those classes that were not in one of my specific areas of interest, I attended class solely to convey to the instructor the impression that I was a good student. Actually *being* a good student was something I had to do on my own time.

And if the class was in one of my specific areas of interest, I would have already finished the essay.

Depends how much the exam is worth; I typically do well in exams (though probably not so well if the assignments for the paper are *essays*). Also depends on how much of the other coursework I had completed to date, and how much I intended to complete. I usually did not miss any classes as that is how I do well on exams.

I'd hand in what I'd done; or if what I had done so far was really pathetic I wouldn't hand it in at all.

By Katherine (not verified) on 26 Nov 2009 #permalink

I would go to class. I learn well via interaction, and getting notes from a friend is just not the same as attending lecture. I once skipped class to finish writing a paper, and I really didn't feel like I ever "got" the topic presented in class that day. I would have handed the paper in late, but the paper was a *major* portion of our grade, I was mostly done, and the professor didn't allow late work.

I also agree with others that a 400 word essay is really not that difficult to put together. Not having it done by the start of class is a warning sign that there are other issues going on with the student.