It’s Day 6 of the AP Physics reading. I’ve been grading physics 1 problem 4 (the paragraph about projectiles) and physics 1 problem 2 (the experimental circuit question). Both questions require me to read through a lot of student writing.
I don’t mind reading paragraphs. How students communicate in words and sentences says a lot about their physics knowledge. I am more comfortable than ever this year that we are awarding points for good physics understanding rather than simply for performing mathematical tasks.
As the reading drags on, though, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with walls of text full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing. Why would you repeat the question’s prompt at me four times? Do you think I’ll give up and award credit the fourth time? Why do you think it’s important to tell me how carefully you set up your experiment? Why must you go on and on about the negligibility of air resistance, or how this experiment isn’t really going to work, actually? Please, please, students, just get to the point.
But teachers, these long-arse essays devoid of meaning are our fault, too. Somewhere in their physics classes, too many students have been earning credit for verbal diarrhea. It’s our job to stop the madness.
Next time you grade a text, just stop reading when it’s apparent that the student has no clue what he’s talking about, but is hoping to throw enough words at you to earn a few points. Then when the student comes to you to indicate the one word that might possibly have earned a point based on the rubric, be firm. It’s the student’s job to be clear, not your job to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s the student’s burden to show you that he knows the physics, not your burden to make assumptions. If you can’t interpret a response clearly on first reading, the student has not been clear enough – and so should lose credit. No pity, no remorse, no exceptions.
Furthermore, what is the student doing asking you to re-interpret his test, anyway? Unless you failed to read a page or something obvious like that, just refuse. I have been grading AP exams for 16 years, and I have yet to see a student coming to me along with his test to clarify what he really meant. So if I might have misinterpreted a student’s test response at the cost of one or two points, tough. He’ll probably be clearer next time.
Please, for the sanity of all the 310 AP physics readers, teach your students to write concisely. I will be happy to help you out if you need backup in defending your grading to your students – please email me. Perhaps I ought to inflict a week of essay grading upon those teachers who still give credit for baloney…