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November 14, 2007 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm failing Trig. What would be a good makeup assignment to suggest to my teacher? Do college teachers even do that kind of thing?

Hi, I'm going to a community college in southern California with intentions to transfer to a CSU. Yesterday, I calculated my grade in Trigonometry, which was hurt greatly by my last test's results. If I scored every possible point left in the class, I'll still get a D. A friend told me that when she was in college, her friends managed to pull their grades up "all the time" by asking their instructors for some kind of special makeup assignment late in the semester.

However, I don't see my Trig instructor going for it. This guy has seen it all; he's 70 something, he's mentioned he's not impressed with the performance of our class overall, and after giving me my grade, noted that I haven't done homework in a month. In the end, I don't deserve sympathy. The best excuse I could give is that a full-time load of classes threw me, and the learning curve turned into a brick wall in all my classes at the same time. The truth is I focused on my other classes at the expense of this one.

Either way, I'd never heard of makeup work of that nature in a college course, and I'm skeptical. Clearly, if this strategy is going to work, I need to impress to him that I'm willing to work extra-hard to learn the material, and that I'm being proactive.

Have you ever been assigned some kind of makeup work like this in a college class? What would be a good way to approach my instructor on this subject? I feel like I should have an assignment in mind, perhaps a proof, or some other way of showing I am comfortable with mathematics in general (which I am). Googling revealed little, but I know we'll be using some trig in calculus, is there something I could learn about in that sense that shows I'm concerned with math for more than just getting a grade?

The worst that will happen is he says no, and I withdraw from the class next week. Still, I'd rather not do that, so I throw myself at the mercy of the hivemind. Thanks for reading (if you got this far :)
posted by malapropist to Education (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ive had situations where I was allowed to do extra work, but I had already completed all previous assignments...

I doubt if I had missed several homework assignments that my professor would have been so kind.

You've kinda made your own boat, but good luck for steering your way out. :|

Also, can you withdraw so late in the semester? If so that may be your best option.
posted by crewshell at 7:15 PM on November 14, 2007

The worst that could happen is that you ask him, being sure to include your best excuse, and he says, incredulously, 'You haven't done any of the homework for a month, the semester's almost over, you're somewhere between a D and an F, and you want to do a makeup assignment?' Then he puts his hand to his chest and drops dead.

posted by box at 7:15 PM on November 14, 2007

Consider doing all the work you missed. Take that to him. Prove that you're willing to put in the legwork. Ask if you can somehow turn that in for reduced credit (something is better than nothing).

Once you have done that, ask if there's any way for you to repair your grade before the end of the term. It can't hurt to ask.
posted by SemiSophos at 7:29 PM on November 14, 2007

Unless you plan to do all he work you missed, and you do it perfectly, you should just withdraw from the course. Part of the college experience is learning to manage your own time. You now know you took on one too many classes.

I suppose there's no harm in asking, but making him review all of your term's worth of work at the end now would be pretty annoying. And there's no point in doing this if you are going to get a D, because that will hurt your chances for transfer.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:36 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Professors hate students who don't care about the subject, the class, or their grade; professors love students who are dedicated to learning and take the class seriously. If you can show that you are the latter type of student instead of the former, then it's not unlikely that he'll be willing to help you out.

If your professor is that old and has really seen it all, then you are by far not the first student he's seen who fell behind for stupid reasons. It happens all the time. You're not the first person who has screwed up in the class. He'll understand.

That doesn't mean that he'll help you, of course. Different professors have different policies about extra credit and so forth. However, there certainly are plenty of professors who offer extra opportunities to improve grades, and it certainly wouldn't be uncouth to ask him about it. At the very least, he'll get to see that you actually do care about the class and aren't just zoning out for lack of interest. And that, if nothing else, is good.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2007

You may not like this response (perhaps there should be a check for 'least favorite' response).

I used to teach at liberal arts college and then a university. I was not 70 (early 30s), but there is no way I would give someone a make-up assignment. It's not high school. What was most important was that the student master the material. Here is another way to think about it - would you want to find out that your doctor never prepared for the exams, failed anatomy, but passed because he or she drew pictures and typed up (or cut and paste - I've seen that too) a report at the end of the semester?

However, it may not be too late. To be honest, many faculty members do curve grades. They may not announce that they are going to curve them to try to push students to learn more material, but it may happen.

I would go talk to your professor. Ask whether it is still possible for you to pass the course, and if he would be willing to estimate the score you need to pass the final. If I had a student do REALLY well on a final (a cumulative final), and the student was in the range of the curve, that student would probably pass. If many students have a similar score on the last test, you may have even have a C.

Then ask if there is anything you can do to pass after you are given this information - perhaps he will accept your old assignments or give you a new set of assignments.

The conversation at the end of the semester (what is my current grade, what can I do, how should I study) is not uncommon - many students do that, even a week before the final.
posted by Wolfster at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2007

I am a math professor. I wouldn't offer the opportunity for extra credit in your situation, but students have certainly asked me about it, so there must be professors who allow it!

The good news: the relevance of trig to calculus is not so great -- if you approach your calculus course in a different spirit (namely: do all homework the week it's due) there's no reason you won't do fine. If you do withdraw, I would go straight on to calculus rather than spend a semester of your life taking trig again, assuming your college allows this.
posted by escabeche at 7:52 PM on November 14, 2007

I'm going to be totally honest: as somebody who has been an instructor in university classes before (and is currently a TA), if I student came to me to ask to do extra assignments to make up for a poor mark, unless there were extremely special circumstances, I wouldn't even consider it.

For one thing, it makes extra work for the instructor who is already marking a lot of assignments and doing other work besides.

Second, it creates a precedent that any student who is dissatisfied with their mark can cite.

I admit that I taught English, not Trig, but I personally wouldn't allow it.

That said, I'll second Wolfster's advice. I think what it might come down to is if you can demonstrate that you have been working hard at the course material and aren't leaving things to the last minute, slacking in class, and so on. If you're working hard at the class and the instructor realizes this, you're more likely to get some sympathy.
posted by synecdoche at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2007

It would never hurt to ask, and as a math prof I never mind hearing it. However, I've never said 'yes', and that includes students who have put in far more work than you seem to have in the class. Good luck, though. I do know instructors who do allow this sort of thing.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:07 PM on November 14, 2007

I've been two three different universities, and a community college, and there was always at least one professor at every place that I knew of (and probably more) who offered extra credit. However, most of those who did listed it on the syllabus--it was available to everyone, from the first day of class. In lieu of that, professors often drop assignments instead (hey, less work for them!)

I think you're probably out of luck on this one. You've waited too long. However, why not ask? You won't lose anything by asking, and you have a substantial amount to gain.

If you ask, I, like the poster upthread, would suggest you ask if you can turn in all your prior assignments for reduced credit on them. I doubt you're going to have time (you didn't have time to do them in the first place, unfortunately). And believe me, I know about homework loads. You have my sympathy.
posted by tejolote at 9:15 PM on November 14, 2007

Yeah, and apparently I still can't spell "to". Damnit.
posted by tejolote at 9:15 PM on November 14, 2007

As a TA for a freshman engineering class at a large university, I had to grade homework and give weekly quizzes. I went the opposite way of many of the previous posters in this thread. My policy: if you missed a homework, you could turn it in up until the test for that section. If you missed a quiz, you could show up to office hours and take it then, up until the test for that section.

Being an introductory course at a large university, I had to teach three sections of 40 students each semester, meaning I taught almost 500 students in my two years there.

I believe I had students take up my offer maybe five times.

I think a lot of students fully intended to catch up, but in the end, the same forces in their life that made them miss the homework or quiz the first time made them miss the makeup session later.

the relevance of trig to calculus is not so great

What you say?! Flip through a calculus book. There's cos/sin/tan all over the freakin' place.
posted by IvyMike at 11:19 PM on November 14, 2007

While I wouldn't give you an extra credit assignment either, if you came to me with old assignments and exams, redone carefully and accurately (to prove you've mastered the stuff you weren't serious about the first time around), I would absolutely consider giving you an incomplete.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this as an option. In university settings, this route is pretty much the only one to take when trying to recover from a disaster of a term.

If you go to your instructor with old assignments and a request for an incomplete, have a plan ready. Know what you're asking for and give a speedy timeline within which the work will be completed.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:20 PM on November 14, 2007

I just got my B.A. in May. I took some really really hard math classes while in college, and let's just say I have experience with this kind of situation. Most of what others have said makes sense:

-you should definitely try to schedule a time to speak to your professor. I think you are very likely to be able to pass this course if you want to badly enough and you say the right stuff to your professor.
-if you've skipped a lot of homework, don't go in and propose that you do a makeup assignment so that you can make everything OK. Missing all of the homework for a month already makes it look to the professor like you disrespect him, his course, and most importantly the material. Suggesting that you do a proof to remedy that will only compound this feeling.
-while respect for the material is very important, your goal in the meeting should not be to show your professor that you love trig and that you've mastered it. That would make it seem like you think love for and mastery of the material are sufficient to pass the course, and that kind of attitude is likely to piss the professor off (whatever is required to pass the course was probably made clear on the first day of class, and I'm guessing it included the assignments you didn't do, but did not include "a love for math!"). In other words, the first thing I would do in the meeting would be apologize in a big and sincere way. Don't explain away or excuse (unless you have a really good excuse or feel like making one up); acknowledge that you were in error, that you are at fault.
-I would then tell him that you're willing to do whatever it takes to pass the course, and have some suggestions at the ready. Redoing everything that you skipped is a great idea, but I think you should bring that as a suggestion--if you bring in all of the old assignments fully completed, it may seem like you think that entitles you to pass, which it doesn't. Also, you may be able to agree on something much less time consuming than that.
-in the end, he wants you to learn trig, and your suggestions should be geared toward that desire. One of my college professors was willing to weigh grades on the exams from later in the semester much more heavily than those from earlier on. It sounds like you bombed the last exam. How many are left? Say you have three exams, each worth 25% of your grade. Suggest that if you get an A on the last one, it be worth 35% and the other two be worth 20%, or something to that effect (those are obviously really ambitious numbers). You mentioned that he is disappointed in the performance of the class--if he is loathe to give you special treatment, suggest that you're willing to organize study sessions for the class and attempt something similar for the entire class.

You are right that the worst he can do is say no. You've got nothing to lose. Be polite, eager, and confident.
posted by holympus at 1:12 AM on November 15, 2007

Incompletes are usually for when something comes up (illness often, sometimes family issues or you just get overwhelmed) and you make an arrangement to turn in some of the work later. That won't help you correct for poor grades received already in the course.

Go and talk with the professor, ask him what your options are and if passing the class is possible. Also, this week (don't put it off until later) go and talk with the college's academic support people (the office will have a different name at different places: Dean of Students' office; academic counseling; etc) -- the people who can arrange tutoring, intercede with professors, etc. Explain the situation in straightforward language, and ask what your options are. There may be things that can be done by them (from dropping with no penalty, to getting homework extensions, to other possibilities) that cannot be done by the professor directly.

Regardless, I think you might want to start doing those homework assignments you missed. Saying, "I fell behind and am now trying to catch up" sounds a lot better than "I didn't do it and now want to do an easier extra credit assignment to compensate." And doing the homework will help you on the final exam, even if you never get any credit for the late assignments.
posted by Forktine at 3:57 AM on November 15, 2007

The good news: the relevance of trig to calculus is not so great...

posted by electroboy at 6:48 AM on November 15, 2007

Actually, I would agree that you don't need to know much trig to do calculus. You need to know of the existence of functions called sine, cosine, and tangent, that the derivative of sine is cosine, etc., but nowhere in calculus do you actually need to know that sine = opposite side/hypotenuse. Likewise, you don't really need to know any trig identities besides sin(x)^2 + cos(x)^2 = 1.
posted by pravit at 11:11 AM on November 15, 2007

Another thing I've always wondered about (and sorry for derailing your thread) is what the point of precalculus classes is. I've never, ever needed to know what a hyperbola is in any of my calculus courses, but it seems they are quite important in precalculus-type courses.

With regards to your question, I think there have already been some great answers. I'll just have to agree with those that say that you should see your prof, but don't expect any miracles - I mean, you blew off the homework for most of the semester! Good luck.
posted by pravit at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2007

Forktine, incompletes can be for a lot of things, not just 'things coming up' or missing work. And even if the student already has grades, that does not mean that the instructor would not be willing to regrade or re-evaluate work. Working through an incomplete structure would help alleviate the added burden on the faculty member to accommodate the student's extra work within the timeframe of the term.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2007

I agree with the math professor about going straight but its not because trig isn't useful - it's because every other student in calculus has either forgotten/is so bad at/etc trig, you'll get to learn it along with them.

As far as extra credit, when I was teaching college algebra, I gave extra credit exactly once - I feel the general rule with extra credit is that it should be more difficult than the average coursework. Extra credit should be for people who have an understanding of the material, and are failing for emergency-like-reasons, not for people who are failing the exams, skipping the homework, and generally not completing the requirements of the course.

It sounds to me like you haven't learned the material. You can ask, but if you're going to suggest an assignment, you had better suggest the 10 hardest trig problems of all time - if your prof is doing their job, they want to see you're comfortable with trig, not math in general.
posted by lastyearsfad at 7:18 AM on November 16, 2007

Funny how a lot of people here are saying they would never give make-up assignments - in Australian universities, it's pretty standard procedure.

Is there a college policy about supplementary work you could look up?
posted by divabat at 7:28 PM on November 18, 2007

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