What happens if a university professor loses all the exams he has to grade?

What if your exam paper is lost?
What if your exam paper is lost?

It's a teacher's worst nightmare – losing your students' exam papers. Luckily that rarely happens. But students from all around the world wonder 'what if...?' So we gathered the opinions of professors at Erasmus University Rotterdam, and others.

Good Question

'Good question! I have no idea. I don’t even want to think about the mess that would result from losing all the exams (can you imagine the panic!!!). I always try to be very careful with exams.'

Stefano Puntoni, Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing Management, Rotterdam School of Management

Worst Nightmare

'That is actually a professor's worst nightmare. I think there is a regulation about this from the exam committee. Luckily, it's never happened to me (I guard the exams really well). These days most assignments are also online, and for exams there's a good procedure to make sure they do not get lost.'

Michaéla C. Schippers, Professor of Behaviour and Performance Management
Department of Technology & Operations Management, Rotterdam School of Management

Getting an A

'I used to toss students’ freshman composition papers in the back seat of my car, to grade later at home. But once, I had gotten a new convertible and didn't really think before reflexively tossing the papers in my back seat. With the top down, I'd neglected to realise that anything paper could blow out once the car was in motion — and some did.

I panicked as I looked into the rear view mirror and saw a trail of papers wafting out of my car. I pulled over and grabbed what I could, but some papers were obviously gone. Three of them. I gave those students As and apologised. It was my fault. One student seemed miffed, though. I guess she wanted my feedback. Big picture, getting an A on one paper in a writing-intensive class doesn't mean that much either way.'

(Darren Johnson, US college professor, on Quora)

Taking a New Exam at Home

'This happened during my Freshman year at Harvard. Some fraction of the final exams for a class were apparently stolen from a teaching assistant's car. Students were given the choice of either 1) taking a new take-home exam or 2) receiving a grade that was representative of the work that they had in the class up until that point.'

(Sebastian Chan, Harvard student)

When the Professor Died

'At Temple Law School in the US, a professor died after the exam was taken but before it was graded. After some discussion, it was considered unfair to have a different professor grade the exams, because that professor would not have known precisely what was taught. Again, all the students were given an administrative pass. In both cases, some students were very happy because they thought they had done poorly, and others were frustrated, because they thought they done well. In both cases, the students' feelings were not the controlling factor.' (Quora)

Keeping Them in a Locked Drawer

'When I was a teaching assistant, my department prohibited us from taking exams out of the building to grade at home, precisely because a few years earlier an instructor’s backpack full of exam papers got stolen in the library.

What they had to do in that case was pro-rate the grades, which is mathematically equivalent to assuming each student’s performance on the missing exam was identical to his or her average on all the other tests. Of course, this isn’t perfect: students who actually did a little better on this exam than on others were penalised and students who actually did a little worse on this exam than on others benefited.

To avoid this happening again, I was required to keep all the exam papers in a locked desk drawer except when actively grading them. Which was a royal pain, since it meant going back to my office in the evening to grade papers instead of grading them at home.'

(Matthew Healy, US, on Quora)


Text: Manon Sikkel Daelmans/quora.com