Depressed by exams

I am not feeling very creative this week, because I am in middle of marking examination scripts; so, this post is going to be short.  I have 20 days to grade at least 1100 questions and award a maximum of 28,400 marks – that’s a lot of decisions for my neurons to handle without being asked to find new ways to network and generate original thoughts for this blog [see my post on ‘Digital hive mind‘ on November 30th, 2016].

It is a depressing task discovering how little I have managed to teach students about thermodynamics, or maybe I should say, how little they have learned.  However, I suspect these feelings are a consequence of the asymmetry of my brain, which has many more sites capable of attributing blame and only one for assigning praise [see my post entitled ‘Happenstance, not engineering‘ on November 9th, 2016].  So, I tend to focus on the performance of the students at the lower end of the spectrum rather than the stars who spot the elegant solutions to the exam problems.


Ngo L, Kelly M, Coutlee CG, Carter RM , Sinnott-Armstrong W & Huettel SA, Two distinct moral mechanisms for ascribing and denying intentionality, Scientific Reports, 5:17390, 2015.

Bruek H, Human brains are wired to blame rather than to praise, Fortune, December 4th 2015.

10 thoughts on “Depressed by exams

    1. Eann Patterson Post author

      Perhaps. However, I am unconvinced that you can assess the same problem-solving skills using computer-based assessment. I have been experimenting with it for coursework questions and it is not popular with my students, to judge from the feedback; but maybe that’s just a consequence of my inexperience in setting appropriate questions.

  1. solow46

    Dear Mr. Patterson, Please don’t beat yourself up. You said, “It is a depressing task discovering how little I have managed to teach students about thermodynamics, or maybe I should say, how little they have learned.” The answer is right in there, to teach is to show, to learn is to acquire. It is not that you failed to show them but that they failed to acquire. Your students simply don’t know how to learn, yet. The conventional education is more about quantity then quality.

    I like your posts because I have often felt the same distress with my students. My students are adults who want to get jobs as soon as possible, which a bit different from the academic teaching.



    Mikhail Solow, Managing Partner

    280 SW 20 Rd. #501

    Miami, Florida 33129

    T: 305-854-8103



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