# orgtheory.net

## reducing grandmother death resulting from college exams

The academic year is a dangerous time for grandmothers:  apparently grandmother deaths go up significantly around college exam time.  Lee Jussim, prolific Rutgers social psychologist, has a short essay on the epidemic and he suggests some interventions that professors might put in place — see his essay here (and, here’s the original analysis).

Written by teppo

August 25, 2008 at 4:20 pm

### 9 Responses

1. Last semester, while teaching stats, I had 9 out of 22 students claim that a best friend or family member died during the semester. For an exam I wrote a question indicating the death probability of an 80 year old woman (.0478) from a actuarial table (http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/STATS/table4c6.html). I asked them to assume that everyone had one grandparent alive at the start of the semester, and that the semester was exactly four months long, and the probability of death was equal for every month. Then I asked them to calculate the odds that 9/22 people would experience a death under those conditions (which over-estimate the likelihood).

I took the question off the exam because I didn’t want to hurt the people who actually DID have someone die in their family. But boy was I tempted…

On a more serious note, any time any claims trauma in my class I have a form response. It is basically, “This must be a very difficult time for you. This is exactly the kind of situation where deans are most helpful. Please contact your dean. They will do their job and contact all of your professors. You shouldn’t have to negotiate with us. We will simply do what the dean tells us.” My logic is that it is harder/more serious to lie to a dean.

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shakha

August 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm

2. I’ve given up on trying to arbitrate between excuses (their realness, severity) — I have a ‘drop’ policy with quizzes/exams and that seems to have reduced grandmother death-like incidents dramatically.

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tf

August 25, 2008 at 9:10 pm

3. […] known among college professors, but I only recently discovered Lee Jussim’s analysis (via Teppo). (He suggests giving only really difficult makeup exams, which has a similar […]

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4. I have seen some argue for the path of least resistance policy here (I believe it may have been Brayden, back on pub sociology). Give the students whatever extension they want, let them postpone the test, whatever. It’s almost never the good students who request these things and almost never does the extension/postponement/whatever lead to substantially improved grades.

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trey1

August 27, 2008 at 5:14 pm

5. Wow trey, you have a good memory.

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brayden

August 27, 2008 at 6:42 pm

6. Trey, that’s also my policy.

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fabiorojas

August 27, 2008 at 6:57 pm

7. I only remember it because I adopted it as my policy soon after reading it.

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trey1

August 27, 2008 at 9:17 pm

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shakha

August 28, 2008 at 2:51 pm

9. I just told my students about this “study”. I’m guessing that will have a dampening effect on things…

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Jenn Lena

August 28, 2008 at 6:06 pm