The other day, my students complained right before an exam that they couldn’t see the clock. So they got this:
I’d like to think that my students now know to be careful what they wish for. Today my students get their exams back, and I’m taking a page from the Richard Thaler behavioral playbook. From Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics:
Finally, an idea occurred to me. On the next exam, I made the total number of points available 137 instead of 100. This exam turned out to be slightly harder than the first, with students getting only 70% of the answers right, but the average numerical score was a cheery 96 points. The students were delighted! No one’s actual grade was affected by this change, but everyone was happy. From that point on, whenever I was teaching this course, I always gave exams a point total of 137, a number I chose for two reasons. First, it produced an average score well into the 90s, with some students even getting scores above 100, generating a reaction approaching ecstasy. Second, because dividing one’s score by 137 was not easy to do in one’s head, most students did not seem to bother to convert their scores into percentages. Lest you think I was somehow deceiving the students, in subsequent years I included this statement, printed in bold type, in my course syllabus: “Exams will have a total of 137 points rather than the usual 100. This scoring system has no effect on the grade you get in the course, but it seems to make you happier.” And indeed, after I made that change, I never got a complaint that my exams were too hard. In the eyes of an economist, my students were “misbehaving.” By that I mean that their behavior was inconsistent with the idealized model of behavior that is at the heart of what we call economic theory. To an economist, no one should be happier about a score of 96 out of 137 (70%) than 72 out of 100, but my students were. And by realizing this, I was able to set the kind of exam I wanted but still keep the students from grumbling.
I teach behavioral economics, and I am generally anti-grumbling, so I rejiggered the points on the exam so that it’s out of 137 points. Their grades are still essentially determined by z-scores, but I’ll take even an illusory Pareto improvement where I can get one, especially when I’m dealing with this during the grading process:
Feel free to use my animals as examples of negative marginal product of labor.
Update: Economists are such sticklers for citations…
Did I get a footnote? https://t.co/MRqyA7AOL0
— Richard H Thaler (@R_Thaler) October 22, 2015