Mad scribblings and inexpert musing

Why I Try to Be Satisfied With Partial Credit and You Should Too

published: 7 Nov 2010 01:11:00PM

Everybody knows about partial credit, partial credit is what happens when you half-ass that essay, or forget to start that assignment until the morning before its due. Sometimes, partial credit comes at you completely out of the blue, when you thought you had the assignment in the bag. If you're professor is really out to get you, then they will only give "full credit" for "outstanding work", whatever that means.

I got partial credit in early elementary school because I picked things up rather quickly and once I'd gotten the hang of things, I stopped working at them and went back to Mario or Sonic. I got partial credit in late elementary and middle school because I didn't understand the value of what I was learning at the time. I got partial credit in high school because there were far too many things more fun than doing all the assignments or studying for the tests and quizzes. I get partial credit in college because I work for a living, and like it, and try to maintain the shambles that is my personal life. I've never been the sort to focus on school, but that doesn't mean I don't agonize every time I get an assignment back with less than perfect. Autograded assignments such as those for calculus and physics, or most horribly, an online submission for a computer program, which gives you instant and mercilessly objective feedback. Well, it's like a drug, like failing to get the high score when the initials you're trying to beat are those of the jock kid who used the allowance from his rich parents to woo away your girlfriend. I just keep putting quarters in until I'm completely tapped. I recently sent an email to one of my professors because the amount of out-of-class work for their class for one week exceeded the time I spent sleeping and doing work for all my other classes combined for that week, which anyone must be forced to admit, is a little absurd. The reply I got was simply this:

just do the best you can, and call it a day. Everyone is subjected to the same thing... You don't need to get every single point.

You don't need to get every single point. In my estimation, there are two* primary reasons professors assign as much as they do. Either they firmly believe that their class is the only one you should be taking that semester and that you aren't doing anything else or they've completely forgotten the insanity of undergraduate studies. So you can see that getting such a candid admission that collecting all the points is not necessary to knowing the material. And indeed, I had a week previously received the highest grade in the class on the exam. (45/50, not all the pointseven then.)

It takes two hands to count the number of times I conciously took partial credit in the last month. Sometimes it was to study harder for another class or complete an assignment that was weighted more heavily, sometimes it was to wrap up a project for work, and other times it was just because the coffee was hot, the conversation good and I didn't want to pull out my books and give up the conversation. Some nights I just wanted to put in a full night's rest. But I do it, I try to use it sparingly, but I'm also not going to commit ritual suicide when that ugly B shows up on my transcript at the end of the semester. A complete stranger might see that and see a student who "didn't apply himself fully" or some other nonsense. But my girlfriend will see it as the week I spent visiting her, my employer will see it as the projects I stayed up all night finishing to be ready the next morning, and my old friend will see it as the rainy afternoon at the coffee house we spent catching up and ignoring the world. I'll see it as a representation of the rewards for my effort in balancing the many aspects of my life and I'll have the knowledge of what I learned to judge for myself what portion of the education offered I took for myself. I generally find that I got what I wanted and often much much more. So, the next time you're faced with a choice between catching up with an old friend, or getting a full night's sleep for the first time in a month, and getting a passing grade or full credit on an assignment, just remember: "You don't need to get every single point."

*There is a third less common reason that is quite popular with math teachers and that is that C is defined as average and is therefore where they want most of their students to fall with a standard bell curve around it and grading convention be damned... sadists.