My Evil Red Pen & Why I don’t Like the Concept of Extra Credit

From time to time, I like posting pictures like this in my FB and Twitter:

evil red pen 1

When I post it, I usually say things like “Grading, mwahahahahahaaaaa!” and I tell tales of fire and brimstone, lightning and maniac laughter, etc…

But, all of it is a joke. I do not enjoy taking points away from my students nor I like giving them a less-than-great-grade. However, I tend to be very, and I mean very, strict, when grading, proofreading, etc. You see, I take my job seriously. I am a scientist, but I am also an educator, and as i tell my students, I try to make sure that the education that they get from me, whether is quite a lot, as in the case of my graduate students (also, see The Paganization Procedure), or just 3 credits out of 100-odd credits (in other words, less that 3 percent) is done right.

This means that my students will get the grade that I judge they deserve. Sometimes I just have to say no or I am perceived as inflexible, but you know what? I DO NOT CARE. Wanna know why?

You see, in most cases, these students will complete their degree and will leave the proverbial nest to pursue their careers. They may be a future nurse that takes care of one of my children or the physician that will treat me in an ER. They better know the difference between a microgram and a milligram. This is not a nerdy, abstract, scientific matter; it may be the difference between treating a patient of killing the aforementioned patient with a 1000-fold overdose (or underdose) of some drug.

In fact, one of my former students is one of the professionals who helps my young man with autism. And, very recently, another former student helped treat me when I needed physical therapy when I got hurt doing **none of your business** (:-)…

One of the things that many of us do not realize in college is that in real life, good intentions are appreciated, but what counts are actual results. I see this frame of mind every day in my line of work. For some examples of these see this post.

This is one of the reasons why I dislike extra credit. In my mind, when one prof gives too much of it, the final grade can be unrealistic; for example, when the grade is really a “B” and it ends up as an “A”. This can generate a butterfly effect where a student that has not prepared optimally gets into graduate or professional school. Granted, these other institutions serve as additional “gates” for students, but then again, I want to “guard my post” properly.

Please don’t get the impression that I do not enjoy my work. I Love what I do and it is an immense source of pride when young minds like these get what they came for and I get to celebrate with them at graduation:


I also am quite proud of those who get to achieve their eventual academic goals:
1st resesarch group 2006





And I also “mourn” those who, despite having pretty good minds, were unable to complete their degree because of **real** problems. I have even lost a couple of students by that cruel enemy, death. There are also those who lacked the discipline and commitment to finish their degree. I truly think about all of these students quite frequently…

Going back to grades and grading, I have to evaluate the knowledge that my guys have acquired during the semester, and I truly do everything I can to help them learn. that said, I admit that it is true that in many cases, the true knowledge and intelligence of a student is not determined by grades alone, but….

…. Do you want to take that risk with your surgeon?

evil red pen 2


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1 Comment

  1. I think, as a way to prepare for real life, extra credit assignments have some merit – they teach that going the extra mile beyond what’s assigned is rewarded, too.
    Of course, that better not happen when a nurse or a pharmacist measures the medicine and decides to up the dosage for that extra credit. 🙂

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