Extra Credit

My former colleague Steven Taylor and his current cross-campus colleague Scott Nokes reflect on the strange fact that “students who wouldn’t scratch their bottoms to get a final exam grade will do anything for extra credit.”

My guess is that it’s mostly a function of perceived costs and benefits. Studying for an exam is difficult and mysterious, with students having to both grapple with the material and try to fathom what the prof is looking for. Extra credit, generally, involves some sort of rote assignment where mere completion brings rewards. Moreover, extra credit is usually offered toward the end of the semester when students realize that they are about to fall short of their desired grades and are therefore desperate to bring them up.

Granted, one would think that would be true of final exams, too. Then again, students doing poorly in one class are often doing likewise in others and are having to manage their time in preparing for multiple exams in close proximity.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Christopher says:

    scratch their bottoms? Ahhh the couth of our youth! Horrible to think they will be in the work force soon, if they ever graduate.

    And how is studying for an exam difficult and mysterious?!? Um, you study. You pay attention in class and do the assignments, then take the test. Students have been doing it for hundreds of years. Where did you graduate from, a refrigeration trade school?

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    This is why us lawyers look down upon other academic types. Most law school courses that I took had a course syllabus that looked something like this:

    There will be one final exam, which shall encompass 100% of your final grade.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    er… I mean why WE lawyers look down upon… well, crap…

  4. Grewgills says:

    I’ve never let extra credit count for more than about 1% of the final grade. If someone is near the line and is willing to put in extra effort on something pertinent to the subject, I am willing to let it bump them from just under the line to just above. I can’t see letting it go beyond that.

  5. Tim says:

    A friend of mine is a professor in the Political Science department of a university in Maryland. He offers students in his various classes a wide variety of extra credit opportunities, which include attending some of the many lectures, meetings, and panel discussions on various topics that occur in the DC area, the occasional field trip to visit a foreign embassy for briefings or Q&A about that country, and attending legislative sessions or committee hearings in Congress or the Maryland legislature.

    As he explains it, he’s using extra credit as a way to get his young students to broaden their horizons and get more on a particular topic than they would get just from his lecture. He certainly couldn’t require his students to attend most of these events which occur outside the scheduled classroom time, so extra credit usually fits the bill.

  6. John Burgess says:

    Tim: Certainly an improvement from when I was in school and some professors threatened to flunk you if you didn’t attend a peace demonstration. And others threatened to flunk you if you did.