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# Argument with professor about a problem on an exam

Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
edited December 2012
So I had to take the inverse laplace transform of [(s+4)]/[(s^2+5s+6)(s+1)]. I did not realize to factor (s^2+5s+6) into (s+3)(s+2) and this could've made everything so much simpler for me if I did realize it on the exam. Instead, I completed the square and got (s+5/2)^2-1/4. I then did partial fraction expansion and my final answer came out to be the exact same function as it is when you factor (s^2+5s+6) into (s+3)(s+2), but expressed in a slightly different way, with cosh's / sinh's instead of completely exponentials.

Now, the thing is that my answer is 100% correct. I talked with the professor, who gave me 0 points on this problem because my answer was not in the form that he wanted, that it was too complicated. He realizes that it is mathematically correct, but he's saying that it is not a "math class." He then said that I was harrassing him and kept bringing up the fact that he is a professor.

This ****** me off, obviously, because I'm getting 0 points on a problem that I did flawlessly and that is 100% correct, as far as the math goes.

I'm wondering if this has happened to anyone and what I can do about it?
Post edited by eurekameh on

## Replies to: Argument with professor about a problem on an exam

• Registered User Posts: 244 Junior Member
I doubt there's anything you can do about it. I've heard of people going to the dean about issues not quite like yours, where a professor gives the student a bad grade on an exam and refuses to change it although the problem(s) marked wrong were clearly correct and in the correct form. In that case, another professor or professors reviewed the exam and decided that it did in fact need a grade change, and was enforced by the dean. That's slightly different, though, because in your case the professor has admitted that the mathematical answer was correct but that it wasn't in the the incorrect form. If you went the route of the student I mentioned, your professor would shut that down by stating that he wanted you to learn to do it that specific way.

There are loads of professors like that, and plenty of others that operate on the other end of the spectrum where as long as it's the correct answer or close enough, the form doesn't matter.
• Registered User Posts: 493 Member
That is frustrating... I would have given you a high five for thinking outside the box. I would post your story on ratemyprofessor and not take another one of his classes.
• Registered User Posts: 268 Junior Member
First of all, this happens some times and unfortunately (REALLY UNFORTUNATELY) you just have to deal with it.

Second, the answer is all real (not imaginary at all) exponentials. Hyperbolic sin/cos can not be as easily interpreted as real exponentials (you roughly know what e^3 is, but not cos(3i) - isin(3i)) This is probably where he is going with 'not a math class.' Personally, if the answer was technically right, I would have given at least half, but apparently your prof isn't that lenient.

Once again, sorry, but it happens (A LOT).
• Registered User Posts: 7,032 Senior Member
EddieD wrote:
Second, the answer is all real (not imaginary at all) exponentials. Hyperbolic sin/cos can not be as easily interpreted as real exponentials (you roughly know what e^3 is, but not cos(3i) - isin(3i)) This is probably where he is going with 'not a math class.' Personally, if the answer was technically right, I would have given at least half, but apparently your prof isn't that lenient.

Hyperbolic functions can very, very easily be interpreted as real exponentials. Incredibly easily. If we had LaTeX on this forum I would write it down, but as it is, I will just link to Wikipedia.

Hyperbolic function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I will also point out that complex numbers, especially complex exponentials, show up a ton in nearly every engineering field, so it isn't like they are confined to "math majors".
• Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
I think that what he was trying to get at with the "not a math class" statement is that the form in which I expressed my answer is not in a form that engineers can use because it is too complicated. I don't know how true that is, but even then, the question on the test was to find the inverse laplace transform. And find it I did. From my standpoint, I did what I was asked (to find the inverse laplace transform) and that is all I care about: to answer the question. I do not see a reason for me to think about the question in terms of what class I'm taking and to answer the question with respect to that class. The question was in fact, a mathematical one, and my answer is in fact, mathematically correct. If only his question was somewhere along the lines of "find the inverse laplace transform, expressed with only exponentials," or "find the inverse laplace transform, expressed in the simplest way possible," THEN he would have a legitimate case. And even then, 0 points out of 20+ points is a bit harsh, because I demonstrated more knowledge about laplace transforms than anyone in my class did. Which brings me to another point: this sob does not know how to make a proper exam. 20+ points on finding the inverse laplace transform, are you serious? We learned a lot more on these chapters and you put 20+ points on an inverse laplace transform problem.

Not only is this guy disgusting, his TAs' are the same. I've asked one of them for a regrade before, and he told me that my method of doing it is completely wrong and that I can't do that. He also said it was not partial fraction expansion. I was SHOCKED because this guy apparently has a PhD, and I had to show him that this method was in the book labeled "partial fraction expansion," but because the example in the book was titled "complex roots," he used the argument that I can only use it when the roots are complex, which is not true at all.

I am questioning the merit of these guys AND their PhD's.
• Registered User Posts: 2,304 Senior Member
Is there anything you can do? Doesn't look like it.
Will you get anything out of complaining? Your call.
My advice is to deal with it. One more month and you will probably never have to deal with that professor again (unless said professor has a nasty habit of teaching required classes). Write scathing reviews for everyone that follows, but for now just deal with it.
• Registered User Posts: 7,032 Senior Member
eurekameh wrote:
From my standpoint, I did what I was asked (to find the inverse laplace transform) and that is all I care about: to answer the question. I do not see a reason for me to think about the question in terms of what class I'm taking and to answer the question with respect to that class.

I certainly understand your frustration and I believe the professor was wrong in this scenario, but this statement is just a bad philosophy to have. When working problems, you always want to have the end-user of your solution in mind. In the present case that would typically entail making sure that your answer is in some kind of format that is (or would be) useful for others in your field. In the workplace, it means giving a solution to a problem that the other engineers and technicians can actually use without much (preferably none) deciphering.

Were I grading that exam, without knowing the specifics here, I would be likely to take points off if you gave the answer in some crazy format that is nothing like anything that has been seen in the class before. An exam should be about determining what the student knows and how well they have mastered the material. A mathematically correct but impractically presented solution, to me, implies good mastery of the material but some shortcomings still in applying it, thus my reasoning for not giving full credit. Still, if it was mathematically correct, I am generally lenient, as are most professors.
eurekameh wrote:
Which brings me to another point: this sob does not know how to make a proper exam. 20+ points on finding the inverse laplace transform, are you serious? We learned a lot more on these chapters and you put 20+ points on an inverse laplace transform problem.

This is NOT a valid point. Making an exam, it turns out, is not so trivial. You have a finite, even small period of time in which to assess the students with exams, and you need to write a series of problems that form a representative cross-section of the material up to that point in the class. If Laplace transforms are important to this class, then it is perfectly reasonable that knowing how to do them would be an important portion of the assessment for the class.

Honestly, at this point it just sounds like you are venting without thinking about what you are saying. Your original complaint is valid. This second one is not.
eurekameh wrote:
Not only is this guy disgusting, his TAs' are the same. I've asked one of them for a regrade before, and he told me that my method of doing it is completely wrong and that I can't do that. He also said it was not partial fraction expansion. I was SHOCKED because this guy apparently has a PhD, and I had to show him that this method was in the book labeled "partial fraction expansion," but because the example in the book was titled "complex roots," he used the argument that I can only use it when the roots are complex, which is not true at all.

Are you sure your TAs have PhDs? I have never heard of places who use doctors for TAs. That would imply that these people are post-docs, and that is a huge waste of money for a post-doc. They will almost always do strictly research or else research plus being the instructor of record for the class.
• Registered User Posts: 3,651 Senior Member
I know it sucks to feel like you're right, maybe even be in the right, maybe even be 100% right, but not get the credit deserved. As much as it sucks, THIS WILL HAPPEN AGAIN. It will likely be on a job, with your b*lls in your bosses hands. The skill and humility you exercise in such situations will determine where your career goes. This life lesson is a foreshadow. Next time it won't be worth "20 points." Use this opportunity to assess how you'll deal with it the next time you feel like you get scr*wed, because there will be a next time. Some life lessons just suck. Period. Sorry. Good luck.

M
• Registered User Posts: 120 Junior Member
if you were working in your engineering job, and your boss asks you to develop a solution for a given problem, how would you go about if there are multiple means of achieving it? i guess it doesn't make a difference now, but think about your solution: it is more complicated than what the professor was asking for. if you were working with a software program, and you plugged that solution in, i would suppose it would be computationally-intensive compared to the simpler exponential.

in the real world, where time, money, and deadlines are important, the simplest, cost-effective solution is the most valuable, dont you agree?
• Registered User Posts: 220 Junior Member
0 points? That's harsh. Escalate it. Contact the chair, the dean, the chancellor, the school newspaper. I've done it before, and it worked. Usually, I make it clear to the chair that I respect the professor and his profession, but he needs to reconsider. By that level, changes occur instantly(only if you have a strong argument). No one wants you to escalate, always remember that, and maintain a professional tone. Do not let this slide. I attend a major state school, and it's worked for me in various departments.
• Registered User Posts: 922 Member
Unfortuantely professors have an enormous amount of power over what they will/won't accept and the grading structure they use.

"A few" years ago, I was involved in a similar situation that changed the course of my entire future. At the time I was a secondary education major getting a license to teach secondary social studies, but was also getting computer endorsement (yeah, I know unusual combination) so I could teach computer based courses which was my real passion at the time.

The final course required to get my computer endorsement required writing a grade book program in Pascal. It was a very simple requirement that I could have completed quickly and easily. However the assignment description provided a lot of add-on options to the program to make it more sophisticated. It recommended writing the program to allow grades for multiple courses, customizing the on screen appearance, customizing reports that could be generated, I don't recall all the suggested options, but at the time I loved to program, so I decided to include them all.

I wrote the code and tested for each section of the program and designed a menu system to control everything. Then I put it together and attempted to compile. I discovered that my program was too large for our compiler. At the time the compiler installed on campus wouldn't compile a program over a certain size. So I took out chunks of the program and simply inserted some code to display on the screen what should happen when that option was selected. When I turned in the program I turned in the shortened compiled version, along with the code for the shortened version and the code for the full version, I also included an instruction manual (that was required) that noted which sections were and were not working, and also contacted the instructor and explained why it was not working.

So, I researched the university's policies and found that if I graduated with an I, it'd always remain an I on my transcript. So I opted to never finish the course, and because I was really interested in the computer endorsement and not the social studies license, I also never completed getting my teaching license (finished just 1 class and student teaching experience short). If he had just taken the time to read my code, I would have finished my degree in the school of ed and would very likely be working in a school today, but instead my transcript permanently has an I for that course and I was eventually able to get a job in IT, which is the field I still work in "a few" years later.
• Registered User Posts: 4,194 Senior Member
Unfortuantely professors have an enormous amount of power over what they will/won't accept and the grading structure they use.
This is very true, and unless there are a bunch of students complaining, too many students failing, or other big issues, it is likely that the department will back the professor.

I also agree with boneh3ad on his statements - TA's are almost NEVER actual PhD's, and designing a test is difficult with the time constraints and almost always involves cherry-picking some parts of the curriculum and neglecting others. The professor I TA'd for always made a point of including enough "primary" material on the tests to give everyone a chance at a decent grade, but enough "tertiary" material to make sure that the students who went the extra mile in learning ALL the material got the chance to get the top grades.

Personally, I have seen cases like yours before, from both sides. In most cases the initial zero is simply because the grader does not have the time to trace through your more convoluted derivation and verify your alternative answer - at first glance it looks incorrect and there is no time for a second glance when there are so many other tests to grade. Usually, if the derivation is correct all the way through I would award nearly full credit - I would take some or all points off if there were intermediate errors or holes that still resulted in a correct answer, and would still take off for presenting a solution in a less-usable format.

As engineers, we are expected to arrive at quick, efficient answers and present them in convenient and accepted formats. As an electrical engineer, if I was presented with a solution in terms of cosh and sinh I would be at least annoyed, and would probably have to spend extra time either redoing the work, translating it into the appropriate format, or explaining to every engineer above me why it was valid.
• Registered User Posts: 4,194 Senior Member
If the chair still doesn't help, you can ask about how to file a "Grade Appeal". That might get them to listen.
He does not have a final grade in the course yet, and I do not think anyone will intervene on anything less - they do not want to get involved if the Prof is going to curve the grade, or if everyone else does fine, or if the OP gets a good grade regardless. They will want to see that there was unfair grading that specifically and significantly affected his final grade.
• Registered User Posts: 3,651 Senior Member
I opted to never finish the course, and because I was really interested in the computer endorsement and not the social studies license, I also never completed getting my teaching license (finished just 1 class and student teaching experience short). If he had just taken the time to read my code, I would have finished my degree in the school of ed and would very likely be working in a school today, but instead my transcript permanently has an I for that course and I was eventually able to get a job in IT, which is the field I still work in "a few" years later.

The way I'm reading this is that you, out of frustration and anger, elected not to adequately complete the assignment in the time allowed. Am I reading this wrong? How is this ultimately your professor's fault?

This is the exact point I was trying to make, unfair things happen in all facets of life. What is important is how you choose to deal with them. Take the angry, stubborn route and usually only one person suffers, you.
• Registered User Posts: 1,300 Senior Member
There are some really long responses that I haven't read fully, but I'm just going to parrot my parents. "Do it how your professors want, because they can grade however they want." If you didn't do it how he wanted, it's wrong. Just get over it and do it the way he would want next time.
This discussion has been closed.