At the end of the semester, when stress reaches a high point, we teaching assistants tend to hear a lot of griping from our students. While undergrads have their complaints, we have ours too. To give you a sense of what your TAs are bitching most about, I asked TAs around campus to send me messages they had for undergrads — and received a flood of rants. Below are some things your TAs told me they want you to know before exams and grading:
• We have graded countless essays that were just dreadfully written, full of basic grammar mistakes and spelling errors that destroyed the good ideas the papers had. The problem seems to be that students believe they have to write in fancy language, with lots of big, impressive words. Unfortunately, they just come across as confused.
• Some of the instances of plagiarism we find are insulting to our intelligence. One student so blatantly pilfered from Wikipedia for the final paper that all that was missing from the paper was the hyperlinks to the other Wikipedia entries he had copy and pasted.
• Many of you think you should be rewarded for working really hard even if the end product isn’t all that great. You’re not entirely to blame for this; your parents were told the most important component of child rearing is building self-esteem. Unfortunately, our job is only to grade output, not effort.
• “I never get grades like this” is not a cogent argument for why we should change your grade.
• “But I wrote the required amount of pages” isn’t a legitimate grading concern, either.
• If you e-mail us at 4 a.m. before an 11 a.m. exam, do not get upset if we do not respond in time.
• You’re of voting age and at an Ivy League school; you should know how to study or cheat effectively by now.
Don’t get defensive if none of this applies to you. We know most of you know better than this. And even if these criticisms do apply to you, we were once in your shoes, so we get it. And we like you. We really do. Hence, TAs also offered advice for ending your courses with happy students as well as TAs:
• You will be wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. Accept that, and take some risks.
• Just calm down. Seriously. You’re freaking us out.
• If you are going to cheat, please don’t assume we are idiots. There are many disreputable web sites that will give you harder-to-trace material.
• TAs have finals too. Ours are harder and the stakes are higher. The more you bother us during this time period, the more pissed off you make us when we grade your papers.
• Focus on writing clearly, in words you understand, and get your papers proofread by someone with a working knowledge of spelling and grammar.
• If you ask your TAs nicely ahead of deadlines for help or clarification, most will be happy to oblige.
• If you need to memorize information quickly, use flash cards all the way — and perverse mnemonic devices. The dirtier or more outlandish, the better.
• A good night’s sleep is highly underrated.
• Everyone performs differently. Just because your roommate can cram the night before an exam and get an A+ doesn’t mean you can.
• We were in college too once. We know it’s possible to write a paper in one night while drunk and high and get an A on it. It’s probably not a good life strategy, but occasionally it works. It doesn’t really matter how long or hard you work on a final paper or study for a final exam, as long as you do well. Pick a study style that works for you.
Heidi khaled is a third-year graduate student from Huntington Beach, Calif. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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