Yes, And...

This winter session I'll be teaching College Algebra, which I rarely do (once a year or less). Students are definitely sharper than in remedial algebra classes, which is a delight, but they're also more honed into "playing the game" of grades for their own sake. That is to say: I get more incessant "will this be on the test?" cries than I do in other classes.

One thing I'm doing new this semester is to give open-response tests (not multiple-choice), so that I have the option on grading issues of correct writing format and the like. Or really anything else that comes up as an issue. (As a counter-balance, I'll be giving tests with fewer but more complex questions.)

But in conjunction with that, I'm mentally prepping to to try to answer those inquiries with a "Yes, but more importantly..." response. Like: Q: "Will our writing be graded on the test?" A: "Yes, but more importantly, that's how you communicate math to other people, and it's what you should be prepared to read in a math book on your own." Or Q: "Will graphs be on the test?" A: "Yes, but more importantly, it's the faster way to estimate or double-check any answer and avoid mistakes." So it gets the somewhat irritating question out of the way in the first word, and more importantly, it explains why that's really of secondary importance at best. Kind of like in improvisational comedy where you're supposed to respond to any creativity on your partner's part with "Yes, and..." ("and" being logically equivalent to "but", of course).

Do you have any clever ways of dealing with cries of "Will this be on the test?


  1. Personally, i wouldn't answer questions like that with a yes or no. I might say, "you can assume if we discuss it in class that it could be on a test".

    I always found it annoying when professors would indulge students by answering those questions, when it was obvious to me that they planned to ignore it if it wasn't on the exam.

    I had one professor who had a clever way of marking things that wouldn't be on the exam. He would say, "Just as an aside.." and then go into a bit of history or trivia.

    1. It's certainly a frustrating thing to deal with. Part of my intention here is to dispose of the question in a single syllable (that's all it's worth, really). One thing I did last time was to say, "good point, now I'll add it" and go home and immediately add it to the next (online) quiz. But at least one student was sufficiently slow that she never picked up on it, even when the rest of the class was trying to shush her.

  2. I generally say, "everything will be on the test," because it's true - students are permitted to choose a certain number of the test questions to answer. But it does freak out the ones who haven't been paying attention when I talk about how my tests are structured.