This is an archived page from the Fall 2021 version of the course.
For the latest version, see

Notes on Final Grades

We understand that there is a lot of confusion about the way grading was done for this class, so want to provide more explanation of how we do the grading and why. The main explanation of final grading is what was provided on the syllabus:

Final Grade Determination. The final grade in the course will be determined by combining the cohort grade and the final exam grade with both counting substantially. In most cases, we expect the cohort and exam grades will be consistent and provide clear evidence supporting the grade a student has earned in the course. In cases where they are inconsistent, we will consider a student’s performance through the course in more detail including the detailed feedback provided from the cohort meetings, and view signs of improvement throughout the semester positively. In cases where a student’s grade is not clear based on their cohort assessments, we will provide option for students to request an oral final exam to be scheduled with one of the instructors during the exam period.

This is what we followed, but we should have communicated more details on what this means since it is different from the grading systems most of you are accustomed to, and we can see why students find the description there too vague to understand what we actually did.

There is a tradeoff between having a simple and transparent grading system, and having a flexible and complex one. Many students seem to think there is a simple, but secret, formula we use that takes your recorded grades as inputs and outputs a final letter grade (leading to questions like “what is the weighting of the exam?”). We don’t have any such formula, and believe there is no way to have such a grading system without it being arbitrary and misguided. Instead, we analyze all the information we have in many different ways, and see if they justify a particular outcome.

Because we have two professors for this class, we can also do this at a higher level, which is what we did for determining final grades. This meant that both professors used the raw information we have recorded for each student, and determined our own ways of analyzing it to generate proposed grades. For Dave, this included looking at just cohort grades, just the final exam, a equal (normalized) combination of both, as well as the trends over the semester in the cohort grades and peer evaluation scores. For Nate, this included looking at weightings where cohort was 80% and final was 20%, where cohort grades were 60% and final was 40%, and considering peer evaluations submitted and scores. Then, we combined our independently produced grade proposals. If we determined the same exact grade for a student, we made that the proposed final grade. For all the cases where we determined different grades, we discussed the student and settled on an agreed grade by looking at all factors available to us, and comparing the student’s record to others where we agreed. After this, we sorted all the students based on two different methods to look for any anomalies, and made adjustments that seemed justified.

This resulted in the expected final grades. You had the opportunity on your final to indicate your minimum expected grade, and students who indicated a higher grade than the final grade we determined have been given an opportunity to do an oral exam (this applied to 27 out of 247 students). We also offered oral exam opportunities to students who left the minimum grade box blank on the final, but where there was a large disconnect between their cohort grades and their final exam grade (this applied to 10 students). For everyone else, the cohort and final exams were consistent enough that we felt comfortable assigning a grade based on whichever one was higher (with adjustments for community score).

We should also explain a bit about the final exam exemptions. No one should have expected an exemption on the final exam, and it was expected from the syllabus that everyone would have to take the final. Exemptions were granted to students where we felt we had an abundance of evidence that they had gotten what we wanted from the class and deserved an A grade without needing to provide more evidence by taking the final. As with the final grades, the two professors independently decided on a list of students to grant exemptions (as with the final grades, these were not based on a simple formula on your cohort points, but took various other factors into account), and then met to reconcile these lists to find a consensus list of less than 30% of students in the course who we felt had already done enough for us to be convinced they deserved an A in the class.

Granting exemptions has benefits to the students getting them, of course, since they can use the three hours scheduled for the final to cook pancakes, hike in the woods, or catch up on sleep, but also benefits all the other students in the class by making the exam room for the final less crowded, and enabling the course staff to spend more time grading each exam.

There are two kinds of errors in granting exemptions - false positives, where a student who doesn’t really deserve an A in the class is granted an exemption, and false negatives, where a student who might be as worthy of an exemption as a student who was granted one is not granted an exemption. We tried to avoid false positives by having a fairly high criteria for exemptions, so most likely have many false negatives, but the consequences of a false negative should be fairly low - if a student understood the course material well enough to deserve an exemption, the final should not be a painful experience for them, and they should do well on it. There were 60 students who didn’t get exemptions on the final who ended up with A grades after taking the final, so potentially most of those students are “false negatives” who should have gotten exemptions if we could have been more clairvoyant in granting exemptions.

For students who wish to have their final exams returned to them, Prof. Brunelle has all exams in his office (Rice 209). He will be in his office at least between 10:30am and 3pm tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 13). (We may be able to offer some more times for picking up exams, and will post these on Discord when they are scheduled.)

Final Preview Posted

A preview of the final exam is posted: Final Preview.

We don’t want anyone to be surprised by what is on the exam, or not read the instructions carefully because you are in a stressful exam setting, so we encourage you to read the exam preview now. (This doesn’t include the full questions, of course, since we still want to see you demonstrate the ability to solve problems on your own during the exam.)

Final Peer Eval Posted

Hello students, your final peer evaluation is now available. This is due on Saturday, December 11 at noon. You can find instructions and a link to the evaluation itself here.

Practice Final Comments

To help you prepare for the final exam, we have posted some comments on the practice exam: Practice Final Comments.

Before looking at our comments and hints, though, you should try the Practice Final yourself.

As a reminder, for the final you will be allowed one page (front and back) of reference notes to use. You may work with others to prepare your notes.

December 1 Slides

Here are the slides from 1 December: cs3102f21-dec1.pdf

Project Omega Submission

Here’s the form to use to submit your Week Omega Project:

Project Omega Submission Form

Practice Final Posted

The final exam is scheduled (by the registrar) for Friday, 10 December, 2-5pm in our lecture classroom.

To help you prepare for the final exam, we have posted a practice exam: practice final.

This practice final is intended to give you an idea of the variety of question styles, question difficulty, and length that you can expect on the actual exam.

Based on what you have learned in cs3102 this semester, you should be able to answer all of the questions in the practice exam well (and if you can do this, you should expect to get an A on the final). Specific topics present, topic prevalence, and point breakdown may be different for the final exam, but it will include similar types of questions and like the practice exam will focus on evaluating your understanding of the most important concepts in the course.

For the real final you will be allowed one page (front and back) of reference notes to use. We recommend that you try your best to mimic the real exam experience for this practice exam. That means we recommend that you study before the exam, make a reference sheet, and then allocate 3 hours of time to complete the exam.

After you have done this, feel free to ask others (including the course staff) for help on any questions. We will discuss some of the problems in class (and may post written solutions to them).

Enjoy and happy studying!

Nate and Dave

Week Omega Posted

The guide and materials for Week Omega is now posted - see the Week Omega page for the details. Note that the schedule for Monday and Tuesday cohorts changes so you don’t need to have preparation meetings over the Thanksgiving holiday. Week Ω is different — there will be an assessed cohort meeting in which you present and answer questions about your project, and have an opportunity to discuss any concepts you want help with in preparing for the final exam.

Our last class will be Monday, 6 December, which will help prepare you for the final exam. The final exam is Friday, 10 December, in the usual classroom, 2-5pm.

Happy Thanksgiving!

End of Semester Schedule

As we approach the end of the semester I would first like to congratulate everyone on a job well done so far! It’s been quite a strange semester with coming back to in-person classes (or for many of you taking in-person classes at UVA for the first time), and you have all handled the uncertainty exceptionally well. We are very proud of what you’ve acheived and we hope that you are proud of yourselves as well.

The last few weeks of the semester will look different from our typical pattern. We summarize the remainin schedule below:

  • Week 12: Week 12 is the last week which will introduce new material and the Week 12 Writeup will be the last writeup you are doing this semester.
  • Week 13: There will be no prep or assessed cohort meetings for Week 13. Instead, for Week 13 we will provide practice problems and a practice exam for you to complete on your own time. You do not need to turn those in, but we hope you will complete the problems as if it was a real exam. This means studying in advance, drafting a 1-page (front and back) “cheat-sheet” of notes to use on the exam (you will be allowed one during the real final), and setting aside a 3 hour window to attempt the exam. After this we encourage you to discuss your solutions with class-mates. We will post and announcement when the practice is available.
  • Week 14: There will not be videos or a problem set associated with Week 14. Instead, we will ask you to complete a mini-project related to the course. The time we’re expecting you to spend on this project should be commensurate with the time you would normally spend watching videos, doing readings, and working on problem sets. You will have prep and assessed cohort meetings for this week where you will discuss and present your projects. We’ll elaborate more details when the Week 14 guide is posted.
    • Important note for Cohorts that meet Sunday+Monday and Saturday+Tuesday! Since your prep meetings would normally meet over the Thanksgiving break, your week 14 will be delayed by 1 week, so your prep meetings will happen on Dec 4 or 5 and your assessed meetings will happen on Dec 6 or 7. Let us know if this presents a problem for you.

Lecture time for the remaining 2 weeks will primarily be review time. We’ll go over problems from start to finish, remind you of important concepts, etc. Please let us know if there’s something in particular you would like for us to cover again and we’ll be happy to. We will likely bring up some new topics exclusively for providing more modern context of course topics, but no new material will show up on the final exam. This should be a good time to reflect on the course and what we’ve learned, so we encourage people to show up. We will provide snacks for all future course meetings (starting 11/22).

Thanks everyone for all of your hard work,
Nathan and Dave

Dealing with Hard Problems

Slides used in 17 November class on intractable problems: nov17.pdf