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Poorly-phrased quiz/test questions

edited 2013-02-04 12:39:56 in Meatspace
a little muffled

And, more specifically, losing marks due to taking a perfectly reasonable interpretation of a question's wording that wasn't the intended one.

For example, the following question is from a linear algebra quiz I had recently:

For vectors u and v in R^n, scalar multiplication takes u and v to another vector in R^n.

I'm curious as to how other people here familiar with the subject matter would've answered.


  • edited 2013-02-04 14:09:16

    That is not a question, that is a statement.

    An incorrect one too, since scalar multiplication takes a scalar and a vector, not two vectors.

    So, um... my answer would be "false"?  Is that an option?

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    What's scalar multiplication?  Wikipedia says it's different from dot product, which is what I thought it was.

  • edited 2013-02-04 14:15:55

    Scalar multiplication is just multiplying a vector by a scalar.  Basically, you just multiply each element of the vector by whatever the scalar is.   (I actually had to look that up too though, embarrassingly, since I also thought it meant dot product at first)  Or I guess it could also be some other operation that satisfies the same properties, probably, but at least that would be the common one.

  • a little muffled

    @DYRE: Yes, sorry, my original post said "true/false question" rather than simply "question" except that then I changed the wording around and that didn't end up in there.

    Anyway, this...

    An incorrect one too, since scalar multiplication takes a scalar and a vector, not two vectors.
    ...was the same answer and the same logic that I had.

    But apparently that was wrong, because they actually meant "linear combination" when they said "scalar multiplication". Despite the term not having once been used with that meaning in the course previously. And clearly, it is my fault (along with half the students in my tutorial) for not being able to somehow figure that out.

    I and another student managed to convince my TA to convince the prof to overturn one of the other marks I lost on that quiz (another true/false, the statement was something like was something like "[x1, x2] is always not equal to [x2, x1]" which was supposed to be true because apparently whoever wrote the question just "forgot" to mention that x1 does not equal x2) but the guns were stuck to on this one.

    I am not looking forward to the midterm for this class.

  • BeeBee
    edited 2013-02-04 15:44:22

    I'd just walk up and ask the TA or prof "do you mean dot product or actually multiplying in a scalar?"  Typically a prof would tell me and then clarify it for the whole class, and a TA would have no idea on account of not being psychic but the good ones would take a note to recommend that the prof drop that question due to ambiguity.

    It also helped that most of those classes either didn't use scantrons at all, or let you turn in the test sheet as well with written notes.  In lower level classes I'd typically be grading the exam itself as much as I got graded for the answers, and they'd usually take note in all but the most egregious scam classes (the 8th-grade level health class that they shunted all students through, made you buy $150 of materials, and specifically shot for a 60% pass rate).

  • edited 2013-02-04 15:58:25
    a little muffled

    The thing is it's still false if they mean dot product. It's only true if they mean something that has never before in the history of time been referred to as "scalar multiplication". This was the first quiz and I didn't even consider the ambiguity.

    On the midterm, yes, I will certainly ask for clarification on anything I'm the slightest bit unsure of because clearly trusting my intuition is a bad idea.

    The prof isn't a native English speaker so that probably has something to do with it. Still.

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