Phil 32 Quiz FAQ


For every lecture in which there is assigned reading (except on the days when the essays are due) there will be a very short reading quiz, usually two or three questions, posted on the course website. Five times during the quarter, these quizzes will be turned in for credit. On these days, the first 5-10 minutes of class will be devoted to taking the quiz. Students may opt to complete the quiz before class; alternately, I will have blank copies of the quiz for those who have not already written out their answers. The quizzes will be open-notes, but closed-book. Students must be in class, at the beginning of class, in order to get credit for the quizzes; there will be no make-ups.

How difficult will these quizzes be?

Not very. Students who spend some time doing the reading carefully should not have too much trouble with them. The quizzes will focus on the main concepts and arguments from the reading, and I will not in general be asking about minor details or esoterica. That being said, merely skimming the readings will not, typically, be sufficient to do well on the quizzes.

What sort of answers are you looking for?

Short ones. Like 50-100 words. If you have reasonably sized handwriting, all answers should fit on one side of a sheet of paper.

Is it okay to read the questions before I do the reading?

Yes, and this is highly encouraged. Although the quizzes will by no means cover everything of importance in each reading, my hope is that the questions will draw the reader’s attention to certain key points in the text, and thereby help orient the reader as she works through the material. If the reader approaches the text with a set of questions that she wants answered, this will encourage active reading, which is more productive than passive reading, and, if you ask me, more satisfying. (One option would be to print or write out the questions ahead of time so that you are not tied to your computer while you read.)

When will the quiz questions be posted?

At least one week in advance, but typically before then.

Why are you doing this to us???

It is impossible to learn philosophy well without investing a great deal of effort in careful reading. By attending lectures without having read the material ahead of time, a careful listener will probably be able to get many of the main ideas, and even explain them in general terms to others. But it will not be possible to acquire the sophistication, subtlety and nuance of robust, deep philosophical understanding by mere passive listening. For this one needs an active engagement with the text, sentence-by-sentence, where the reader questions the writer, asks after their motives and reasons, and makes a considered judgment about the writer’s claims. Ideally, one will then get a great deal more out of the lectures, because the student will not be hearing the ideas for the first time, will know what to expect, and can make more connections and associations between the ideas discussed.

I don’t know, this all seems kind of paternalistic. How are you going to lecture us on the intellectual freedom necessary for the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment when you won’t even let us choose for ourselves how and when to do the readings?

Good question. Maybe there is a tiny bit of paternalism at work here, but it really is exercised without malice and with only the best of intentions, I promise. If there’s one thing we can learn from modern economic theory, it’s that a great deal of human behavior can be explained and predicted by appeal to what sorts of incentives are (or are not) in place to encourage (or discourage) that behavior. By making the quizzes worth 15% of the couse grade, I hope to provide some extra incentive to students to keep up with the readings and keep coming to class.

Come on, can’t you cut us some slack?

Okay, sure. I realize that things can come up unexpectedly now and then, and that it might just be a matter of luck that the student who misses lecture only once during the quarter happens to miss on the day the quizzes are collected. So let’s say that out of the 5 quizzes I collect through the quarter, I will only count each student’s best 3. (Each quiz will be worth 10 points; the quiz component of the course grade will be 30 points.)

Keep in mind though that the reason for dropping the two lowest grades is to take into account the fact that sometimes people get sick, or a tire explodes on the way to campus, or the dog swallows something he shouldn’t have and has to make an emergency trip to the vet. Since these contingencies are already factored in, the “no make-ups” rule is non-negotiable.

Any other hints or suggestions?

Sometimes the quiz questions will require you to do a bit of intelligent inferring about what the author is getting at, but the questions will always have direct and relatively specific answers. Further, I will try to make it a rule that the order in which the questions are listed corresponds to the order in which the answers can be found in the reading. So if you’re absolutely certain you’ve found the answer to question 2 before question 1, you might want to look back at what you’ve already read for the answer to the first question.

Also, feel free to email me or talk to me in office hours about the quiz questions if you run into any trouble with them. Although I won’t tell you outright the answers before they’re due, I’ll be more than happy to give you all the information you’ll need to find the answer.