The final exam will be on Tuesday 17 December 2013 (Beethoven’s birthday! Also William Safire’s.) from 8:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5). It will be given in the usual classroom, Humanities 1003. It will be cumulative; that is, it will potentially test you on any material covered throughout the course of the semester. You will be allowed to bring one 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper on which you’ve written theorems, examples, definitions, spaghetti alla puttanesca recipes, “Ryan Gosling” in a big heart, or whatever else you feel like. You will not be permitted to use a graphing calculator, but four-function and scientific calculators will be permitted.
As promised, the final exam is optional. If you choose not to take it, your first three exams will be worth 24%, 28%, and 28%, respectively, of your final grade. Homework is worth 20% of your final grade regardless of whether you take the final, and the lowest homework grade will be dropped. You can calculate your score and decide whether you’re happy with it. I won’t know what the cutoff for each letter grade will be until after the final exam is done and all the numerical grades calculated, but I can say that if you have a 93 or better you’ll have an A, 90-92 will be at least an A-, 87-89 at least a B+, 83-86 at least a B, 80-82 at least a B-, 77-79 at least a C+, 73-76 at least a C, 70-72 at least a C-, and 60-70 at least a D. Barring a spectacular class-wide performance on the third exam (which will be graded soon, by the way) and the final, those will not be the final cutoff marks. That is, you can probably get an A with a 90, a B+ with an 85, etc. I really don’t know, though, so I’m not going to promise anything.
If you do take the final, the weights are: exam one, 15%; exams two and three, 20% each; final exam, 25%. If you do better on your final exam I will weight it more heavily. For example, if you got a 45, 70, 75 on the first three exams and an 80 on the final I would probably do something like 10% first exam, 18% each of second and third exams, 34% final exam. I’m still figuring it out, since I want to be consistent for each student. Basically, just realize that the final is an opportunity to make up for poor performance on previous exams.
I will have office hours next week, probably on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. I’ll send out an email in a couple of days with details. I’ll also let you know about the distribution of the third exam grades. In the mean time, the best way to study is by redoing all the problems from the old exams and homework assignments, without the aid of your notes or textbook.
Let me tell you the story of how I fell in love with cheese. A few summers ago, I was travelling around Europe with a friend before our semesters abroad began. Her programs was in Rome, so we ended up there, but I had another week before I had to be in Madrid, so I had some time to gallivant about by myself. After a few days in Italy I took an overnight train to Bern, Switzerland, getting in around 6:30 a.m. The morning chill was a welcome respite from Rome’s 95-degree heat, and I put on a sweater over a shirt that I buttoned all the way up to the top. I was feeling good.
Unsurprisingly, nothing was open at that hour, so I just walked around for a while. The alpine air was a blessing after five days of Italian humidity. When I walked along the Aare River, it seemed somehow clearer than normal air, so that I felt as I had the first time I put on glasses and realized all I had not been seeing. I saw a beautiful woman coming towards me on the sidewalk. As she passed me she smiled and said “Bon style !” and I began to wonder how difficult it would be to become a Swiss citizen. I wandered some more until I reached a square where a market was materializing. I hadn’t had breakfast, but an array of samples drew me to the fromager’s table rather than the boulanger’s. I was going to buy some gorgonzola, but then I realized what a folly it would be not to try something new. So I had a bite of a semi-hard, raw cow’s-milk cheese called Mont Vully, named after the mountain in whose shadow it was made about thirty minutes away.
I don’t know if it was my mindset, or the setting, or if it was just a particularly good batch of cheese, but as I tasted the Mont Vully I began to feel inexplicably giddy, as if I were being let in on a tremendous secret, or getting away with something illegal. I’d had Roquefort before, but outside of blue cheeses I’d never experienced such an assertive flavor. It was assuredly a stinky cheese, but while assaultive to the nose it was divine on the tongue. I spoke briefly with the proprietor, and when my poor French reached its limit, I bought about half a pound of the revelatory Mont Vully and went on my way. That evening I went to Paris, where I slept at a hostel. I kept what was left of the cheese in my shared room, no doubt to the chagrin of my fellow-travelers and their sensitive nostrils. No matter, though. It made for a delightful breakfast.