How to Prevent Students from Asking if They Can Make Up an Assignment

How can we painlessly mitigate one of the most annoying questions we get asked?

I know the syllabus says no late work is accepted for any reason, but have you ever made an exception?

I went on a trip/I got sick/My car broke down/My dog’s fourth-cousin once removed passed away recently/The line at Starbucks was really long/I didn’t hear my alarm/I had to take my little sister to see Santa but I forgot that it’s January and Christmas is over/ad infinitum

– Every student ever

It doesn’t hurt to ask, or so says our culture (at least in the U.S.A.). Generally, that is pretty good advice. I mean, it’s actually pretty good advice. The worst that could happen is that the professor says no.

Okay, I’ll admit that I can’t actually stop your students from asking if they can make up an assignment they missed (This is a problem for me because I’m still finding my courage to be disliked). But I have devised a system where I can provide leniency when necessary while remaining fair to all the other students, and not having to reopen closed assignments. I’ve had to pull my hair out way less frequently (which is good, because I don’t have a lot of hair to spare, especially in the front).

The Fabulous Four

1. Interpersonal Communication

Students are allowed three missed hours of class in my courses before it hurts their interpersonal communication grade. I need them to be present in order to evaluate their interpersonal communication, but I also understand that college students get sick, have emergencies, and occasionally need a mental health day. Missing a total of three days throughout the term isn’t going to impact their overall acquisition in any meaningful way.

Students email me all the time at the beginning of the quarter worrying about missing class and how it will affect their grade (it’s always about the grade, isn’t it?). I respond in three sentences that I don’t even have to think about. 

Hello, [language learner].

Oh no, [being sick] is never fun! You can miss up to three class periods before you begin to lose interpersonal communication points. Make sure you get any notes on what you missed from a classmate when you get back.

All my best,

Prof. Snider

2. Listening Quizzes

I give listening quizzes once per story that we tell. Throughout a term there are anywhere between 8-10 listening quizzes. It is inevitable that students will miss these, and they can be a huge pain in the butt to manage if you’re not careful.

My solution is to drop the lowest score from the gradebook (mine does this automatically!).

Billy: I missed class yesterday because I had the flu.

Me: Oh no! That’s terrible! I hate being sick!

Billy: I heard we had a listening quiz… Would I be able to make that up?

Me: Unfortunately, there are no make ups on listening quizzes, but I have good news! The lowest listening quiz score is automatically dropped.

Billy: Oh, okay. Thanks!

*Three weeks later*

Billy: I missed class yesterday because my cat had the sniffles.

Me: Oh no! That’s terrible! I hate being sick! 

Billy: I heard we had a listening quiz… Would I be able to make that up?

Me: Unfortunately, there are no make ups on listening quizzes, but I have good news! The lowest listening quiz score is automatically dropped.

Billy: Oh, okay. Thanks.

3. Timed Writes

Learners in my class do a timed write for every story we co-create. That means they have approximately 8-10 opportunities to miss a timed write. Same solution as the listening quiz. Drop the lowest score, and stay true to your word. You are giving flexibility to each and every student (which many of them need). You are also being fair to all the other students

4. Everything Else

No assignment in my class can be made up after the fact, but I will work with students if they know they are going to miss a quiz or a test beforehand and they communicate that for me. I tell them this up front and I keep my word. I highly value communication de antemano.

Conclusion

Dropping the lowest score in a given category is the easiest thing I have ever done to mitigate one of the most annoying questions we professors face (i.e. Will you make an exception even though the syllabus says no exceptions?). Now I show my students empathy and flexibility, but I also stay true to my word and don’t accept late work for any reason.

Better than aspirin for curing headaches.

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