The final exam game

Final examYou are taking a college course. Near the end of the semester, the professor reminds the class that the final exam is worth 100 points and is scheduled for the day and time specified by the University. The professor then says there are two options for the final exam.

Option 1 is a regular final exam–the kind you are accustomed to having. You come to class on the day and time of the exam and take the test. Whatever score you get on the exam will be your final exam grade.

Option 2 is the following “final exam game”: If no one shows up to class on the day and time of the exam, then everyone in the class will receive a 90 on the test (out of 100 points). However, if any students show up on the day and time of the final exam, then they will take the test and the score they receive will be their final exam grade. However, anyone who did not show up will receive a 0 on the final because they did not come to class to take the exam.

The professor says he will only allow option 2 (“final exam game”) if 100% of the class agrees to proposal. If even one student chooses option 1, then the class will have a regular final exam (option 1).

So, as a student in the class, do you choose option 1 or option 2? Does it matter how many students are taking the class? If you like the idea of not having to take a final exam, and if you have an opportunity to talk with others in the class, then how do you convince everyone to select option 2?

Incidentally, there is at least one strategy for convincing the class that option 2 is not risky, and it doesn’t involve coercion or threats of violence.


Author: Harvey James

Professor, Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Missouri Editor-in-chief, Agriculture and Human Values

7 thoughts on “The final exam game”

  1. I’d vote for option 2. Assuming it’s adopted by 100% of the class, I’d then hedge my bet by loitering near the classroom at the appointed exam time, and step in to take the exam only if at least one other student does.

    To convince classmates that there’s no risk, I’d encourage them all to use the same hedge – everybody agrees not to enter the classroom for the exam, but all show up to confirm that nobody else does.

    I’m guessing you have a more elegant strategy that does not require the whole class to monitor each other.


    1. Interesting idea. I worry about the potential for aggression if a student wants to go into the classroom. Don’t want that.


  2. Great question. One of my fellow econ classmates is dealing with this issue right now! He was able to get 90% of his class onboard for “The Final Game” but the other 10% felt that they had a moral commitment to take the exam since they had registered for the class and felt like it was their duty as students. What’s interesting is that it is an econ class and they have all taken classes on game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Their attempt was based on everyone showing up to the exam on time and turning them all in blank together and the professor agreed to it publicly so everyone knew about it. It covers the peer to peer monitoring but apparently it wasn’t enough to cover people’s ethical views of it. But I am interested to hear your approach.


    1. One-hundred percent of students in my class has to agree to play the game before I will allow it. They are voting on it now. I gave time in class for them to discuss strategies for reducing if not eliminating the risk that someone will defect if they actually play the game. They brainstormed. I know a relatively easy solution to the problem, which one student hinted at, but the class didn’t seem to pick up on it. Mine is an ethics class. I wonder if that will make a difference …


      1. I agree that eliminating the likelihood of violence is essential, and I see how my solution of everyone monitoring each other on the day of the final could draw an aggressive, or at least threatening, response by one or more students if any student does enter to take the exam.

        I’d love to hear your relatively easy solution to the problem. And I have a follow-up question – would your solution work as well to eliminate risk in a situation where students take the exam in a testing center at any time over a period of a couple of days, as many exams are handled at BYU, rather than coming to class?


      2. Easy solution. Plan to have a party at someone’s place, say 30 min before the start of the exam, with assignments to everyone to bring something. If everyone shows up, you have a party and no one is at the exam. If one or more don’t show up, then everyone walks to the party (perhaps sulking), and takes the exam. If those who didn’t show up as agreed to party in fact were not at the exam, then they paid for their mistake by getting a zero on the test. Call it justice.


  3. That is a far more elegant solution than mine, as it allows classmates to monitor each other with a much lower likelihood of aggression. Plus it comes with food – always a plus!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s