Is this the smartest — or CRUELEST — extra credit question ever offered?

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A good professor can challenge their students, while at the same time teaching them that life ain't always fair.

Since 2008, a University of Maryland professor has asked his students if they want extra credit on their final paper. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Well, it's not.

In what's a sort of a social experiment for the classroom, the teacher proposes this offer for extra credit on the final paper:

Here you have the opportunity to earn some extra credit on your final paper grade. Select whether you want 2 points of 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there's a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points. Your responses will be anonymous to the rest of the class, only I will see the responses.

So basically, if the individual acts good for the group, everyone gets extra credit. However, if enough students act selfishly -- or smartly, some might argue -- no one benefits. Greed trumps good. The Tragedy of the Commons.

Students were quick to notice how well-crafted the question really is.

Professor Dylan Selterman is the mind behind the madness, Seventeen Magazine reports.  Selterman told Seventeen that he has conducted the exercise in every class he has taught since 2008, and only one class has ever gotten the two extra credit points. Hinting, perhaps, that at least a small fraction of society is always a tad selfish.

Selterman said he chose 10 percent of the class because it seems like a reasonable cutoff. He said the question is just for fun, and he doesn't monitor the results with any consistency to use later for research.

"I don't keep (publish) the results," Selterman said.

We wish we were surprised that most are too tempted by the selfish six points to do what's good for the group.

But people have been doing this kind of thing since the dawn of time. Well, some people.

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11 comments

  • d_2

    Hilarious! Certainly speaks to the well documented ‘selfish’ ways of folks these days. Doesn’t anyone have any morals anymore?

  • The World is Ending

    The question is not good or bad, right or wrong, it is just a question, I would have got zero, because I would have selected 6 points and Took a Gamble that enough would have selected 2 points, so I would say it is a question of how many gamblers are in the class.

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  • Peta

    So, am I the only one that it bothers…. the fact that the person reading the extra point descriptive was not even reading it correctly?

  • Peta

    I would have chosen 2 – Simply because I would have trusted I would pass and not need the extra points. Also, 2 is better than none! :-)

  • Kin

    The correct answer is 6 points always… the class should be curved so what’s the point if the whole class gets 2 point each. If the whole class gets 0 points then its fine, noone is getting any extra credit it should be balanced. The person deserving 4.0 gpa will get 4.0 gpa. If for some reason majority does 2 point and less than 10% gets 6 points then it tips the scale to whoever deciding to take the risk to get an advantage they shouldn’t have. So I will always choose 6 points not because i’m selfish or greedy because its the logical thing to do. There is no incentive to choose 2 points.

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