Problem set

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A problem set, sometimes shortened as pset,[1] is a teaching tool used by many universities. Most courses in physics, math, engineering, chemistry, and computer science will give problem sets on a regular basis.[2] They can also appear in other subjects, such as economics.

It is essentially a list of several mildly difficult problems or exercises based on material already taught, which the student is expected to solve with a full written solution. There is no further research involved, and the goal is to learn and become familiar with the material and solving typical problems.[3][4] They are usually issued once every week or two weeks, and due one or two weeks later.[4][5] If used as part of a summative assessment they are usually given a low weight,[6] between 10% and 25% of the total mark of the course for all problem sets put together,[3][5] and sometimes will count for nothing if the student receives a better grade on the exam. Alternatively, problem sets may be used purely for formative assessment and do not count towards a degree.

Many students work in groups to solve them and help get a better understanding of the material,[6][7] but most professors require each student to hand in their own individual problem set. Some professors explicitly encourage collaboration,[5][6] some allow it, and some explicitly disallow it[3] or consider it cheating. Most, however, do not disallow collaboration, because they see the goal as primarily pedagogical.[6] This is to be distinguished from larger, more important assignments, for which students are still expected to work independently.

Collaboration on problem sets has caused controversy, including a media storm around a student of Ryerson University, Chris Avenir, who started a forum on the social networking site Facebook for others to post their solutions.[6][7] The professor failed him for his actions and recommended him for expulsion; the university faculty appeal committee overturned the recommended penalty and instead gave a zero grade for the assignments that were done through the course of the semester.[8]



  1. ^ "The Process of Psetting".
  2. ^ Curzan, Anne; Lisa Damour (2006). First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student's Guide to Teaching. University of Michigan Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-472-03188-0.
  3. ^ a b c Course Policy for a physics course at the University of Virginia Archived 2007-12-13 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b Caltech quantum mechanics course page Archived 2008-06-28 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c Ohio State University economics syllabus
  6. ^ a b c d e James Bradshaw (March 12, 2008). "Ryerson student cheered at expulsion hearing". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Louise Brown (March 6, 2008). "Student faces Facebook consequences". Toronto Star. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  8. ^ "T.O. student won't be expelled over Facebook group". CTV News. March 18, 2008. Retrieved June 10, 2008.