CS 439: Policies and Grading

Grading and Course Mechanics

It is important for you to realize what grades in this class reflect and what they don't reflect. All we can grade you on is how well you demonstrate that you know the material this semester. We can't grade you on how much of a success you'll be after graduation, how smart/creative/persistent/self-motivated you are, or even how well you'll be able to apply the material in the future. And after all, it is what you do in the future, not what you do this semester, that's really important.

That said, grades will be determined as follows:

The course will be graded on a curve, with the score-to-letter-grade mapping determined by the instructor based on factors such as the difficulty of an assignment, the types of errors people are making, etc. During the semester, I will give rough estimates of where grade cut-offs lie, but these will be deliberately somewhat vague; if knowing where a cut-off is within a few points will affect how you study, you're worrying too much about grades and not enough about the material (Plus, it's a really bad idea to gauge your effort by what you think you need to make to get a particular letter grade). I want everyone in the class to do well, and if everyone masters the material and gets good marks, I will happily abandon the curve and give "extra" A's and B's. In particular, I guarantee that anyone who gets a grade of 90% or more of the total points will get an A, anyone with 80% or more will get at least a B, and anyone with 70% or more of the points will get at least a C.

I grade on a curve rather than an absolute scale because it protects students from stressing out if I happen to give an overly hard midterm or final. The downside of grading on a curve is that it tends to lead students to think they are competing against each other. In practice, this worry is misplaced. First, I will set grade cut-offs for each assignment to correspond to the quality of the work and depth of understanding reflected by each range of scores not by the number of students that make each range of scores. Second, note that the impact of any individual score on the overall class distribution is trivial -- for example someone making a 10% better grade on a midterm raises the class semester average by something like 0.1%.

Also, for this type of project students often stress about whether they will be penalized because their project may not be as elaborate as that of some of the other groups in the class. Again, this is not something to worry about. The project is hard enough without looking over your shoulder at other students. By and large, most students do quite well on the project -- the consequence is that the project has less effect than you might think on the curve. A warning, however: if you punt the project, you will fail the course.

Regrade policy

In some courses, the TAs and instructor have to spend a lot of time dealing with regrading appeals, time that would be better spent helping students learn the material. Absolutely come to us if we make an arithmetic error, but realize that a few points here and there are extremely unlikely to make any difference in your final grade. If you believe that we assigned too little credit for your work, you may submit your work for a regrade under the following restrictions. (1) All regrade requests must be submitted with a clear, written statement that explains why you believe the original grade was incorrect. (2) All requests for regrades must be submitted within 1 calendar week of when the graded work is returned. (3) We will regrade the entire exam, problem set, or project assignment, and if we were overly generous we will deduct points. Thus, you grade can go up or down on a regrade.

Late policy

No extensions will be given for completing the programming projects, except that each team will be allowed 5 flexible slip days for the projects. A team may divide their slip days across projects in any way they wish to extend deadlines for the projects. To help the TA track your slip-day status, the top of each project's README file or main-file-comment must include

Slip days will be tracked at the granularity of a day; if an assignment is 1 minute late, it is one day late.

Once you exhaust your slip days, each additional day (or portion of a day) late for an assignment will reduce your score on that assignment by 20% of the assignment's total points.

Exemptions of the above rules will be allowed in three cases:

  1. Illness, which has to be documented by a doctor and approved by the university.
  2. Death in the immediate family.
  3. Accommodation for students with disabilities as prescribed by the university.

No extensions will be given for any other reason, including participation in the Annual Elbonian Cultural Festival, death of a former president, a critical job interview or business trip, or a potluck lunch for the local chapter of a political party (yes, we have received such requests in the past). Use your slip days wisely.

A major part of the homeworks is to prepare for the weekly discussion section. Therefore, no late homeworks will be accepted, and you cannot use slip days for homeworks. That said, we know that life can get busy and unexpected things arise; therefore, we will drop your lowest two homework scores.

Cooperation and cheating

We encourage you to discuss the problem sets and programming assignments with your colleagues. We welcome discussions of possible interpretations of questions, solution approaches, and points of confusion. You are also welcome to use existing public libraries in your programming assignments (such as public classes for queues, trees, etc.) You may also look at operating systems code for public domain software such as Linux. Such activities qualify under approved collaboration practices and you are welcome to take advantage of them. You may not look at any course project material relating to any project similar to this course's class projects. For example, you may not look at the work done by a student in past years' courses, and you may not look at similar course projects at other universities.  If you are unsure about whether a particular source of external information is permitted, contact the instructor before looking at it.

Note that cooperation is not the same thing as cheating. You must understand and generate the solution, and you must not copy all or part of someone else's solution. The project assignments and exams must be the work of the student turning them in. Students who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties, including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. Because such dishonesty harms the individual, all students, and the integrity of the University, policies on scholastic dishonesty will be strictly enforced.

It is generally OK to verbally discuss the concepts needed to do projects assignments. These discussions should focus on overall approach and understanding, not the detailed answer to the specific problem. Three guidelines will help you keep on the right side of the line.

  1. First, other than the TA and instructor, it is never OK to look at the written work of another person or show another person your written work until after all grading on an assignment is completed. This includes looking at paper print-outs, sketching solutions on a white board or napkin, or looking at a screen to help debugging. It should go without saying that copying other people's code or solution sets is strictly prohibited.
  2. Second, while you are discussing an assignment with another student, you must not have a writing implement, keyboard, or recording device in hand. Similarly, you should not read from your own work. After discussing a problem with another student (or the TA!), go watch American Idol for a half hour before going back to work on the assignment. If you can't remember what the person said after a half hour, you didn't really understand it.
  3. Third, everyone in the class is expected to take appropriate measures for protecting one's work. For example, you should protect your files and printouts from unauthorized access.

Note that these guidelines are necessarily generalizations and can not account for all circumstances. Intellectual dishonesty can end your career, and it is your responsibility to stay on the right side of the line. If you are not sure about something, ask.

Class work

Besides twice-weekly lectures and twice-weekly lab/discussion sections, the class will consist of assigned readings, labs, homeworks, and exams.

Class meetings

You are required to attend class (both the regular lectures and the lab/discussion sections), and you are responsible for knowing or learning any material presented in class. If you must miss class, you are not required to inform the instructor, but you are responsible for learning any material you missed. The instructor posts detailed notes for each class on the course web site, but classes are interactive, so the actual discussion may depart from the notes. The best way to know what actually happened in a class is to be there and participate; if you must miss a class, you should study the notes carefully and perhaps talk to your colleagues about the technical topics discussed and their take on what points were particularly emphasized. Although attending class and participating in discussion is vital for learning the material and doing well on the assignments and exams, there is no explicit or separate "attendance" element used in computing your final grade.


There will be two midterms on the dates indicated on the class schedule. If you have a preexisting, important, and unresolvable conflict with a midterm, let the instructor know during the first two weeks of class, and, if appropriate, we will schedule a makeup for a time before the exam is given to the rest of the class.

The final will be at the place and time specified by the Registrar.

Unless stated otherwise, both the midterm and final exams will be closed book and will cover material from lectures, readings, problem sets, and projects.

Readings and Required Material

Readings will be as assigned in the schedule and announcements. You should complete the assigned readings before class.


Perhaps the most valuable part of this class will be the programming assignments. The projects will be done in two-person teams. The Friday discussion section will generally focus on discussing the projects. Further details about the projects will be covered here and in later handouts.


We will post a number of problem sets. The first half of Friday's discussion section will generally focus on discussing these homeworks. It is essential that you work on the problem sets before the discussion section in which they will be discussed both to maximize the benefit you get from the discussion and so that you can contribute to the discussion.

Each week we will provide a list of recommended problems (plus some additional practice problems.) You are encouraged to work on all of the recommended problems before the discussion section. In addition, we will divide the recommended problems into a few problem groups, and assign each student in the class responsibility to focus extra attention on one of the problem groups. For the problem group assigned to you, you (1) should be prepared to lead the discussion of that problem during the discussion section and (2) must turn in your written solution to that problem group to the TA before the discussion section begins.


The homework problems assigned to you are always due Friday before your discussion section begins.

We are planning to grade homeworks on a "OK/Not-OK" basis, where "OK" means that you made a credible effort to solve the problem (even if you make a mistake.) We reserve the right to grade for correctness as well.

Although you are required to turn in only a subset of the recommended problems, all of the recommended problems are "required" in that we expect you to do them and that we believe they will be important for understanding the material and for doing well on the exams. Of course, the lack of an actual grade or a deadline for completing these problems may be an invitation for procrastination or even ignoring this process altogether. But we trust that you will find this a useful aspect of the class and we strongly urge you to take advantage of it. To make effective use of this feature, complete the sets by the specified deadline. Delaying the problem sets with the intent of accumulating them and solving them at once before the exams is not an effective strategy.

Announcements, questions, and discussion

We will communicate with the class via email (using the address on file at https://courses.utexas.edu), via the web page, and via piazza.

For questions about the projects, homeworks, exams, and class, please use piazza rather than emailing questions to the instructors. This will help us track them and make sure they get answered. (When necessary, you can tag questions as "private" if you only want the instructors to see it.)

You are responsible for checking your email and piazza every 24 hours and the web page at least weekly.

Additional policies and expectations

Accommodations for students with disabilities. The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic adjustments for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259.

Department code of conduct The department's code of conduct outlines what is expected of you and what you can expect from classes in the CS

Prerequisite: Computer Science 429 or 429H with a grade of at least C-. 439H also requires consent of the honors director.

Last updated: Wed Jan 18 07:18:44 -0600 2012 [validate xhtml]