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FI 302 Doesn’t Have to be so Intimidating

Before I begin, I want to preface what I'm about to say with this following:

Dr. Downs is a brilliant man and, while his course may be "overly" complicated in the eyes of many, he probably doesn't realize how complicated his course is to those who are not at his level. In his defense, I will also say that -- from the perspective of an instructor/lab instructor -- many of the things that Dr. Downs has done in order to make his course SEEMINGLY more complicated have actually made the course easier to navigate and teach. Unfortunately for the students who are taking -- or have already taken -- FI 302, many of the improvements that he has made to FI 302 have simply made the course overwhelmingly complex. If Dr. Downs were to teach several finance courses, then the time that students (students who are majoring in Finance) spent investing in learning how he structures his courses (e.g., the grading system) would be time well-spent, but as things stand at the moment, most students will only have him as an instructor for one course, so many students find that it's just not worth it to invest the time to know exactly what's going on in FI 302.

Note: The following post is long, but that is an artifact of the course being complicated, not my inability to "cut to the chase."

Now, onto the point at hand ...

For many reasons, students in UA’s Business School fear the dreaded FI 302 course taught by Dr. Downs. Not only is the material in the class difficult to grasp, but the course is structured in such a complicated manner that students often times feel overwhelmed. Indeed, FI 302 has a complicated 7-page syllabus (and even a supplemental syllabus) and the grading system is so complex that the overwhelming majority of students aren’t even sure how their grade is calculated. In fact, the majority of the lab instructors aren’t even sure exactly how a student’s grade is calculated – they only have a general idea of how the grade is calculated (you can’t really blame them, since they are Master’s and PhD students who have better things to do with their time than to invest it in something that is not going to matter to them in the future). I know that to be the case, because when I was a FI 302 lab instructor, other lab instructors often times asked me questions about Dr. Downs’s grading system, since they knew that I actually took the time to deconstruct it.

One need look no further than Dr. Downs’s course website for evidence that FI 302 is an incredibly complicated course. On his website, Dr. Downs has a 22-minute video explaining his syllabus and an 8-minute video explaining how one’s grade is determined [edit: Dr. Downs now has a video on his website (http://bama.ua.edu/~fi302/syllabuscollection.html) titled "How to pass fi302" (http://bama.ua.edu/~fi302/HowToPassFi302.wmv) that he made in response to this very blog post].

Making matters more complicated is the fact that there are 3 versions of FI 302:

1. The traditional, in-class, version. I don’t recommend this version, unless you're taking it in the summer, as Dr. Downs's lectures aren't quite as relevant to the material that is covered on the exams as many students would like. That said, Dr. Downs's lectures are very informing and, while you may not enjoy attending his class at the time that you're attending a lecture, years from now, you will be glad that you learned a great deal about finance because what he teaches you in his class will be of tremendous help to you when it comes to planning for your future, in terms of your personal finances and wealth.

2. The online version. This version is okay; however, students are not given bonus points for attendance.

3. The hybrid version. This is, in my opinion, the most advantageous version for the majority students.

As for Dr. Downs’s grading system, at the time of this post, a student’s grade is computed as follows:

Exam 1 – 17.50%

Exam 2 – 17.50%

Exam 3 – 17.50%

Exam 4 – 17.50%

Wildcard (Best Exam) – 10%

Quizzes – 10%

Trading Game – 10%

Students are also given a timeliness factor of .50% – added (or subtracted) to the final course grade – for each of the first three exams that are taken by a specified date (for a total of +/-1.50%). For students who are enrolled in the online version of FI 302, there is no penalty for lack of timeliness, but a student can still earn 1.50% for timeliness. In other words, if a student submits all of the first three exams by the timeliness deadline, then he will receive an extra 1.50% added to his final grade (for all versions of the course). If, however, a student submits none of the first three exams by the timeliness deadline, he will have 1.50% subtracted from his final grade, unless that student is enrolled in the online version of the class. If a student who is enrolled in the online version of the course does not submit any of the first three exams by the timeliness deadline, then he will have nothing added or subtracted to his grade.

In addition to the timeliness factor, for students who are enrolled in the traditional or hybrid version with 2 or fewer lab absences, a bonus of 1.50% is added to the final grade, with a deduction of .75% for each absence after that, with a maximum deduction of 1.50% (students enrolled in the traditional version can also earn an extra 1.50% attendance bonus).

Currently the A-/C- cutoff points for each exam are:

Exam 1 – 84/55 (115 points possible)

Exam 2 – 92/62 (115 points possible)

Exam 3 – 86/58 (117 points possible)

Exam 4 – 94/68 (119 points possible)

Thus, one must score 55 points on Exam 1 in order to earn a 70.  How many 5-point problems do you need to know in order to score a 70 on Exam 1?  Answer:  8.

If you know how to do 8 of the 5-point problems and you guess on the remaining 17 problems, you should end up with an after-curve score of 70 on Exam 1 (40 points from studying and 15 points from guessing [note that not all of the 25 problems are worth 5 points]). In case, you’re curious, for Exams 2, 3, and 4, you should know 10, 9, and 11 5-point problems, respectively, in order to earn a 70% on each exam.

You might think that it's risky to guess on so many problems, but if you consider that you are allowed to take each exam 4 times (3 eLearning exams plus one paper exam), you are very unlikely to be a bad guesser on 4 consecutive occasions (since your highest score is what counts, you only have to be an average or good guesser one time).

I taught my students the guessing strategy when I was a FI 302 instructor and they absolutely loved it.

In summary, FI 302 doesn’t have to be a difficult course. Not only that, but an experienced tutor can help you navigate your way through the course with as little effort on your part as possible. FI 302 is truly a case in which a tutor who charges a higher hourly rate could actually save you money in the end.

In a follow-up post, I will show you how to utilize the guessing strategy in order to obtain a C- in the course, rather than simply a C- on each exam (since, in the end, the course grade is what's important). I will also detail what would be required in order to obtain a B or an A in the course.