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Problem set

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Title: Problem set  
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Problem set

A problem set 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.[1] 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.[2][3] They are usually issued once every week or two weeks, and due one or two weeks later.[3][4] If used as part of a summative assessment they are usually given a low weight,[5] between 10% and 25% of the total mark of the course for all problem sets put together,[2][4] 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,[5][6] but most professors require each student to hand in their own individual problem set. Some professors explicitly encourage collaboration,[4][5] some allow it, and some explicitly disallow it[2] or consider it cheating. Most, however, do not disallow collaboration, because they see the goal as primarily pedagogical.[5] 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.[5][6] Despite passing the class, the professor failed him for his actions and he was recommended for expulsion, though the university faculty appeal committee overturned the recommended penalty, and gave him a zero grade for the assignments that were done through the course of the semester.[7]


  • An example of a typical problem set, from MIT's relativity (physics) class
    A list of all of the problem sets from that class, on MIT OpenCourseWare. In this case they are collectively worth 20% of the total mark.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Course Policy for a physics course at the University of Virginia
  3. ^ a b Caltech quantum mechanics course page
  4. ^ a b c Ohio State University economics syllabus
  5. ^ a b c d e
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
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