WeBWorK is a web-based, computerized system for homework grading that is used by many institutions across the country. The link for University of Oregon’s WeBWorK system is here:
Tips for using WeBWorK
One of the advantages of WeBWorK is that it gives students immediate feedback on whether or not they have obtained the correct answer to a problem. With human markers, students don’t get this information for at least a week. But as with any technology-based system, there can be some frustrations in using WeBWorK. The tips on this page address the most common difficulties experienced by students.
1. Stick with it.
Although WeBWorK can be frustrating at the beginning, most students figure out how to avoid those frustrations during the first couple of weeks. The most important tip is to stick with it, and make sure you are talking to your instructor about any difficulties you are having.
2. Inputting your answer into WeBWorK
Entering “2*10^3+1” is different than entering “2*10^(3+1)”. The first is the number 2001, and the second is the number 20,000. This can be a source of confusion when students are first learning the system. Order of operations is important, and you should review that if you don’t remember the rules! But there is an easy way to check whether what you typed matches what you meant:
The Answer Preview button. This will SHOW you the mathematical interpretation for what you typed into WeBWorK, without checking your answer. Use this to see if you typed what you really meant.
Here are some other pieces of advice for entering your answers into WeBWorK:
- Don’t round needlessly. If the answer is “2*pi” don’t enter 6.28, just type “2*pi” into WeBWorK. For example, maybe the answer to the problem is “pi^10”, which is about 93,648.047. If you entered “(3.14)^10”, then that’s only about 93,174.373. WeBWorK would probably mark the problem wrong!
- Be very careful of rounding errors. Any rounding that you do on scratch paper in the middle of a problem can cause larger and larger errors in later parts. If you are in the middle of a problem and you round cos(70) to 0.63, this might cause the error in your final answer to be more than WeBWorK will accept. As a general rule, it is best to not change to decimals until the very end of a problem, and then to use five or six decimal places for safety.
- If the problem requires a decimal answer, don’t just enter two significant digits unless the problem specifically asked for that. Many students get frustrated that WeBWorK wanted an answer of “5.3271” and told them that their answer of “5.33” was incorrect. As a general rule, use five or six significant digits and you should be fine.
3. The Email Instructor button
If you have worked on a problem for a while and are stuck, you can use the Email Instructor button. This will generate an email and send it directly to your instructor, who will be able to see your personalized WeBWorK problem as well as the answer that you entered. This can be very handy. But in your email don’t just write “I can’t get the right answer!” It can sometimes be next to impossible for the instructor to figure out what you are doing just from the answer you typed.
The best thing to do when using the Email Instructor button is to describe each of the steps you followed to solve the problem, and what you got for each step. This provides the best chance that the
instructor can help figure out where you are going wrong.
When you email your instructor, don’t expect to hear back immediately. Usually you can expect to hear back within one business day, though.
Remember that the instructor’s job isn’t to tell you the answer to the problem, but to help you figure out the answer with some guidance. If you provide little information in your original email, you can expect some back and forth emails as the instructor tries to ascertain what you did in the problem. That increases the length of time it takes to resolve the issue. The more information you provide in your initial email, the more likely the issue can be resolved quickly.
4. Realize that WeBWorK is sometimes wrong.
Like any computer system, WeBWorK is only as reliable as the person who programmed it. Sometimes problems have errors in the way they are coded, resulting in WeBWorK declaring a correct answer to be incorrect. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen occasionally. Some of the most frustrating experiences are from users who tried a problem 60 times because WeBWorK kept telling them they had the wrong answer, only to find out that the error was in WeBWorK.
There is a simple fix for this: don’t keep trying a problem 60 times. If you think you understand a problem, have looked over your work carefully, and really think you have the correct answer even
though WeBWorK says otherwise, just use the Email Instructor button and ask about it. If you have put in a good effort on a problem, don’t try it more than five times; after that point, stop and ask for help.
5. How to approach a WeBWorK problem.
- First, do the problem on scratch paper just like you would for a written homework problem. It will help if you write things out neatly and orderly, step by step.
- When you think you have arrived at your answer, take a moment and check your work. Only enter the answer into WeBWorK after you have done at least one check.
- Enter the answer into WeBWorK, perhaps using the “Answer Preview” feature to check what you entered. Submit your answer.
- There are lots of times when you won’t get a problem correct the first time. If WeBWorK says the answer is wrong, don’t panic! Look at the screen to see if the answer you entered really matched what you wanted to enter. Go back and use the Answer Preview button if that might help.
- Next, go back and check your work again. Spend some time trying to figure out where you might be going wrong. Try it all again.
- If you have gone over all your steps a few times and really think your answer is correct, use the Email Instructor button to ask for help. Go on to the next problem while you wait to hear back.