Master Document
I have used WebAssign as an online homework system long enough to know that some students struggle with entering answers. In the vast majority of the cases, a student's frustration with WebAssign can easily be avoided if they just read my article, "A Professor's Tips of How to Use WebAssign Properly". A summary of the top tips is listed below.


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Instructions Are Important
Frequency: This is the singlemost common issue for students when using WebAssign.
Issue: A great cause for frustration and waste of time is the refusal to carefully read the instructions to a problem. Most of the emails I receive from students are because they didn't read the part that says "Round to the nearest hundredth" or "leave your answer in exact form."
Example:
Question: (some question that results in 2/3, but asks to round the answer to the nearest thousandth)
Incorrect Answer: 2/3
Correct Answer: 0.667
Remedy: Read the instructions for each problem very carefully.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. There are many reasons I may want you to round an answer or, more likely, to leave an answer in exact form.
Issue: A great cause for frustration and waste of time is the refusal to carefully read the instructions to a problem. Most of the emails I receive from students are because they didn't read the part that says "Round to the nearest hundredth" or "leave your answer in exact form."
Example:
Question: (some question that results in 2/3, but asks to round the answer to the nearest thousandth)
Incorrect Answer: 2/3
Correct Answer: 0.667
Remedy: Read the instructions for each problem very carefully.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. There are many reasons I may want you to round an answer or, more likely, to leave an answer in exact form.


Variables Are Case Sensitive
Frequency: This is the most common mistake students make when first using WebAssign.
Issue: Using the wrong casing on a variable.
Example:
Question: Simplify 3x  7x.
Incorrect Answer: 4X
Correct Answer: 4x
Remedy: Always be aware of the case on the variables in the problem.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: Having coded in WebAssign for years, I can easily state that the case sensitivity of the system has more to do with how difficult it would be to change the code to allow case insensitivity than it has to do with pedagogy; however, in defense of the system, there are plenty of times in mathematics when you will be dealing with the variables R and r in the same problem. It is important to make the distinction that these variables are truly different from one another.
Issue: Using the wrong casing on a variable.
Example:
Question: Simplify 3x  7x.
Incorrect Answer: 4X
Correct Answer: 4x
Remedy: Always be aware of the case on the variables in the problem.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: Having coded in WebAssign for years, I can easily state that the case sensitivity of the system has more to do with how difficult it would be to change the code to allow case insensitivity than it has to do with pedagogy; however, in defense of the system, there are plenty of times in mathematics when you will be dealing with the variables R and r in the same problem. It is important to make the distinction that these variables are truly different from one another.
Only Grab A Calculator When Asked to Round
Frequency: This type of mistake is very common in the algebra series. Students at this level tend to rely on their calculators more than they should and, as such, end up making silly mistakes like "1/3 = 0.33".
Issue: The student ends up grabbing a calculator to compute a decimal approximation to an answer when the question never called for rounding.
Example:
Question: (some crazy math problem that leads to an answer of 6/14, but does not ask for a rounded answer.)
Incorrect Answer: 0.429
Correct Answer: 3/7
Remedy: Only grab a calculator when you are asked to round your answer (and, even then, at the very end  see the next issue)
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. One of the points of early math courses (anything below trigonometry) is to reinforce and build upon computational skills. This implies that students must be able to completely arithmetic expressions like radicals and fractions without a calculator.
Issue: The student ends up grabbing a calculator to compute a decimal approximation to an answer when the question never called for rounding.
Example:
Question: (some crazy math problem that leads to an answer of 6/14, but does not ask for a rounded answer.)
Incorrect Answer: 0.429
Correct Answer: 3/7
Remedy: Only grab a calculator when you are asked to round your answer (and, even then, at the very end  see the next issue)
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. One of the points of early math courses (anything below trigonometry) is to reinforce and build upon computational skills. This implies that students must be able to completely arithmetic expressions like radicals and fractions without a calculator.
Calculators Should Only Be Used at the End
Frequency: This kind of mistake is increasingly common in the higher levels of undergraduate math. Specifically, I see a lot of these kinds of errors in trigonometry and precalculus.
Issue: Rounding a number part of the way through a math problem and using that rounded number to do more computations.
Example:
Question: Compute 111.23(9.1  8.235) and round to the nearest hundredth.
Incorrect Answer: 111.23(0.87) = 96.7701 ~ 96.77
Correct Answer: 111.23(0.865) = 96.21395 ~ 96.21
Remedy: If you are asked to round your answer, then you should do all the work by hand and, only then, grab a calculator at the very end to get an approximated value for the answer.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. Early rounding can result in disastrous results!
Issue: Rounding a number part of the way through a math problem and using that rounded number to do more computations.
Example:
Question: Compute 111.23(9.1  8.235) and round to the nearest hundredth.
Incorrect Answer: 111.23(0.87) = 96.7701 ~ 96.77
Correct Answer: 111.23(0.865) = 96.21395 ~ 96.21
Remedy: If you are asked to round your answer, then you should do all the work by hand and, only then, grab a calculator at the very end to get an approximated value for the answer.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. Early rounding can result in disastrous results!
Let's suppose you earn $10.44 per hour and you work 7.09 hours per day, five days a week. Over the course of a year there are 52 weeks, correct?
Pretend your boss is calculating how much she is to pay you for one year's worth of work. She decides that the extra 0.09 hours is worthless to you so she multiplies $10.44 by 7 to get your daily wage of $73.08. Well, that 8 cents is worthless, so she just rounds that to $73. She then multiplies this by 5 to get your weekly wage of $365. Finally, she multiplies this by 52 to get your annual salary of $18,980.
You've been cheated because she rounded at several points during her calculation!
She should be paying you $10.44 times 7.09 = $74.0196 per day, 5 days per week, for 52 weeks. This would result in an annual true wage of $19,245.096 which rounds to $19,245.10. Her early rounding cost you $265.10!!!
Leave Mixed Numbers for Carpenters and Cooks
Frequency: This is actually a pretty rare issue, but is still worth mentioning.
Issue: Answering using mixed numbers instead of proper or improper fractions.
Example:
Question: (perform some arithmetic to arrive at an answer of 14/3)
Incorrect Answer: 4 2/3
Correct Answer: 14/3
Remedy: Stop using mixed numbers (unless specifically asked to use them).
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is more of a "behindthescenes" code base issue with WebAssign. I cannot say that you are wrong if you tried to answer using a mixed number, but, in all honesty, mixed numbers are the cursive of fractions  they are outdated and only useful in signature situations.
Issue: Answering using mixed numbers instead of proper or improper fractions.
Example:
Question: (perform some arithmetic to arrive at an answer of 14/3)
Incorrect Answer: 4 2/3
Correct Answer: 14/3
Remedy: Stop using mixed numbers (unless specifically asked to use them).
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is more of a "behindthescenes" code base issue with WebAssign. I cannot say that you are wrong if you tried to answer using a mixed number, but, in all honesty, mixed numbers are the cursive of fractions  they are outdated and only useful in signature situations.


Fractions, By Definition, Do Not Contain Decimals
Frequency: This mistake is somewhat rare, but I do see it everyonceinawhile on my exams.
Issue: Writing decimals within fractions.
Example:
Question: (some question that results in .3/.45)
Incorrect Answer: 0.3/0.45
Correct Answer: 0.3/0.45 (multiply both numerator and denominator by 100) = 30/45 = 2/3
Remedy: Multiply both numerator and denominator by a power of 10 so that decimal numbers are gone (see the Correct Answer in the Example).
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. Fractions never contain decimal numbers period.
Issue: Writing decimals within fractions.
Example:
Question: (some question that results in .3/.45)
Incorrect Answer: 0.3/0.45
Correct Answer: 0.3/0.45 (multiply both numerator and denominator by 100) = 30/45 = 2/3
Remedy: Multiply both numerator and denominator by a power of 10 so that decimal numbers are gone (see the Correct Answer in the Example).
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is not a WebAssign issue! I would mark you off on an exam for doing the same thing. Fractions never contain decimal numbers period.
WebAssign Does Not Handle Commas Very Well
Frequency: I am not sure how often this is an issue for students.
Issue: Students naturally want to use commas when writing large numbers, but WebAssign cannot parse these sometimes.
Example:
Question: (some question that results in 1,234,567,890)
Incorrect Answer (sometimes): 1,234,567,890
Correct Answer (all the time): 1234567890
Remedy: Don't use commas.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is a flaw in one of the grading schemes that WebAssign uses. This is one of the few issues with WebAssign that can be maddening, but as long as you know beforehand, then you will never run into it.
Issue: Students naturally want to use commas when writing large numbers, but WebAssign cannot parse these sometimes.
Example:
Question: (some question that results in 1,234,567,890)
Incorrect Answer (sometimes): 1,234,567,890
Correct Answer (all the time): 1234567890
Remedy: Don't use commas.
Reason for WebAssign's Pickiness: This is a flaw in one of the grading schemes that WebAssign uses. This is one of the few issues with WebAssign that can be maddening, but as long as you know beforehand, then you will never run into it.

