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Writing Problems

If you're looking for more information about the "Writing Problems" included as part of the Python Programming courses, please see the Programming Homework page.

The homework for all subject courses includes Writing Problems. These are the most important (and often most challenging) of all your weekly homework problems! For most courses with Writing Problems, you'll have 1 Writing Problem per week, and all of your Writing Problems will be graded—that is, a real live grader, as well as your instructor, will look over your solution, write up some feedback, and score it.

Answering a Writing Problem

Learning to explain your thinking is just as important as learning to think well in the first place! For Writing Problems, we'll ask you to explain, in words and complete sentences, how you solved the problem.

Your weekly writing problem can be found on the Homework tab of your course homepage. If you have other homework problems, the Writing Problem(s) will appear below all other problems on this page.

To start typing in your solution, select the EDIT button in the Writing Problem box or click inside the text entry box. Click SAVE to save everything you have written so far and see how your solution will be displayed. We encourage you to click the SAVE button often to ensure no work is lost!

If you use LaTeX or Asymptote code within your solution, clicking SAVE will also show you what the code you have written displays.

If you prefer to write out your solution by hand, instead of typing it up, that's fine! Please take a picture of or scan in the pages you wrote your solution on, and attach it using the Attachment Instructions below.

Saving Work

Writing problem homework is collected in the middle of the night between the due date and the following day. We'll collect and grade what was written the last time you clicked the SAVE.

We also automatically store student work as it is being written in case something happens (power outage, internet connection error, etc.). If there is any auto-saved data, when you sign in again, the system will ask the you to decide which version of the submission to keep. We save work on our computers and on yours. So, if you lose some work, try signing back in with the same computer and browser.

We do not look at the auto-saved data when we are grading, only what you have clicked the SAVE button to save. So, in case of a problem, please be sure to sign back in and recover the most recent draft.

Attaching Files (Including Images)

If drawing out a diagram or image for your solution helps you to understand or explain it, then be sure to include it with your written solution! If you've drawn it out on a piece of paper, please take a picture of or scan in the page you've drawn on, and attach it. You can also include images within the text of your solutions with Asymptote. (Usually the best way to include a picture in your homework is by drawing it on paper and taking a picture, though!)

To include a picture or other file with your submission, please follow the instructions below.

  1. Click the "Attach a File" button below the box where you would enter a response.
  2. In the window that appears, you can "drag" files from your computer folders into that box, or click the text link to select files you'd like to upload.
  3. After selecting file(s), you'll see a preview of the image or just the name of the file to be uploaded. If you mistakenly added an incorrect file, click the "Remove file" link. Otherwise, click the "Done" button.
  4. Important! Look over the "Attachments" heading below the "Your Response" box to ensure that all the files you meant to upload are there. If your file is too large, it may not have attached correctly! Ask on the message board if you need some help resizing a file. If you want to remove any of these files, select the "Delete" link in the right side of the file box.
  5. Check that there is some text, like "See attached." or your typed solution, in the "Your Response" box to ensure that your submission will be collected on the due date.

LaTeX and Asymptote

You can include LaTeX-typeset math equations within the text of your typed solution. You can simply wrap the expression or equation in dollar signs (such as $x-4=10$). It is never required to use LaTeX, but it is available for students who wish to use it.

You can also include images within the text of your solution by using the Asymptote Vector Graphics Language. Just as with LaTeX, learning Asymptote is not required, but it is available for students who wish to use it in their solutions. You can also include images and diagrams with your solution by hand-drawing and then taking a picture that you attach as a file with your solution. If you include LaTeX or Asymptote within your solution, clicking the SAVE button will show you what the code you have written displays. To include Asymptote code with your submission, place your code between the tags [asy] and [/asy], like this:
[asy]Asymptote Code Goes Here[/asy].

Our AoPS Wiki has plenty of helpful information about how to use LaTeX and Asymptote, if you are interested.

Grading

A graded Writing Problem will receive both written feedback from an instructor as well as a pair of scores. We will email you when your writing assignment has been graded, typically within a week of the due date.

Written Feedback

On the writing problems, you'll get personal written feedback from an AoPS grader and your instructor, who will comment on the content as well as the style of your writing. They'll also provide you with some tips for how to continue to improve. After reading over this feedback, think about how you can apply that feedback going forward. What parts of your solution were best, and how can you apply the suggestions for improvements the other parts of your solution?

Scores

Technical Score: Technical scores range from 0 to 7. This score is primarily about whether all of the right pieces of a proof are presented—that means that all important steps are shown and fully explained, and that the explanation was properly rigorous relative to the level of the course. A score of 7 means that the solution was completely correct and well-explained, and as a result, demonstrated a solid understanding of the concepts and problem-solving strategies used.

Style Score: A great solution is more than just a sequence of correct calculations—it's also about how you present it! The types of things we're looking for with Style include punctuation, grammar, paragraph breaks and appropriate spacing if your solution is long, clearly defining any variables you use, including a diagram when needed, neatly-displayed math, motivation for your arguments, and the other elements that make this a solution, not just an answer or sequence of calculations. Style scores are on a scale of 0.0 - 1.0, with intermediate scores given in tenths.

In an Intermediate or Advanced course, the Style Score can also reflect the "elegance" or "simplicity" of a solution: did you bash out a ton of computations to end up with your answer, or did you find a clever insight that minimized the computations you needed to do?

A Note About LaTeX, Asymptote, and Grading

We use both LaTeX (a typesetting language) and Asymptote (a way to draw diagrams) in the classroom, on the message board, and in the solutions that you see throughout the website. We will never require that you learn LaTeX or Asymptote to be successful in our courses, although many students do learn some basic commands for fun. Typesetting is not the same as style, and typesetting will never be a part of your grade. You can use LaTeX and Asymptote well and write a poor solution, and you can write perfectly in plain text with a hand-drawn diagram. It's all about clearly communicating your ideas!

Writing Problem FAQs

Below, we've included answers to some of the most common questions about Writing Problems. If your question isn't answered here, we always welcome you to email us at classes@aops.com.

  • How do I submit my answer?

    Once you have completed writing up your solution in the box below the problem statement (and including any attachments), there is nothing else you need to do. At the very end of the week's due date, your submission will be automatically collected by the homework system. You will always have until the very end of the day, wherever you are, to complete this problem—it will be collected after 11:59:59 PM on the due date in your time zone.

  • Writing problem solutions cannot be submitted earlier than the due date. We encourage you to take all the time available until the due date to think about, write, and edit your solution.

  • What if I need more time to write my solution?

    We understand that you may have missed class that week and are catching up, and sometimes you need just another day or two to really wrestle with an extra-tough problem. If you'll need a little more time to work on a problem, you can submit an extension request. You'll find more information about extensions on this page.

  • How do I write a good solution?

    A good guide is to write as though the person reading is one of your classmates who has not seen the problem before. Include any important observations you made and explain why you are doing anything that isn't totally obvious. For some more general advice, check out our Guide to Writing Solutions. You'll also receive a new writing tip in your class reminder email each week.

  • Also, every problem you see in your course has a full solution that you can view as soon as you have completed the problem. We encourage you to read over these solutions carefully. They provide great examples of well-written solutions!

    Finally, when your feedback is available for any Writing Problem you have completed, read it over carefully. These comments often include tips—written just for you!—from the grader and your instructor about how you can continue to improve your solution-writing throughout the course.

Auto-Graded Writing Problems

A small number of our classes have Auto-Graded Writing Problems, which are not graded by humans. These appear most notably in our Calculus and programming classes.

Like other writing problems, these problems will ask you to write a complete solution to the problem. You'll be able to submit your solution once, and you'll be shown our full solution after completing the problem. Your response will not be graded, but you will receive points for submitting a response. Keep in mind that if you request a grade at the end of the course, your instructor will take a closer look at your solutions to these problems when determining a grade.