BEM 106: Assessment

Professor R. Preston McAfee
California Institute of Technology

The final grade has four components:
Case Write-Ups25%
Class Participation   20%
Final Paper40%

Additional Information
Choosing a Topic
Writing the Paper
Honor Code

You will find a group (maximum five persons) and choose a topic early in the course and prepare a 8-10 page paper on this topic. A first draft must be finished by the date listed on the schedule. The T.A. and professor will provide comments, criticisms and suggestions for further work, and you will prepare a substantially-revised final version of your paper. Proposal, first draft and final draft due dates are listed on the schedule and are not negotiable.

Case Write-Ups
Each student will individually prepare 4 of 5 possible case write-ups. These are a maximum of two type-written, double-spaced pages and answer a specific question about the case. They must be handed in or emailed (to Sabrina) before the beginning of the relevant class to count. You will be provided with writing feedback on these write-ups. These count for 25% of your grade. The case question can be found on the syllabus. Note that there are other case questions which help prepare for class discussion, but the write-up should concern only the case question from the syllabus.


Class Participation Class participation counts for 20% of your grade. Participation means much more than attendance, although obviously you aren't participating if you aren't in attendence. Portions of this class are run with the socratic method, which only works for people who are present.

Each of you are responsible for the material in each case. I will usually allow students to volunteer to speak, but will occasionally "cold call," especially if no one volunteers. Quality of class participation is much more important than quantity. Maximizing air-time is not the best strategy. Offering well-timed, concise insights usually is. Bring a name tent -- this is how I remember who contributed, especially at first. (A name tent is a folded piece of paper with your name on one side.)

After the first week, I will begin taking roll. I take roll because I am often unable to remember students who attend but do not participate. Missing two or fewer classes would never count against you.

Do not be afraid to make a mistake, when you have prepared for class. I am very well aware that, to come up with a good idea, it usually takes ten bad ideas.

To help students prepare for the class discussion, I provide case preparation questions for each case. Some of these questions may be part of assignments that you are required to turn in, but most are not. Considering these questions will improve your class participation. Giving ill-prepared answers to these, or closely related, questions will count against you.

Students who miss class receive zero class participation credit for that class. Handouts are always downloadabe from the class website, and generally won't be given in paper form.

Bring a name tent to class each day. (Your name on a folded tent-like piece of paper will suffice.) I will learn your names as quickly as I can, which is slowly. But I will not be responsible for class participation credit for students who do not use their name tents.

Participation includes participation in the presentations.

Final Project The final project is an 8-10 page (either single-spaced or 1.5 spaced, 12 point font) analysis of a competitive situation or industry practice. The due date is on the syllabus. This is a hard deadline.

The final project accounts for 40% of your grade.

There is no in-class examination.

Instructions for Final Project

Choose a Paper Topic
You should choose a topic immediately. We are on a very tight time schedule with no room for slippage.

All papers must be strategy papers. This means they have to be about firms. But there is a great deal of flexibility in the choice of topic.

Many papers will involve business plans. Here are some helpful resources to get started.
How to write a business plan:
Deloitte Summary
Deloitte Long Version
I strongly encourage you to choose a topic in which you are interested rather than one that looks easy. Topics that look easy can be treacherous and unpleasant if they are boring.

Tools and analysis
When you have collected a great deal of information and begun to rough out your topic, run through this list of tools and insure that either they are used well, or aren't relevant. Tools that may be useful but which aren't necessarily covered in this class:
Paper Writing Strategy
1. Collect Information

Once you have chosen a topic, you should go out and collect a lot of information. An obvious starting place is the web. Much of the information on the web, unfortunately, is unreliable; I would like you to attempt to verify anything you find there. There is a service available at the library called EconLit which will identify economics papers by topic.

For any given industry, there are usually several books that describe the industry. In addition, it is useful to interview people who work in a relevant industry. Prior to interviewing, however, you should carefully think about what you wish to learn and write questions down, to be sure you learn what you need to learn.

Newspaper and magazine articles provide an important source of timely information -- become familiar with Lexis or and periodical search engines at the library.

Companies file 10-K reports with the SEC and these are usually available through interlibrary loan. In addition, company annual reports are also a useful source and are often online.

Interviews are also a way of collecting information. Executives in smaller companies usually are willing to talk. In larger companies, executives in public relations are often willing to talk on the phone.

Papers from past years are available here. They aren't a perfect guide to my expectations.

The Hixon Writing Center offers writing assistance.

2. Draw a Conclusion
This is probably the single hardest part of the job you face. After completing part 1, you are confronted with a huge mass of information. What will you write about?

The best strategy is draw a conclusion--find a point to make in your paper. The main point of your paper is called a thesis. Such points might be:
Finding a thesis in a giant pile of information is often quite difficult. You can adopt some other author's thesis and attempt to support it with additional information. If you disagree with an author's thesis, you can choose the opposite thesis and attempt to prove that. If that doesn't produce a topic on which you wish to write, try putting your notes and materials away, and just write a stream-of-consciousness about what you have learned from your reading. Some of what is written this way will make no sense, but you may find "diamonds in the rough," nuggets of thought-provoking inspiration which will form the core of an argument.

3. Organize your facts
Once you have a thesis, cull through your information to select relevant information. Even in this electronic age, index cards remain a useful way of organizing facts. Some information may be useful as background toward understanding the question, as direct support of the thesis, as indirect support, or as contrary information. Do not throw away contrary information. The object is to be accurate, which means assessing all of the relevant information.

It will occasionally occur that the point you set out to make appears to be false, and that the evidence convinces you of the contrary view. This is fine; it requires revising your thesis, but it also means that you learned something significant.

4. Write
While electronics isn't much of a help to organization of materials, it is a massive help to writing. For most people, the best strategy is to write then repeatedly revise until the material flows smoothly, there are no extraneous asides, and the paper reads clearly. Cooperation also helps--if someone will read your paper and tell you what they found confusing, you know where to focus your efforts at revising. (A trade is a good way to arrange such external reading.)

Don't expect perfect prose, complete with salient quotations and proper grammar, to flow out in paragraph form. Ideas come in pieces and the evidence is scattered throughout your research materials. Get something written and then set about making it better.

5. Criteria for Evaluating the Paper
The following questions are designed to help you improve your draft.

A. Clarity
B. Organization
C. Argument and Evidence
D. Documentation
E. Quality of Writing
F. Insight and Interest
The Honor Code I have a special request.

Please do not discuss a case or receive notes on a case that has not yet been discussed in class with students who have taken the class previously (either in another section or in a prior year). I like to re-use cases (you will see why from the cases themselves - some are ideal).

You may freely discuss a case with other students in the class who have NOT YET discussed the case in class (for example, with other students in the same section).