University of Wisconsin–Madison

U-CLaSS October 2018 Notes

Our first fall 2018 U-CLaSS meeting addressed the topic “grading on a curve.”Here are the student responses in their own words:
  1. Students identified three ways that grades are curved:
    1. Instructors provide a fixed threshold and then curve up depending on performance of students in the class.
    2. Instructors curve up an exam, again depending on performance of students in the class.
    3. Instructors set an overall hard and fast curve for the entire course, number of A’’s awarded, number of B’s awarded etc, from the very start of the course without knowing anything about the combination of students in the class. This causes unhealthy competition between students rather than encouraging collaborative learning and according to students should be banned.
  2. Student attitudes about curved courses:
    1. The final adjustment or curve often doesn’t go in until the end of the semester, so students can’t know/follow what grade they may actually earning in a course. (Also can’t decide whether or not to drop the class.) Students spoke of earning 40’s on exams, that then became a B grade by the end of the course.
    2. It is difficult to monitor your grade when taking a course for pass/fail if the course is curved as well.
    3. Students are less inclined to learn the material when a course is curved, it becomes about competing with others rather than working in partnership to learn the material. Some students will even refuse to help each other learn in curved classes.
    4. Averages are often lower in curved classes than non-curved classes, often because exams do not match content covered in class or homework.
    5. Curves impact motivation. Students are more motivated in courses where they know what they need to accomplish to earn a specific grade, and know that they can control earning that grade, rather than in classes where their grade depends on the performance of other students in the class.
  3. Student attitudes about curved exams, in general:
    1. Seem harder than other exams
    2. Don’t seem to reflect what you know or what you covered in class
    3. Students learn quickly that exams that are ‘curved’ usually need to be curved for a reason, and knowing that, in the words of one student, makes them terrified of taking that exam.
  4. General exam tips from the student perspective:
    1. Instructors should test on knowledge students should already have at exam time, not test on how far the student might be able to stretch that knowledge.
    2. Especially for the first exam in a class, the student already doesn’t know what to expect so setting the difficulty beyond the experience of the student adds to the anxiety of taking the exam and performance in the course.
    3. Questions in online quizzes are related to topics covered in course, but often do not give the student the chance to practice the types of questions that will be on the exam. Online assignments and exam questions should be more closely aligned.
  5. Essay on curved grading by a Senior Business major student, Spring 2018.