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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Why do we all depend on curves?

With final exams coming up, the “Hunger Games”-inspired phrase “May the curve be ever in your favor” will likely be heard in libraries and study rooms across campus. But why do we depend so heavily on a made-up concept to save our intangible letter grades marked on our subjective transcripts? Overcompetition and the institutions’ overly zealous need for an even spectrum of grades — that’s why.

I have depended on a healthy curve more than once after taking an exam. One leaves the test feeling defeated and puts all his or her faith into the hope that everyone else did just as poorly or worse.

Let’s think about this logic for a second: Instead of focusing our attention on the concepts on the exam, our thought processes instead lead us to percentages and grades. This is because we have been taught time after time that letter grades are the most important part of our education. It is engrained into our beings after applying to colleges and taking the SAT, the ACT, Advanced Placement tests and other standardized exams. In the United States, you learn quickly that you are a number and that your purpose is to achieve as high a number as possible.

Molly Dickinson, a sophomore studying molecular and cellular biology, said her tests often cover a wide variety of subjects and chapters, and include very detail-oriented questions. According to Dickinson, these tests are sometimes curved more than 10 percent. If these exams covered less material or asked more general questions, she is confident she and her peers, would do better and depend less on this superficial grading.

Dickinson is one of thousands of examples of students who depend on these curves. No matter how many hours one may put into studying, there is too much material to cover in too short of a time period. More frequent exams covering less material, including broader questions or some combination of the two would allow students to focus more on the content of their classes and less on their numerical grade percentages.

There is something to be said for not wanting everyone to fail a test or for wanting everyone to ace one. I’ll admit a balance of some kind is necessary. But the averaging should be emphasized on the material being tested, not the grades themselves. What good does it do if someone who knows only three-fifths of the material gets a “B” ? How does that help them long-term, particularly if the subject is a field relating to their career pursuits?

It does not. Teachers should be more responsible for gauging the levels of their classrooms and the preparedness of their students prior to creating and giving exams.

These are lofty goals, but changing the system is hardly a reasonable task, particularly when years of routine have normalized it. But we must view the classes we take and the material we learn as concepts that should be understood instead os multiple-choice test answers waiting to be bubbled in.

Follow Stephanie Shaw on Twitter.

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