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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Inconsistent grading disadvantages undergraduate students

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As we near the end of another semester at UNC, many of us will be inevitably concerned about our grades and overall GPA. Even if they are just numbers, and despite reassurances that grades aren’t everything, we still stress over them.

However, not all grades are the same. Some professors might opt to curve grades — or even introduce their own grade scale, which can either be beneficial or detrimental to learning experiences.

We’ve all taken a class where the threshold to get an A starts at a 95 (which seems nearly impossible to achieve), and yet your friend, in a different section of the same class, only needs a 93 is an A. 

You can already see where frustration might arise if the two of you get a 93 or 94. While your friend would have an A, you would be stuck with an A- on your transcript.

“These students all had the same opportunity to master the material, and their grades should be treated the same,” said Raquel Rzepka, a sophomore whose major is undecided. 

Martin “Whit” Jones, a sophomore majoring in political science, agreed. 

“If people are in the same class, they should be held to the same standard as their peers,” Jones said.

The lack of a consistent grading scale can lead students to overwhelmingly try seeking a spot in a specific professor’s class if they have a reputation for being a fairer/more-lenient grader.

Therefore, why would professors want to implement their own grade scales?

“I think professors change grading scales because their importance lies in having a normal distribution of grades rather than focusing on whether students understand the material,” Rzepka said.

On the other hand, Jones suggests that large classes that rely on TAs to supplement the professor’s own grading might lead to different grading styles or rubrics.

Whatever the reasons, it’s frustrating for students to be in a situation where the same number grade doesn’t result in the same letter grade as some of their peers. Even on a national level, there isn’t a consistent grading system throughout different schools. Some colleges have alternative grading systems that make it difficult for graduate programs or employers to directly compare grades.

For example, Brown University’s grading system is generous, to say the least. In addition to having the option of Satisfactory/No-Credit (i.e. pass/fail), the University’s conventional grading system only has grades A-C with no “+” or “-” in the grades, and failing grades aren’t recorded by the University. 

And if you’re staring at your screen with jealousy, you’re probably not the only one.

Such a problem with consistency is exacerbated if a professor tries to balance their grades based on a bell curve. This means you can get curved down and end up with a worse grade, regardless of how well you did on exams or assignments. The bell curve grade system also fosters a spirit of competition among students — instead of collaboration.

While professors don’t want to make classes too easy, they also shouldn’t try to make them overly difficult either.

Things like bell curves, an extremely high threshold for an A or lack of consistent grading between different sections of the same class only cause stress while being unfair to those who were unfortunate to have a late registration time and couldn’t get into certain sections.

While grades matter more for those seeking to go to graduate school, they’re still a major source of stress for most students. Therefore, colleges should try to have consistency in how we’re all judged so it can be fair at least. 


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