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College Grades Dropping - What's Going on?

  1. Mar 5, 2013 #1

    I am in the middle of a second degree from a less reputable university in Ontario, Canada. In my first degree (computer science), I had over 40 "A"-level grades (Something like 40 out of 50, with some voluntary withdrawals, because I became sick near the end of my degree.) My second degree is in philosophy. and it started out really well, once again, with something like 10 "A"-level grades. In the middle of my degree, I decided to change to philosophy and economics. In economics, I got two "A-'s", a "VW" (voluntary withdrawal), a "C-" and a "D+." I thought that maybe I wasn't a good match for the department, so I decided to switch to philosophy and mathematics instead. The two mathematics courses were a "C-" and a "VW." Because you need at least a "C-" in every course, I had assumed that it was the same case again with me not fitting the department. Therefore, I decided to play it safe and go back to philosophy alone. Even though I got all "A's" when I was originally in the department, my grades were now in the "C"-range! I decided to take it slowly, and took one course last semester, and the grade was "A-." But now, in this semester, there it is again, a "D"-level grade on my first paper!

    My guess is that what is going on here is highly improbable by chance alone. If, for example, we look at the situation like I had a die that "rolls" "A", "B", "C", or "D" or "F" (analogous to the possible grades), it looks like the dice is highly loaded towards "A" (and even "B" to a lesser extent) for the first 50 or 60 rolls. Then, for the last 10 to 15 rolls, the die starts to lean towards some highly irregular pattern. I don't *know*, but I *suspect* that this is highly improbable, without something changing. The problem is that I don't know what has changed! I'm not doing anything drastically different from before.

    I was lead to this forum specifically because of the mathematical acumen of the people here. Therefore, I have two questions: 1) What would be (roughly) the probability of the latter grades being accurate? 2) What would be the rough chances of my whole college transcript being accurate? and 3) What could be going on here? As I said, nothing about my study habits or the way I approach things has changed. It is really shocking, because I have gone from someone who could have gotten into graduate school easily, to someone who probably won't get in - or will just barely get in. My confusion is compounded when you consider that my general GRE scores are in the top 80th-90th percentile for every subtest. I just don't get it. For my grades to be that high before by chance, it would have to be an incredible streak of luck. Now, I don't even know what to do.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2013 #2
    I'm not sure you understand how grading works...
  4. Mar 5, 2013 #3
    If what you're saying is correct, then there is something wrong with the loaded dice analogy I gave. What do you see wrong there? I'm also not attending a prestigious school or anything like that. It shouldn't *suddenly* become brutally hard, especially for someone with my academic background at the same freakin' school. Think logically: how often does something like this actually happen? It's not a difference between upper year and lower year courses or anything like that.

    EDIT: I had to change what I wrote. There might have been a small miscommunication because one sentence in the top post was ambiguous.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2013
  5. Mar 5, 2013 #4


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    Just a small insight here, but it would seem that what's changed is that the courses and professors are different. Your probability concerns are valid if you're talking about a repeated random process, but here each course is different. An expected value of "A" in computer science does not necessarily imply an expected value of "A" in mathematics.
  6. Mar 5, 2013 #5
    Well, the logical conclusion is that you are pretty good in computer science, but not in economics or mathematics.

    Also, it's very normal that the courses become harder as you progress in university. Getting an A in a freshman course is pretty meaningless.
  7. Mar 5, 2013 #6
    Also, you should try tell us why you scored D's and C's.
    It's not that you receive your grade at the end of the semester and that you are very surprised by it. You must have seen it coming that you would score a D or a C. So something must have gone wrong in the course. What is it that went wrong?? Why didn't you score an A?
  8. Mar 5, 2013 #7
    That is a valid point, and is originally what I thought was wrong. However, three of my last five grades in philosophy have been low, two of which were with the same professors as before, and this has left me stumped. I wonder if the situation is something like this: admissions averages have gone up by ten percent since my computer science degree. Perhaps when I first entered philosophy, professors were grading by the same standards as before, which someone in the department discovered were too easy. Therefore, these professors have decided to grade future tests and papers slightly harder to compensate for the slightly improved quality of student. However, what these people *might* not realize is that a slight difference in scaling can make a considerable difference in grade. For example, if a section of a test or essay is rated out of five, and every answer is graded one mark lower, so what was once 5/5 becomes 4/5, 4/5 becomes 3/5, 3/5 becomes 2/5, etc. and this is applied to each question (or section), then the overall grades will go down not by 10% but by 20% - two grade levels at most schoolsl! In this case, A's don't become B's but C's! (And B's become D's - and so on.) Something like this could easily happen, and admission cutoffs *have* gone up by 10%, so something like this could be the case here...
  9. Mar 5, 2013 #8

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    I earned an A.
    I got a B.
    It was a C.
    He gave me a D.
    He flunked me.

    The whole analysis of "grade as a random variable" depends on the grade being out of your control. I don't think that's a plan for success.
  10. Mar 5, 2013 #9
    You seem to be blaming your bad grades on other people. Maybe you should consider the possibility that you are responsible for your grades.

    Again, what exactly did go wrong when he made the C's and the D's?? What was the difference for you with the A courses??

    And maybe the philosophy courses just got more difficult since you took more advanced courses?
  11. Mar 5, 2013 #10
    In the first two economics courses, I was expecting something more analytical, and I got a test of rote memorization (one case a very strict example of it), so, because I'm not good at memorization, my grades were C's (and things also seemed to be somewhat harder than they were in my previous experience for those types of questions). In the case of the D+ in the economics course, half the course got a D-level grade or lower at the midterm, so I assume the course was hard. At the midterm, the questions were similar to the assignments so I assumed that the final would be similar as well (it was basically an applied statistics course, so basing tests off of problem solving questions is fairly standard). Not only was the final not similar to the assignments (or even the lectures), but it was a steep degree of difficulty harder than the midterm (which, as I said, most received a low grade on). That explains the low grade there.

    In the first mathematics course, integral calculus was the prerequisite, so I spent the whole summer refreshing my calculus knowledge. I got into the course and the lecturer spoke horrible English, so I could not understand her at all. Further, all of the material was taken out of the course textbook, so, because of this and the disconnect in communication, I didn't show up to a lot of the lectures. On the first test, I got an A, as most of the test was problem solving. On the second test, the exam was different from the assignments and examples in the textbook, and basically all theory and proofs, so I got a horrible mark. Near the final, it got more into calculus. The problem is that the text would show similar problems to those on the test, but did not explain what integration techniques it was using for what question, so I was left completely in the dark. I decided to compensate by showing up to class, but, because I couldn't understand the prof's English, it was useless. I finished with a C- in that course.

    Next semester, I took linear programming with a different professor. This time, the course notes were all theory, and that was hard for me, being away from theoretical linear algebra for a few years. However, the lectures were based more on problem solving, and I could follow them. Nonetheless, I took a look at the first assignment, on which there were all proofs - nothing similar taught in class - and no problem solving, and dropped the course early on in the semester. (In fact, the proofs on the assignment might have been a grade-level harder than those in the course notes.)

    After having enough, I switched back to philosophy. One philosophy course involved nothing but strict historical information, which made it hard, because, as I said, I don't have a good memory, so I failed the midterm and dropped it. The other course was taught by a feminist philosopher. I wrote an essay on a feminist book (that was required for the course) and argued that men and women are not the same biologically (and I think it can be proven scientifically that they aren't). I also did not say that men and women should not be considered equal, just that there tend to be differences between the two. I suspect that because the professor was a feminist, I got a C- on the paper and so I had to drop the course. I then registered for the Honours seminar last semester and got an A-. This semester, I took a course with the same professor, and got a D+ on the first paper because my summaries weren't "long enough."

    Therefore, if there is anything similar in these cases it might be a heavy dose of subjectivity, coupled with instructors not being on the same page for lectures, tests, and assignments (with me or with themselves), and a strong emphasis on memorization, which I'm weak in.
  12. Mar 5, 2013 #11
    What I notice here is you specifically select the low grades as of late as being indicative of the situation, but the 50 or 60 high grades I got before in all sorts of areas are just casually omitted. Explain to me why the latest grades which I've been hit over the head with indicate something about my studies, while the previous 50 or 60 are meaningless.
  13. Mar 5, 2013 #12
    What I notice here is you specifically select the low grades as of late as being indicative of the situation, but the 50 or 60 high grades I got before in all sorts of areas are just casually omitted. Explain to me why the latest grades which I've been hit over the head with indicate something about my studies, while the previous 50 or 60 are meaningless.
  14. Mar 5, 2013 #13
    I agree with the above poster, it looks like your trying to discover a new theory on why you made a bad grade. lol.

    First off; forget about your "A" classes. Pat yourself on the back but that was then, this is now.

    Just because you made an A in english composition I, doesn't guarantee you the same grade in part 2.

    I do agree different professors can create different grades.

    In macroeconomics I barely made a B, in microeconomics I made an A+. Different professors, completely different teaching styles, even the tests were different styles.

    My current GPA is between 3.7-3.8. Do I blame the teacher for giving me a B? No; while I agree his teaching style and tests were the result of my B, but if I would of tried harder I could of pulled an A. Other students did.

    Perhaps you are trying to do to much; you bumped it down to one class and BOOM, you got an A.

    When I was a full-time student I took my schedule seriously. I would pick my classes based on my workload and not based on some counselor. It helped me greatly.

    Space out the hard classes. Some people want to shove you through all the hard classes in one semester..that's what electives are for! Let them space the hard ones out.

    Goodluck, don't give up!
  15. Mar 5, 2013 #14
    What would you think, with your GPA, if it wasn't one B, but a number of Cs and Ds, one right after another for several semesters in a row? Because that is my situation. Grades can sometimes be inconsistent, and that was the case for myself in the past, but for things to go this wrong this often all of a sudden, it's a sign that there is a deeper problem here. Perhaps standards have changed at the school and they're not grading fairly. Put yourself in my shoes. This could ruin my academic life.
  16. Mar 5, 2013 #15
    Stop with the excuses.

    You are doing poorly. Figure out why without kidding yourself.
  17. Mar 5, 2013 #16
    Did the other students also get Cs and Ds in the classes?? Or were there students who got an A or a B?? What did they do different than you?
  18. Mar 5, 2013 #17
    Tell me, since you insist on it: what have you noticed about my study habits that tell you that? What about the school, why are they in the free and clear, based on what you've thoroughly investigated about this situation? What solid evidence has lead you to that conclusion? And if you don't have solid evidence, what gives you the right judge me or my situation? Is it innocent until proven guilty here, or the other way around?

    Therefore, I'll ask you again: why do you just selectively ignore the first 50 or 60 A-level grades and focus exclusively on the last several? What stands out to you about the last several grades that makes them more accurate than the first 60? Do the first 60 grades not count for some reason? Also, what solid fact makes you so certain that I'm making up excuses and it's not the school? Am I flat out lying when I say that I'm approaching the courses the same way? Again, what do you actually know about me or my situation?

    It would be sad, in the end, to find out that the problem here is that people want to blame me, not because they KNOW FOR CERTAIN that I'm wrong, but because it's just that hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes...
  19. Mar 5, 2013 #18


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    What exactly are you trying to accomplish here? Complaining won't get you anywhere and neither will ranting on a physics forum. What are we supposed to do?
  20. Mar 5, 2013 #19
    That assumes that the grades were fair. Am I assuming that? Can we safely assume that? Why? Are you that unimaginative that it is impossible to believe that some as-of-yet-unknown school could have unfair standards, and so it has to be me who is at fault?
  21. Mar 5, 2013 #20


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    I find it absolutely hilarious that you are using a physics forum to vent your anger over your poor grades and attack innocent bystanders in the process. Maybe reddit would be better suited for your situation.
  22. Mar 5, 2013 #21
    Nobody is trying to blame you. We are actually trying to help you the best way we can.

    What is it that you want to hear?? That the school is wrong? Or did you want to hear our assessment of the situation?

    Your first 60 grades were (as I understand it) in computer science. Now you are doing a different degree. I see no reason why being succesful in computer science should translate to being succesful in mathematics or economy. Maybe you study habits were ok for computer science, but are not for mathematics or economy?

    If you feel that we don't know much about your situation, then feel free to tell us more about you. All we can possibly base ourselves on are your posts. And, with all respect, it seems like you are making up many excuses and not willing to face reality. If you think we are wrong here, then you need to tell us about yourself.

    This is not a courtroom. We are only trying to help.
  23. Mar 5, 2013 #22
    Because you're failing now.

    That was in the past and in different coursework. I am not judging your ability in philosophy or those other 50 classes. Those are different classes than what you are taking now. I assume other people are getting As and Bs and thus, it falls on you.
  24. Mar 5, 2013 #23
    OK, so let's say that the school has unfair standards. What are you going to do now that you know this?
  25. Mar 5, 2013 #24
    Is that what I came here asking for? For you to solve the problem? Or did I come here asking for an objective explanation as to what might be going wrong and a guess at the probability of the grades being as bad as they are by chance? Did I get that or something judgmental that wasn't objective at all? Why is it so hard to imagine that someone would want something like that? Why is it so hard to cooperate?

    If you look back, you'll see in my original post that all I asked for was an objective explanation of the probability of the grades being the way they are by chance, and for an explanation as to why the grades could be that way. What I got was rhetoric about it being my fault, when you probably have never met me or attended my school, rhetoric, that because it points the finger at me, I feel obliged to respond to. What am *I* supposed to make of *that*?
  26. Mar 5, 2013 #25
    You can't assume that. Maybe the As and Bs weren't given out fairly. How could you assume that they were to the point of pointing the finger at me?
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