1. Mar 11, 2015

jack476

Last semester I was very upset to learn that I had scored 25% on the final exam for my linear circuits course and was ready to change majors...until I learned that the class average on the final was 19%. And the average final grade for the class was 40%.

I ended up getting an A, despite a final grade of 62%, and was expecting to fail the course (I never really asked anyone else what their grades were, or I'd have been more comfortable). It was a difficult course with a lot of content to cover, but a 34% curve...god damn.

Anyone else have a similar experience or hearing of this happening elsewhere?

2. Mar 11, 2015

Greg Bernhardt

I can think of only one time when the curve was so severe that my traditionally failing test grade ended up being a top score.

3. Mar 11, 2015

Staff Emeritus
I remember a particular brutal test, where the professor passed it back saying "passing is positive".

4. Mar 11, 2015

lisab

Staff Emeritus
Yeah that sounds awful.

OP, grading on a curve is normal in physics programs. It's shocking to you now because it's new to you - believe it or not, you will adjust. You will quickly learn that your test score means nothing until you learn how your classmates did.

I don't like curve grading, I think it creates people who aren't good at working cooperatively with others. My \$0.02.

What you should ask yourself is, did I learn the material well?

5. Mar 11, 2015

symbolipoint

What must truly be the meaning of a class average such as 19%? That just seems like either too hard, or students not trying enough. If a college or university class, this is no good.

6. Mar 12, 2015

JonDE

I did recently take a test for a math competition where there were 20 questions, a correct answer was worth 2 an incorrect was worth -0.5, and the instructor told us that 10 points will most likely get you scholarship money, and the highest they had ever seen is 25.

7. Mar 12, 2015

symbolipoint

That may be one of the effects, but the purpose is to find the central tendency to identify what is each letter grade. The median or the average might be chosen as middle C. The students want to either learn, or just get through. They likely do not try to compete against each other.

8. Mar 12, 2015

Staff: Mentor

The pre-curve numerical grade means little in practice, if only the letter or numerical grade after curving is reported on your academic transcript.

I personally try to avoid such situations by choosing appropriate test and exam problems and assigning partial credit as warranted, so that the class average comes out to about what I think it should be. When you teach the same class repeatedly, to similar groups of students, you get a good idea of they should be capable of doing.

9. Mar 12, 2015

Staff: Mentor

Where I am, the usual passing grade is 40%. I just have to make exams consequently, where only the very best can hope to even reach 80%.

10. Mar 12, 2015

Ibix

Most exams I remember as pretty fair. There was one question, though, where a quick (and somewhat shell-shocked) straw poll after the exam suggested that only one of us had managed to get anywhere beyond the softball "state the definition of..." intro. I think the mark range on that one was 15-20%, plus the one genius with about 75%.

11. Mar 13, 2015

lisab

Staff Emeritus
No competing? Maybe in your school, but that certainly wasn't the case when I was in college!

And the reason given for grading on a curve was to avoid grade inflation. The mean was always 2.6 to 2.8 (out of 4.0).

12. Mar 13, 2015

leroyjenkens

I haven't had any curves as crazy as yours, but I've had a high 30 turned into a C.
What does it say when the average on the final was 19%? That nobody learned anything. If that's the standard, then the course needs to be adjusted in some way. Maybe split it up into two courses, or find out if the teacher is just teaching ineffectively, because if people are only answering 2 questions out of 10 correctly, then what's the point of the course? No one is learning.

13. Mar 13, 2015

Ben Niehoff

It's always linear circuits, isn't it? My freshman year of college, I forgot that I had a linear circuits exam. Exams were held in the evenings, usually starting at 7 or 8. I was sitting in a friend's room, playing videogames, when suddenly I remember that I was supposed to have an exam, and it had started about half an hour ago, at a location completely on the other side of campus. With a professor who had a reputation for locking the doors of his classroom and not allowing people to come in late.

I frantically got on my bike and went to the exam, and I was surprised that he let me in. I rushed through the thing, because about half the two-hour time was up already. When time was called, I actually felt I had done my best, considering. I handed in my paper, and was shocked when he actually offered to let me continue for the whole time limit. I declined, because I was stressed out and sitting there another hour was not going to help me remember anything I hadn't remembered already.

This was my first exam of college. :D When he returned them a few weeks later, I was devastated to see I had a 65%, which I assumed was a D. It turned out to be a B+.

That was not the craziest curve I experienced, though. In a later, more advanced circuits class, the professor was so terrible at lecturing that only 1/3 of the class ever showed up. Myself not included. I did not turn in a single homework assignment for this class. The average exam scores were all between 17%-20%. I got scores above 80%, giving me a solid A even without the 20% or so of our final grade that was meant to come from homework. :D

14. Mar 13, 2015

symbolipoint

The real opponent is the course topics to be learned. The students might or might not feel like they are competing against the other fellow students, but they are still not the actual opponent. All of the students are trying to conquer the course. If the students really are competing against each other, then they would/will never help another student or possibly try to mislead other students on purpose, or maybe even sabotage others' lab work. If students really would compete against each other, then a strict 90-80-70-60 grading scale system might be a way to eliminate any such advantage or disadvantage among students intent.

15. Mar 14, 2015

Overt

There have been a few tests where I feel like I should have failed but have gotten A's on because the rest of the class did worse that me... Not exactly encouraging because I want to master the material; not just do better than some random set of people.

16. Mar 14, 2015

leroyjenkens

I once got a zero curved to a 1. Beat that.

17. Mar 14, 2015

Psinter

It happens. As freshman I got 50/100 in every work of a Graphics for Engineers class except in the final work which got me a 100. I lost all hope and was crying like: "My whole university career is over!", but got a final grade of A. Don't ask me how, I have no idea of what happened. (But I tried really hard till the end with tears on my cheeks and frustration.)

But yeah, it happens and it doesn't amaze me anymore.

18. Mar 14, 2015

Pythagorean

Not necissarily. I learned a lot studying for my last test (based on a practice test). The problem was that the real test was way too applied, while the practice test was theoretical. Class average was ~50%.

19. Mar 16, 2015

206PiruBlood

I once had a physics professor who gave challenging exams consisting of only two problems. He assigned grades by giving the top 10% a 4.0 and the average a 2.7. With these two points he made a linear equation to determine each student's grade by their percentage. Usually the class average was around 45%; however, on the first exam the class did rather poorly, and the resulting equation gave students a 2.0 grade for receiving a score of 0%.

20. Mar 16, 2015

audire

IMHO if a professor actually takes time to teach a class there should be no need for a curve or to make it excessively challenging, at least on the undergraduate level. I mean why make the maximum score a 10/10 if a 8/10 is possible or even feasible.

Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2015