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Expectations about Grading Can Cause Problems in College

February 19, 2009

by Emily

Here's something for new college freshmen and college-bound high school seniors to keep in mind: college students and professors often have very different expectations when it comes to grades.  An article appearing earlier this week in The New York Times highlights just how vast this difference can be, citing testimony from students, faculty, and one recent study.  According to the study, one third of students feel they deserve a B or better just for attending class, and 40 percent feel they should earn at least a B by doing the reading for a class.  The faculty members cited in the article disagree with these assumptions, emphasizing merit over effort in awarding final grades.

While many students believe that hard work should result in high grades, many faculty members believe that grades should be based on the finished product, not the effort it took to arrive there.  While a student may pour hours of studying or research into a college exam or paper that only earns a C, the outcome can be perplexing and discouraging.  Often, this experience is vastly different from the experience students have in high school, especially since many undergraduate students are used to being high achievers.  Students perceive grading as unfair and instructors perceive students as having too great a sense of entitlement.

There is another factor the article doesn't address, which may become a concern for readers of our site--sometimes, students don't just feel they deserve a good grade, but they might actually need one to pay for school.  Many scholarship awards have minimum GPA requirements, and nearly all financial aid programs require students to maintain satisfactory academic progress, which includes maintaining a certain GPA.  So while a student's freshmen year of college can be a learning experience and a period of adjustment to a new grading system, it can potentially be a period of fear and worry about the security of their student financial aid.

If you're struggling to maintain the grades to keep your aid, don't be discouraged by your professors' attitudes towards grading.  Talk to your instructor if you're struggling with a class and explain your concerns.  Many will be more than willing to sit down with you and offer some help, or at least point you in the right direction.  Join a study group and consider signing up for tutoring.  If writing is your problem, look up the university's writing center--they usually offer free consultations and can help you with the problem that's standing between you and the grade you want or need.  All of this is part of the increased time management and overall responsibility that comes with attending college, so prepare yourself accordingly and don't be caught off guard.


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