Recently I overheard some college students discussing a class in which they were being graded on a curve. This reminded me of an elective course I took many years ago.
I should start by saying this was the worst teacher I ever encountered in any class at any level. And I say that after reflecting back on decades of educational experience. But, I digress.
To return to my main point – grading on a curve. The course was Introduction to Psychology (a.k.a. Psych 101), All the tests used by the professor were multiple choice; 120 questions, with 5 answers to select from. That means, even if I knew nothing at all and just took random guesses, I should expect to get 24 correct answers (and most of my answers ended up being guesses. The questions on the tests typically fell into one of two categories: 1 – they seemed like complete gibberish, by which I mean I had no idea what they were asking; 2 – they made some sense but of the five possible answers, two were always wrong, another two could be right under certain (and mutually exclusive circumstances), and the fifth was always, “none of the above.”
You can probably imagine just how devastated I was when the test came back with a score of 28 (remember, 24 should be the result for knowing absolutely nothing). I figured my college career was over. Then the professor revealed the grading curve. My 28 was an A! One of two As in a class of about 30. This scenario repeated on every test during the semester. The good news: I got an A in the course. The bad news: I didn’t learn a damn thing.
Footnote: At the end of the semester when the course was over, I got a copy of the final exam and took it took a friend who had a Ph.D. in Psychology to review. He said, “I thought you said you were taking ‘Intro. to Psych.’ This is a test for ‘Experimental Psych.’