Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grades are rolling in

I've mentioned before, but it bears repeating, that there are no "grades" at SOM. The deal is that at least 80% of students in a course receive a "Proficient." (The motto around here is "proficient is sufficient.") Then, at the professor's discretion, up to 10% of the top students can receive a "Distinction," and up to the bottom 10% can receive a "Pass" or, if they failed to meet minimum expectations, a "Fail."

There's no GPA or ranking system, so these grades don't mean much, except that if you get a Fail, you have to retake the class write a massive paper; you can't graduate if you have more than four Passes; and if you receive a Distinction, you can put that on your resume, and you're eligible to be a TA during your second year.

There's a bit of a contradictory feeling around school, and from me, about the grading system. On one hand, it's designed to promote cooperation, and, I think, to not punish people from unconventional backgrounds who might be less familiar with, say, accounting and economics. It also gives people flexibility to focus their priorities on what's most important to them without feeling anxious or burdened by a competitive grading system.

Irrational as it may be, however, people do still want positive affirmation. So I still hurry over to my mailbox every day to see if there are graded assignments in there. A pat on the head feels nice, especially after you've worked hard.

There's some suspicion among my friends that, since the grades themselves don't matter, the grading process itself isn't perfect. People noticed having identical answers to certain problems and getting different amounts of points taken off, depending on which TA is grading them. That's further evidence to suggest that it's best to break out of the approval-seeking mentality and just do work for the sake of learning.

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