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Thursday, June 17, 2010

On the absurdity of marking schemes

So, I'm a PhD student somewhere in the South of Ireland.
Recently, I taught my very first class, which was nice.

Even more recently, I had to mark all the scripts, which was not so nice.

You see, in my University, psychology (which i have been assured is, in fact, a science) is examined like a liberal arts degree i.e. with essay questions.

All well and good, you say. However, the marking scheme - which is handed down from on high - is crazy. And not in a good funny sortof entertaining way but in the hair-pulling chair destroying data falsifying kindof way.

Here's a breakdown of how the marks work:
A (or First) 70-100%
B(OR 2.1) 60-69%
C (or 2.2) 50-59%
D (or 3.1) 45-49%
E (or pass) 40-44%
F (for fail) 0-39%

Now, I'm sure that many of you can spot the issues here, but I'll illustrate anyway. The A covers 30% of the scale, and is subdivided into three (as are the others). However, the A grades are separated by 10% each (75,85, 95) while the E grades are separated by only 1% each.

So essentially what the marking scheme dictates is that there is ten times more difference between the A grades than the E grades. Its absurd, and yet occurs everywhere on this emerald isle (and also in the UK, but don't quote me on that).

The worst part, for me at least, is that the A is rare, very rare in fact, and most of the marks are squashed into the 55-69% range, which gives students a very misleading idea of their relative standing in the class and between classes.

There's a sizeable majority of the scale (A and F) that is used perhaps 3-5% of the time, and everyone else just gets pushed into the dank and unwholesome middle. Now personally, I'd prefer it if the scale was divided into 15 points per grade and if A's were a possibility rather than a carrot used to urge undergraduates to engage in insane amounts of study for very little reward.

Unfortunately, its not up to me, but rather up to the NUI, and I hardly think they'll change it because of this blog post. In the unlikely event that they do change it, i would of course accept recompense from any grateful students or teachers.

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