The Sceptical Chymist | Materials Girl: The bell curve doth toll

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Posted on behalf of Materials Girl

Finals are, at last, over and winter break has begun! ‘Tis the season for living at home, sleeping in, catching up on blogging, and checking grades online obsessively! (More precisely, I am procrastinating on studying for the GRE. Ugh. The vocabulary words I’m familiar with nowadays are on par with trimethylxanthine, eigenfunction, and nanorod, not termagant, eleemosynary, and nadir).

As far as grading goes, some form of curving seems standard among non-humanities classes. My science professors tend to aim for “nice” exam averages of 60-80, then curve results so that the wretched students scoring 50% get C’s instead of F’s. The brilliant engineering profs think everything is completely straightforward and write “easy” exams. Hah!

From a student’s perspective, I generally don’t have problems with curving. It’s nice to not worry about getting +90% on everything and risk having a few arithmetical errors or forgotten arrows kill perceived performance. However, if someone achieves those high scores and stays well above average, an A still isn’t guaranteed. And, that really sucks. It seems to boil down to two choices: battling tests & grading rubrics to score some set percentage, or battling classmates to be at the top of the pack. At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of a little luck and how well you fight (and get back up when beaten down) – regardless of the opponent.

Everyone says to not worry about GPAs, but it can’t be completely written off – especially since some schools give out A’s more easily than others. Experience and recommendations aside, how much do grad schools and companies really factor in what university an applicant comes from? At career fairs, recruiters always, always begin by looking for the GPA on my resume. It does make sense, since a 5-10 minute conversation can’t really tell them how qualified or knowledgeable I might be. But, what if I had a B in a class because my peers were a little bit better that time around, and I could’ve taken the same class the next term and gotten an A? I don’t think the 4.0 from community college will be of much help…

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