Midterms! How fun….

nathan-2013 Viterbi Class, Viterbi Life 0 Comments

Sorry I’m a bit late this week—it’s that time of semester again.

Since it’s midterm time, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the differences that I have observed between grading in high school and grading in college. Don’t be scared—ultimately, college wins (as it does in so many ways).

In high school, most of my classes worked off of some fixed scale. There were tests that were worth so many points, homework that was worth something as well, quizzes that took place constantly to ensure that students were on track, and other forms of assessment that I generally considered nothing more than busywork.

I don’t mind being busy, but I often found that I had better things to do than thirty AP Statistics problems every evening. The fact that they were collected and graded compelled me not to do them myself, but rather to invest in the teacher’s solution guide, from which I proceeded to copy the solutions.

Was this dishonest of me? Maybe a bit. But I still earned an A+ in the class and a 5 on the AP Statistics exam. So I would contend that the problems were unnecessary for me to do.

In college, collected homework is almost non-existent. Professors are always ready to supply students with problems to do, and I often avail myself of these to ensure that I understand the material. But I do so on my own terms, which I set at a reasonable level for myself.

Of course, being able to tell oneself that one must complete problems until one has gained a satisfactory understanding of the material requires maturity. This element features into the whole test/quiz/in-class assessment category as well. Most of my classes have one or two midterms and a final. That’s it. Some math and science classes have closer to five tests over the course of the semester, which is a bit more like high school in their frequency, but that is an exception not a rule.

I’ve found having fewer, more significant tests to be useful for me in retaining material for a longer time. No longer can I rush to memorize three chapters of the book the night before a test; that’s just not feasible when it’s fifteen chapters. Similarly, the questions, at least in my experience, have tended to focus more on significant concepts and ideas than nitpicky details. But I’m sure that’s not true in every class.

As far as grades go, the college system is infinitely superior to the high school one: professors look at a student’s performance, their grades, their participation, their work ethic, and they assign a grade that they deem fair. This applies to semester grades as well as to tests, which are curved at the discretion of the professor.

One final note that I’d like to make is on the grading of essays. Something that always bothered me in middle school and high school was the concept of a “rubric” by which to grade essays. I could never understand how a student’s ideas could be broken down into simple boxes based on “few grammatical errors” and “almost no grammatical errors”. In my Thematic Option classes, where I write most of my essays, my professors read the paper, comment on it, and assign a grade that they think is fair. For anyone who has ever been burned by a high school English teacher who was incapable of understanding the correct use of the comma, it is a great vindication not to be judged on that. (A note of advise to anyone in that situation: A mean letter to the head of the English department criticizing a member of that department’s faculty for not understanding basic concepts that they are expected to teach can go a long way to making you feel better and ameliorating your grade. Don’t try that in college, though.)

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