Thank heavens that’s over …

I’ve been chair of the examining boards for Parts IB and II of the Philosophy Tripos (so that’s the second and third [final] year exams here). The process is now over, reasonably painlessly for me.

But it’s not so painless for a good handful of disappointed students. For we still have to do the increasingly pointless task of dividing performances into “first class”, “upper second”, etc. This was, of course, always an artificial business. But at least once upon a time the division at the top approximately corresponded to the distinction between the really outstanding and the rest (and very few expected/hoped for a first). Now, with grade inflation, a first is more in reach, with that first/upper second divide coming further down the rank order. But it typically seems to fall bang in the middle of a bunch of really pretty good if not quite outstanding students, some of whom were just that bit luckier with the way the exams went for them than the others. It makes no defensible sense.

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2 Responses to Thank heavens that’s over …

  1. Anonymous says:

    So why is the divide placed there? I don't see how grade inflation alone can explain it.

  2. Paul Robinson says:

    The problem is especially bad for 1-year Master's degrees, since luck is given less chance to even out between students. At the LSE, for example, grades are based on the thesis and three (3-hour, 3-question) examinations at the end of the year.

    I have also noticed that over the four years in which I handed in graded coursework, younger lecturers have given me lower marks. I am not sure if that is coincidence, or indicates lack of bravery / meanness on their part.

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